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Emma Liu, MFin '22 shares her experience earning first place in the RNC Challenge

The Rotman Negotiation Club (RNC) is a Rotman student-based club focused on providing members exposure and experience on an essential skill- negotiations. They annually host the Rotman Negotiation Challenge, a case-based, team-on-team negotiation competition. This post details the experience of Emma Liu, MFin Class of 2022, and her journey in earning first place in the RNC Challenge. 

Quick Info

  • Name:  Emma Liu
  • Degree: Master of Finance
  • Graduating year: 2022
  • Previous education: Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting Specialist), Rotman Commerce, University of Toronto
  • Designations: CPA

What does negotiations mean to you?

Before the RNC Challenge (case competition), to me, negotiation is a process, when both parties can have the opportunity to influence each other in order to reach an agreement either to resolve a conflict or improve a situation. After the competition, I think negotiation is a process to establish trust and relationships and to try to find a “win-win” solution together.

Why did you sign up for the RNC annual case competition? 

I always believed that negotiation is a critical and practical skill both at work and in our everyday life. MFin organized a negotiation workshop in December and we had the chance to do an on the spot negotiation case practice, which was really fun!  I really hope to get more practice and learn more about negotiation techniques, so I started to search for similar activities on Rotman Hub and found the RNC challenge. If I say I wasn’t nervous when I signed up for the competition, then I would be lying.  

I remember from the MFin program orientation, when we were discussing what do we want to achieve from taking the MFin program, the best advice I had was “stepping out of your comfort zone”.  

No matter what we want to achieve, one cannot truly improve or grow by doing what he/she feels comfortable with.  I think this is one of the key reasons to push myself to participate in the competition.

I also noticed from the RNC kickoff event that there seem to be only a few female students participating in this competition (and I was the only female made to the final competition).  I secretly hoped that if I can do well in the competition, then there might be more female students joining this event in the future.

RNC Challenge Experience 

The competition is quite intense: 12 teams (3 people each team), 4 days, 5 cases. The final price is $1000.

The Rotman Negotiation Challenge (case competition) is the RNC club’s annual marquee event. For this year, there were about 12 teams participating. The competition consists of round-robin, semi-final, and final.  Because of different class schedules for different programs, they divided the 12 teams into weekday round robin, and weekend round-robin.

Our team was in the weekday round-robin group, meaning 1 case per night (from Thursday to Saturday), and semi-final, final rounds were on Sunday (with about 1-hour lunch break in between).

The teams are being evaluated on both quantitative factors and qualitative factors.  For each case, there will be a certain points guide, based on the final deal made by the teams, each team will receive a set of scores.  At the same time, judges will also consider qualitative factors, for example, proper application of negotiation techniques, team collaboration, and interaction, are the teams being respective to each other and is there a good relationship being built, etc. (Sometimes it might be good to not make a deal). In the final round, we had a draw with the opponent team, co-Champaign.

One major takeaway for me is the idea of “growing the pie” together.  I used to think a successful negotiation is like “dividing a pie”, the party that gets the larger portion wins.  But throughout the RNC Challenge process, I think it’s actually more important to focus on growing the pie vs getting the larger portion. Often when you have this idea in mind, the result can be a lot better than you expected.

How was it like participating in this competition online?

There was definitely a learning curve, e.g. make sure we look at the camera to make eye contact when other teams are talking as if this is in-person.  For each round, each team can request a short timeout to discuss. With online, what we did was turning off our camera and microphone and doing group calls via WhatsApp.  It did take some practice to get used to it.  But on the other hand, participating in the competition online saved a lot of time, e.g. from commuting.

What are some of the challenges you faced during the RNC competition?

I think the time was the biggest challenge.  The case was emailed to us around 10 pm each day during round-robin.  Our team members either have full-time jobs or intense course work.  One of our team members is a full-time MBA student, who just landed in Canada less than 2 weeks during our competition and he was staying in a hotel during the quarantine period, juggling with course work and this competition.  So there actually very limited time to have group discussions about the case and strategies.  We tried to prepare as much as we can in advance to ensure our group call can be as efficient as possible.   During the 4 days of the competition, I think I only slept for about 3~4 hours per day.  I didn’t feel that tiring during the competition, as every day there’s a new case, a new challenge, felt pumped and excited.  But yes, I had to pay my debt after, slept like 12 hours the day after the final round.  Totally worth it!

Landing First Place

Unlike the MBA program, we don’t have negotiation as our elective courses, so in terms of negotiation techniques, we focused on learning from our opponents and from the judges’ feedback.  I think our team did a really good job of being adaptable, learning from each round, and quickly adjust ourselves for the next round.  We made a team pact: “we learn, we adapt, and we excel”, and we followed it!  Really proud of our team. Go Team Inferno!

One suggestion I would give for others wanting to participate in this competition is to quickly identify each team member’s strength and form a strategy that works best for your team dynamic.

And time management!  Either managing school, work, and the competition or managing the time during each negation are all very important.  Time flew fly during the competition!  Be patient, being a good listener sometimes is more important than doing the talking.

MFin and Negotiations

As an MFin student, how do negotiations come to play in your day to day tasks in Finance?

I’m currently a Senior Manager of the GBM&T Compliance Advisory team at Scotiabank.  I provide regulatory compliance advice to business units in Global Banking and Markets and Group Treasury. 

Effective communication is crucial in my day to day tasks.  For example, the ability to convey your message clearly and effectively across all levels and the ability to influence others, are applied in every aspect of my role at work.


What parts of the MFin program were most helpful during the competition?

MFin program not only offers a great academic curriculum but also provides us the opportunities to enhance leadership and management skills.  For example, we had a negotiation workshop in December 2020 as part of the Management Essentials for Finance Professionals Program. That’s when I first got to know various basic techniques for negotiations and started to be really interested in learning more about negotiation.

As a fun last question, what are some of your most used and favorite negotiation techniques that you’d like to share?

I really like one piece of advice that we received from the semi-final round, “put yourself in the role’s shoe”.  I immediately applied it in the final round, and it helped me a lot! In the final round, our case was a venture capital negation and our team had the role of the VC firm.  I thought about the “role-playing” technique and the first that came up to my mind was Dragon’s Den.

 “What would the Dragons do? How do they present themselves?”  

I think the “role-playing” technique worked as I really believed in my role as a “Dragon” throughout the whole negation, even when the opponent team tried to pressure us, I still firmly believed and reply “Our VC firm is the best in the industry, you cannot get a better deal anywhere else!” :)


This post was written while Emma was a student in the program.

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