When Associate Professor of Marketing Paul McDonagh started using a business game called “Jessie” in his classes at Audencia Business School, he noticed something was different.
“During this business game, my students always arrive early and leave late,” he says. “They get very, very involved.”
The game, developed by Associate Professor of Marketing Emmanuel Dion, simulates running a business. Students work in teams of four or five to choose their company’s products and make decisions on more than 20 variables, including market research, advertising, investments and cash-planning, all within Microsoft Excel. In each round, “Jessie” tracks each team’s revenue and the demand for their shares – and calculates their stock price.
“There’s quite a complex path of interaction … You cannot predict what’s going to happen,” McDonagh explains. “It isn’t just the decisions your team makes that affect your performance, it’s what other companies have done, as well.”
“Jessie” has been used in Audencia’s Grande Ecole and MBA programmes for several years – and starting this fall, it will be incorporated into the first week of the school’s Master of Science and MBA in Food and Agribusiness Management (FAM) programme, as well. McDonagh expects it to serve as not only a powerful teaching tool, but an excellent ice-breaker for students in the highly international programme, which partners with Brazil’s ESPM to offer the double degree. Students earn a Master of Science from Audencia and an MBA from ESPM in the one-year programme.
“This business game helps everyone get to know each other and integrate quickly,” he says. “It helps them get creative, and also helps them work in teams quite well.”
But McDonagh says the benefits of “Jessie” go well beyond team-building. The game also gives students realistic – and holistic – experience in what it’s really like to run a company.
“I think it gives students, very, very quickly, an appreciation of how the different parts of the business actually interact,” he says. “If you make a decision, for example, with regard to employing more people, that has an impact on your costs. It’s a first-hand experience of how business decision-making impacts performance.”
Furthermore, McDonagh says, students can learn just as much from a misstep as they do from success, if not more. Instructors generally “subsidise” early rounds as teams learn the ropes – and while the company with the highest share price wins the game, students are also graded in part on a presentation covering what they’ve learned.
“They can demonstrate a good understanding of what happened, what they were trying to do, maybe why it didn’t work,” he says. “That is part of the value, the learning from it.”
McDonagh says the game is just one example of the variety of teaching methods used to prepare FAM students for careers in the rapidly evolving industry of agribusiness. The FAM programme also includes extensive interaction with industry experts – through field trips, guest lectures and workshops, as well as a master’s project and hands-on internship. Tools like “Jessie,” he says, are an important bridge between that practical experience and what students learn in the classroom.
“This is one of those tools that helps students translate theory to practice and make those leaps,” he says. “It’s a safe environment that they can play around in, but they take it seriously, because they understand it’s equipping them with a set of skills they can use later in life.”