Wednesday, 1 August 2012

My Approach to Handling The Backgrounder

When you receive your backgrounder you will have 48 hours to do whatever you want with it. 48 hours seems like a lot but it is not so I think it is important to have a strategy for how to approach the backgrounder and what to do with it so that you do not get overwhelmed and forget to do something important in preparation for the case exam.

This was my approach to the backgrounder:

Day 1
  • Read the backgrounder
  • Re-read the backgrounder
  • Make note on the key individuals and get familiar with their names and roles
  • Re-read backgrounder again and make notes/highlight key information
  • Make sure I understand what the company does
  • Read and re-read the SWOT to get familiar with all the points
  • Tackle financials - crunch every single possible ratio that I can think of and make sure I know what each of the ratios mean as well as memorize the ratio formulas
  • Review the resulting ratios and note anything that stands out 
  • Do a situational analysis for the backgrounder (SWOT - try to find additional points, stakeholder preferences, constraints, etc.)
Day 2
  • Read the backgrounder and SWOT twice (the goal is to have all the backgrounder info so solidified and clear in your head so that you will reduce the number of times you may need to refer to the backgrounder copy during the case exam)
  • Review the situational analysis created on Day 1 and note if anything needs to be added or modified
  • Review financials I crunched on Day 1 to make sure you did not make any errors
  • Study the ratios and what they are indicating about the company - choose a handful of ratios that are the most relevant and/or are showing something that needs to be noted and perhaps addressed (ie. debt to equity ratio is trending up)
  • Review everything that I have done so far and study it as much as possible - by the end of this day the goal is for me to be VERY comfortable with everything in the backgrounder.

Share what your strategy on handling the backgrounder is so that other students can benefit and get good ideas.


  1. Hello CaseMaster:

    The 2012 Case is a Soccer Team case and only has 1 year of Financials.

    How are we to calculate 3 years ratios as per the marking key? There is little/no industry background.


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  3. I do not know how this will translate on the marking key, however if I were faced with only 1 year of financials and limited industry info I would make sure to calculate every single ratio or financial indicator possible given the info available. You can do a lot of horizontal analysis as well as do analysis comparing financials to whatever info you do have on industry. Any other financial indicators you can think of, do them. Also try to think about what types of financial indicators would be important for this industry/company (ie. do they carry inventory, if not, then perhaps inventory related ratios and indicators may not be important).

    Check out the forum - I see that several threads have been started relating to the backgrounder

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  6. I wanted to share an email question that I received, and my reply to it:

    "Hi CaseMaster!

    For this year's may exam, the financial statements given are partial (from May - December, 2010) and only one year info is given since the company was formed in 2010.

    We can't do any trend analysis, should we bother doing any ratio analysis?

    Thanks a lot!"

    My Reply:


    There are various types of financial analysis that I would do if I was given only one year of data. For example: vertical analysis, comparing company financials to industry if available, looking at the ratios for one year only and analysing those (ie. is there a liquidity problem, is the company too leveraged, etc...), etc.


    1. Hi Case Master,

      In the background, it states that the ISL is owned in eaual shares by its member teams; to comply with league regulations, financial statements are presented to the league in US dollars but reported to management and the shareholders in Canadian dollars. Could you please tell me what the relationship is between ISL and the Soccer club?

    2. Hi, check out the forum - several students have a discussion there about the backgrounder.

  7. Hi Case Master,

    I have been doing consistently bad on the nationally marked case exams (BEs and ME-) and I am getting very worried about the case exam.

    Do I still have hope in passing the actual exam?

    1. It depends on what you are doing to improve. If you take a determined approach and really focus on what your weak areas are and how to improve them and then practice using your new strategy, then I think you will have a good chance.

      Feel free to post either in the comments or in the forum about what your concerns are, what you think your weak areas are and maybe we can try to work through it together.

    2. Don't be discouraged. I also failed all of the assignments (only one ME-), and reviewed all material, took a prep course and continually did the old exams that were posted to the slp website. I used secure exam and tried to get my timing down, I reviewed my notes from class to make sure I understood everything, and reviewed Case Master's helpful posts from Jan. I managed to pass with 82%. Not sure when the date is, but best of luck! Just stay motivated and keep studying.

  8. Hi CM,

    I'm finding your approach very helpful, I just have on question..

    How much work should we put into the situational analysis? Specifically the targets/constraints, SWOT, key stakeholder preferences. Don't these points come up in the additional information?

    The reason for my question is I want to be as efficient with my time as possible during the 48 hour time frame.

    Thanks so much for the help CM.

  9. In my experience, 48 hours gives you plenty of time to thoroughly analyze the backgrounder for everything. I would expect the points you noted to come up in the additional information, but some of the relevant info relating to these points may also be in the backgrounder and it is not something you want to miss or skim over.

    I believe that the situational analysis is VERY important as it is sort of like the 'back bone' of the case report... if you don't pick something up in the situational analysis, how will you tie to it or use it in the report?

  10. Hi CaseMaster,

    In your opinion, what's the difference between a stakeholder preference and a target? I'm finding it difficult to distinguish the two.

    For example, shareholders would like an after-tax profit of 20%.



  11. A stakeholder preference and a target could be the same thing in some cases.
    Like you have mentioned above, after-tax profit of 20% is a target set by the shareholders, which is their preference.


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