Need Bain case interview practice or Bain case interview tips? Look no further! This is a Bain-style interview walkthrough with Mike Ford, an advanced degree candidate interested in a career with Bain & Company.
In this session, you’ll see that we don’t hold back: Mike gets a tough case that he needs to navigate virtually and handles himself really well. At the end of the case, we give him feedback and score him on specific criteria. You can download that same scoring sheet here. Need this kind of 1:1 feedback and practice? Work with our expert team!
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Bain Case Interview Practice
Jenny Rae 00:05
In this episode, I Jenny Rae, have an interview session with Mike Ford, an advanced degree candidate who’s interested in going to Bain. We did the case Bain style. And we ran it for the standard amount of time, which would have been about 30 minutes. Afterwards, I provide a detailed feedback where we looked at Mike’s notes and had some insights about how he could specifically do better. Overall, it was a great performance with a lot of engagement from the audience, and we’re excited to share it with you.
Jenny Rae 00:34
Awesome, Mike, great to meet you. I’m excited to walk through this case with you. Before we dive in, I just wanted to let you know that I’ll take a look at your notes afterwards and I’ll give you some feedback. Do you have any questions before we get started?
Mike Ford 00:48
No, I believe I’m ready.
Jenny Rae 00:51
Let’s do it. So the title of this case is a company called Needle Needer. And so let me walk through the case with you. Our client, a company called Needle Needer, manufactures and sells blood draw needles to laboratories at a price of $2 per needle, their primary market is in the United States. They are the leading firm in this 200 million unit sales industry, with 70% market share. There’s only one other competitor.
Jenny Rae 01:22
Federal health care regulations will decrease the industry size by 5% next year, because they are mandating a decrease in frequency of blood draws for chronic patients. Our client, however, is interested in maintaining its profit to fund other projects. What options does our client have? And specifically, are any of these options appealing? Do you have any questions about the background?
Mike Ford 01:46
Let me just make sure I understood that correctly. It seems that our client manufactures needles and sells 70% of the needles in the 200 million unit market, they’re selling them at $2 needle, there’s only a single competitor. However, we are seeing a shrinking market through healthcare regulation. We’re seeing a 5% decrease in the next year. And what we would like to do is to maintain our profit. And then we will think about how to do so. I do have a couple of questions. The first one is on the healthcare regulation. Are we expecting anything else beyond the first year? Or can we time this to this one year period?
Jenny Rae 02:36
At this point, we don’t have any further information about it. So you draw whatever conclusions you think are important to develop a robust strategy.
Mike Ford 02:45
Alright, that seems good. And then I have another question about distribution and marketing. How do we market our products to these labs?
Jenny Rae 03:03
I don’t have a ton of information about it right now. But usually, the way that these products work is that we have direct relationships with larger organizations. And then we use distributorships for smaller organizations. So with only two players in the market, we probably have a dual-pronged strategy.
Mike Ford 03:23
Alright, that seems good. And then just sort of a basic level question on the competitor. Are they strong? Are they able to take this hit? Or will it be a tooth and nail fight to to absorb this 5% decrease?
Jenny Rae 03:39
I’d be curious about your thoughts about what would make them strong and able to take the hit.
Mike Ford 03:44
Sure. I would say that if they are particularly cost competitive compared to our product, then they would be able to say cut prices in a way that we will not be able to do as far and thereby they can take the decrease while we cannot while maintaining profitability.
Jenny Rae 04:04
Good, anything else?
Mike Ford 04:07
Perhaps if they were also focusing on large buyers, if they can maintain their relationships or extend their relationship with these large buyers, that will push us out. So that might be something to focus on on our side. I’m just gonna make a mark of that.
Jenny Rae 04:24
Okay, sounds good. I don’t have any data for you now, but those might be worthwhile things to explore inside the case.
Mike Ford 04:31
Would you give me a moment while I structure my thinking around this?
Jenny Rae 04:34
Absolutely. Go for it.
Mike Ford 04:39
All right, Jenny Rae. I have a rough structure here. The place that I would like to start is our internal profit. Then I would like to look at this one competitor that we have and finally, from there, I would like us to look at some strategies that we can use to go forward. On our internal profits side, I would look like to look at revenue and costs. And within that, on the revenue side, the price. We said that it’s $2. But we can look at some flexibility in that price. On the volumes, we know that there’s a market drop of 5%. But perhaps we can see how that might play out either by by customer segment, you said that there are large buyers and small buyers, or there could be a difference in the volume change there. Or perhaps by geography, if that is a more sensible way of going about it.
Mike Ford 05:38
Over to the cost side, I would like to look at fixed costs, as well as variable costs. And I’m imagining fixed costs, there being ranked labor, any regulatory fees, it sounds that we have these factories that we have to keep up, and so on. And then on the variable side, I imagine that it’s predominantly production and then distribution. Over to the competitor, as I mentioned, I would like to look at the cost base that they have to see how well they would be able to enter a price war. And then secondly, to look at their customer relations, perhaps they have some weak customers that we can enter, and that might be a strategy.
Mike Ford 06:20
Then over to our strategies, I have them blocked in a revenue strategy and cost strategies. Under revenue pricing strategies. So do we increase prices to to make up for this loss and maintain profit? Or do we do we try to boost volume through these various methods and keep the price the same and push the decrease in volume of our competitor. And then the other option is that we will be facing a, let’s say, we have to take the 5% hit on revenue due to a decrease in volume, we could cut costs by a similar amount, and that would lead us to maintaining profitability, but having lower revenue and lower costs, nonetheless.
Mike Ford 07:04
So can we start at the company revenues? And I think that would give me a good idea of how it is that we go about setting these needles. So let’s start with price flexibility.
Jenny Rae 07:19
Mike, before that, can I just ask you, what do you think their primary lever is that they’re gonna pull here to respond?
Mike Ford 07:26
I’m torn between pricing and cost cutting. So and that’ll emerge as we see where the most efficient things are. With pricing, I do imagine that there might be regulatory constraints with that. So if I had to make a hypothesis right now, cost cutting might be the best way to go.
Jenny Rae 07:50
All right. Sounds good. So, you said you wanted to look at revenue first, what in particular, would you want to look at?
Mike Ford 07:56
Yes, the first thing that I would like to look at is price flexibility, whether we can increase the price and what the fallout would be from that.
Jenny Rae 08:04
Okay, great. Well, tell me first what you think the follow up could be.
Mike Ford 08:10
The first one is a drop in demand that if we increase the price, and our competitors sell a similar product at a lower price, everybody will simply swarm to them. The other, as I mentioned, would be a regulation. If the healthcare regulation prevents us from selling more than $2 a needle, then we simply can’t do it.
Jenny Rae 08:31
Yes. Okay. So you’re only interested in raising price not cutting prices?
Mike Ford 08:40
Not at this point, I can see how that would benefit. If we lower the price, we can capture more market share, but since the pie is shrinking, that wouldn’t be my first instinct going forward.
Jenny Rae 08:54
Okay, well, our client has a different instinct, and it’ll be your job to advise them on whether that’s a good one or not. Our client is interested in actually considering cutting prices, and in fact trying to take share from the competitor in the process. So our total cost for the client is $1.20 per needle. Our competitor outsources manufacturing, for a total cost of $1.40 per needle. So what I want you to figure out is what the client’s current profit is, and should the client lower its price to engage in a price war and drive the other competitor out of business, at least partially or totally?
Mike Ford 09:42
Okay, that seems good. I just have a quick question. You said that they outsource the manufacturer of the needles? What do they do in house?
Jenny Rae 09:49
The competitor? I don’t know. But I just know that they outsource the manufacturing, probably sales, distribution, etc. But I don’t know.
Mike Ford 09:57
Okay. All right. That seems good. All right. Give me a moment. And then I can work out the revenue. Actually, let me talk you through it instead. All right, so we have $2 per needle. And then we have 2 million needles, sorry, 200 million needles per year, of which we have 70%. However, I can take a little shortcut here, I can cut the revenue, I can just subtract the cost from that. And then I can say that we make 80 cents per needle, which I will then multiply by the total market and the market share. So we have 80 cents, times 200 million is 160 million, of which we capture 70%, which is $112 million. Does that seem about in the right ballpark?
Jenny Rae 11:10
Seems right to me.
Mike Ford 11:11
Okay, excellent. So that is where we are at in profit, that is quite robust. Considering that this is all that we’re doing, then if we want to maintain this, I would like to look at the price, or the price flexibility. How much more market share will we capture if we decrease prices?
Jenny Rae 11:39
What do you think? What do we want?
Mike Ford 11:42
One way to go about it is to capture or to obliterate the competitor by lowering our prices to their cost That would be one strategy, and then we capture the entire market, but we only make the difference between their price and our price, which is 20 cents per dollar but at 100% of the market share. I can go ahead and calculate that. So if we lower our price to $1.40. That means we make 20 cents per sale. But we capture 100% of the market. So that would mean that we make $20 million per year. Now that is a lot less than the profit we have been making.
Jenny Rae 12:37
Walk me through that methodology one more time.
Mike Ford 12:39
All right, I’m taking the cost that we’ll be lowering it to, $1.40 per needle, the price. Then the cost is still $1.20. And now we’re making profit of 20 cents per sale. And we multiply that by the full market, which is 200 million, not 100 million, which I used.
Jenny Rae 13:02
Is it 200 million though?
Mike Ford 13:04
The full market is still 200 million, isn’t it?
Jenny Rae 13:07
It is, but where is it going?
Mike Ford 13:10
Oh, it’s going down. All right. So it’s going 5% down, of course, that’s the problem right there. Alright, I can just take that off the profit as well. So 5% of the 40 million is 2 million off. So that leaves us with $38 million that we have left at the end of this. That is considerably less than our current profit. It’s about a third of what we have at the moment. So I do not imagine that our client will be pleased with that.
Mike Ford 13:45
I would like to consider next, if we can squeeze the market in some way. Maybe there’s there’s an efficient way of riding on the supply demand curve, that we don’t cut the price that much that we can still make a profit but still capture market share from our competitor.
Jenny Rae 14:03
Before we go into more data, I have a question for you. The competitor has another division and the other division comprises 75% of the competitor’s revenues. The other division manufactures a specialty chemical that is sold to laboratories to analyze urine samples. So just as a very low tech illustrative example, it’s a powder that changes color when used in drug testing or high glucose levels, etc. So that division is very highly dependent on the laboratory relationships that are built through the needle business. How does that change what our strategy and the future might look like for the industry?
Mike Ford 14:52
What I would expect from the competitor is to perhaps lower their price below profitability in order to maintain the relationship with the labs so that they can continue fueling the the chemicals business. So something to look at there would be how profitable is the speciality chemicals, the urine testing materials to see how much of a hit can they take, or how much of a loss do they want to take to continue selling these chemicals to continue having these relationships?
Jenny Rae 15:29
Okay, absolutely. Anything else that you’d want to think about?
Mike Ford 15:33
I imagined they’ll be fighting tooth and nail not to lose that 75% of their business alongside the 25% that we’re squeezing. There is however, an opportunity for us that perhaps if we move into that market, then we can use our 100% market share, to get these chemicals to more labs. So perhaps we could consider an acquisition of this company wholesale. So we take their needles, and then we use the chemical business as well. An alternative would be to have some sort of partnership that they can use our needle relationships to sell their chemicals.
Jenny Rae 16:17
Okay. Now, you said that you wanted to go back to some other tactics, what were some of the other tactics that we could look at as well?
Mike Ford 16:25
Alright, another option would be cost based. So we said that the cost per needle is $1.20. If we can cut that by 5% as well, we can keep our revenue as is and take the 5% hit on volume and still have the same profitability. Do we have options on cutting costs in any way?
Jenny Rae 16:53
Just tell me how we do it.
Mike Ford 16:55
Sure. Well, firstly, let’s look at variable costs. And it’s also important to point out that, since we will be selling less, the variable costs will drop. So let’s start with variable costs. How much does it cost, or what are the components of this cost?
Jenny Rae 17:22
What do you think?
Mike Ford 17:26
I would imagine that a lot of the $1.20 is production and manufacturing, as opposed to overhead. But I would like to know the breakdown of that. And then in the variable costs, something like the price of the raw materials, if we’re making needles, they’re probably specialized steel, that sounds like an expensive part of the process. I’m not sure about what the labor cost associated with that would be or the distribution. But perhaps we can start with the production costs and the various inputs for that and see if there’s a way to lower those in some useful way that would help us maintain profitability.
Jenny Rae 18:09
Wonderful, – I have no data for you. So you have to tell me what in particular, you would look at for this?
Mike Ford 18:16
Sure. So as I mentioned, I think that the steel price is a relative factor. So perhaps we can look at where the commodities markets are going. Or if we have sufficient buyer power, we could squeeze our suppliers to acquire the raw materials at a lower price.
Jenny Rae 18:34
What do you think about that potential?
Mike Ford 18:38
I think that’s pretty good. Although steel suppliers also supply a lot more steel to auto manufacturers than they do to to needle manufacturers. So perhaps that’s not as useful. But if we do increase our market share, and it does seem that we do use a lot of steel. So I would say that that is a possibility. But I also don’t imagine that will bring us down the full 5% of the cost to absorb the hit on the revenue.
Jenny Rae 19:06
I think so too. But also, I’m just not sure that with the size of a needle, that the amount of steel that we’ll utilize will be significant enough.
Mike Ford 19:14
Okay. That seems fine. Then some other variable costs. Is it expensive to distribute these? We have good partnerships, so I imagine that distribution goes fairly rapidly or is it optimized already. Or can we streamline the distribution process as well?
Jenny Rae 19:33
Okay, what do you think?
Mike Ford 19:39
Yeah, that is a big cut. That does seem to be a bit of a stretch.
Jenny Rae 19:47
Mike, let me ask you this question. From data that we do have, how much costs do we have to cut to keep our profits the same if we maintain share of the market in the new world?
Mike Ford 20:03
It would be a little more than 5%.
Jenny Rae 20:06
Can you calculate it for me?
Mike Ford 20:08
I can. So I’m going to first calculate the newly imagined revenue, sorry, the newly imagined profit, which is 5% less than it was. So at the current state is on the 80 cents times 70% of the market, we make $112 million a year. And I’m subtracting 5% from that.
Mike Ford 20:38
Yeah, we’re looking at the revenue instead. I can just go ahead and do the revenue in the new setting. So minus 5%. And so I have the dollar price, the $2 times the 190. That’s 5%, less of the current market times the 70% market share. And if you’ll give me a moment to calculate that. It seems that our new revenue would be $266 million. And I’m going to run through the same calculation for the cost, the 190 million needles times 70% times 1.0…
Jenny Rae 21:44
Remember, what we’re calculating here is to keep our profit the same.
Mike Ford 21:48
Alright, so I’m going to restructure this algebraic formula. So what we’re looking for is revenue minus the cost and the cost is the volume times price… Sorry, volume times unit cost. So we have the profit at $112 million. And the revenue we just calculated at $266M. And then the volume is 190 million times 70%. And that leaves us with 133 million needles.
Mike Ford 22:44
Okay, I can now restructure the formula. So I can subtract the profit from the revenue. And that leaves us with $154 million in costs that we can absorb. And add 133 times the price. I can now divide 154 million by the volume, which is 133 million. This is getting a little interesting. Give me a moment to do this this calculation. how exactly would you like this to be?
Jenny Rae 23:43
Oh, perfect of course (kidding)! It’s okay. Give me a ballpark. Here’s what I’m looking for, Mike. I’m interested in knowing how much we’re talking about cutting out of costs.
Mike Ford 23:52
All right, it doesn’t seem to be that much cost that we need to cut. So I have $1.21, which is, I would say is around…
Jenny Rae 24:10
That’s more than our current cost. Does that make sense?
Mike Ford 24:14
Is it more than our current cost? No, it’s just under our current cost. It’s about $1.16.
Jenny Rae 24:20
Oh, there you go. Okay.
Mike Ford 24:22
Yeah, so $1.16 really is just a tiny cut in our costs. I feel like we should be able to find four cents per needle somewhere. So that’s about 3% of the cost that we need to cut.
Jenny Rae 24:39
Okay, so then, ultimately, if it’s only four cents, just going back to the big picture now. And I’ll just ask you one more time where you think you would go first in the cost structure in order to find that four cents.
Mike Ford 24:55
The one that we haven’t spoke about is the fixed cost. If we can cut some overhead costs, with a change this low, we might even be able to do some financial engineering to get over that hump. But yes, let’s take a look at the fixed costs. Are there some excesses there that we can trim down?
Jenny Rae 25:20
Okay, I don’t have any more data for you, but just wanted to see your recommendation. And so the aggregate total of the fixed costs that we have to cut is what?
Mike Ford 25:28
So what I’m using – the cost of 120 times the total market times 70%. And that gives one million and 68. So we have to cut 168 million minus 154 million, which is 14 million in costs that we have to cut. Again, this seems very much within the realm of of the possible. We can look at fixed costs, I imagined labor costs are quite a lot here. Maybe over the years, we’ve seen some bloat on the SG&A side. Yeah, that seems to be the salaries of a few executives that we could… oh, who am I pitching this to again? (laughs)
Jenny Rae 26:31
Great. Well, at this point, we’ve run out of time. So I want to ask you to just give us a summary of what you would recommend, and anything else that you’d recommend us do if we had more time.
Mike Ford 26:42
Please give me a moment just to organize my thoughts.
Jenny Rae 26:45
No, just dive right in!
Mike Ford 26:47
Oh, really? Right. I would recommend finding some ways to cut our fixed costs, we need to absorb about $14 million in costs, in order to maintain our profitability of $112 million per year. It does not look like pricing strategies would be as effective as cost based strategies since our competitor is priced relatively close to us. I would like us to, in terms of next steps, think about what the competitive response would be if they would change their cost structure as well to perhaps capture some more market share. And the very next step on our part would be to look at ways to cut fixed costs.
Jenny Rae 27:34
Wonderful! Okay Mike, you can relax. Congratulations, that was 29 minutes and 57 seconds. So you did a great job from the beginning. All right. So before I move to any questions, I want to provide some feedback for you.
Jenny Rae 27:51
I like you, and that makes a big difference in the case. And I hope that everyone could see that as you were going through it, you have a very upbeat, earnest approach to everything. And your desire to ground it in actual information was very clear throughout the case.
Jenny Rae 28:10
So in a first round situation, I would have passed you, because I like you and I think that you could do the job. And ultimately, we can’t ever lose sight of that as the big picture. However, when we’re coaching people, we coach you to the second round, because that’s where the decision comes in, and where you either get the money and the job, or you don’t. And so, what I want to do now is just walk you through some of my insights and some of my feedback.
Jenny Rae 28:46
So, you did something dangerous. And I’ll give you kind of the weak spots first. And then we’ll talk about your strengths afterwards. Because I really think that interviews like this are meant to identify weak areas that then you go back and drill in order to put them back together in the bigger context of the case. And if you run cases all the time, especially with people that are nicer than I am, then you’re probably at risk of maybe missing out on some of that.
Jenny Rae 29:12
So what what you should be able to see here [viewing MC scoring chart] is that I have – this is our method two, we have three scoring methods. This is our content scoring. We have expert coaches, and this is the kind that they’ll do because they’re not just looking for whether you fit it within the time, or kind of checked the box on the core things that should have been there, but they’re also looking for the quality of your content. And so I gave you some lower scores on a couple of key areas. The creative questions is the first one that I want to go to.
Jenny Rae 29:45
I asked you creative questions that you maybe didn’t identify as creative questions, but I noticed that you weren’t taking notes during them. You were giving me some ideas but not necessarily listed or segmented ideas and they ended really quickly and you would have avoided me doing the second math problem had you been more robust in your creative questions. So there’s actually a dual strategy. First of all, demonstrate you can do them more thoroughly. Second of all, make sure that you protect yourself from the horrible math piece that could come out if you finish other pieces of the case too quickly.
Jenny Rae 30:19
And so there were a couple of questions that I did ask like, hey, you know, what do you think about this? Or like, you asked me a question at the beginning and I pushed back on your third clarifying question that was kind of diving into some of those things. But in those situations, if I were to give you feedback to say that you were unstructured, that would have been my core problem area. I would have said you seemed unstructured and I think just a little slow down in your pace, writing actively what you’re thinking during those creative portions, and then being super detailed about exactly why you think what you think, so going into the second level of everything.
Jenny Rae 30:58
I also feel like, kind of in the same vein, in your case and objective clarification questions, you asked me three. They were decent questions, but I dinged you on that, because I felt like you didn’t give me your own ideas about what should happen, or what you were looking for. So you were kind of asking these very open ended questions that I felt like you could have kind of answered yourself, right? Should we look further on to the future? Of course, like, otherwise, I’m gonna have to come back and pay you again. You know, what kind of distribution should we have? I mean, you don’t know. And I don’t know. But tell me what you think it might be.
Jenny Rae 31:33
I pushed back on the third one, right? You said, you know, how big is our competitor, or how strong is our competitor? Can they weather this? You’re kind of asking for new data there. But you’re trying to cheat a little bit. But we know that they’re smaller than us, in the segment, at least. And so tell me what you would be looking for there in terms of new information. But I kind of felt like you were, on the third one in particular, just stretching for information and kind of chatting through it without being really pointed, and why you wanted the information, which is a danger issue for me.
Jenny Rae 32:03
The other thing that I just wanted to talk about was your structure. Because overall, I liked it. But there were a couple of points of feedback that I had. Your first core bucket of your structure was the whole profitability tree. That was cheating, you can’t do that. Because that and especially BCG will give you feedback. They’ll say, No, no, no, that’s not a MECE structure. You put profitability plus anything else, it’s no longer MECE.
Jenny Rae 32:24
So I think there were a couple of areas inside there that you could have included and you could have even layered some of your other pieces into. But I did not feel like you went sufficiently into the second level of detail in the core areas like price, and quantity, which, quantity was going to get affected. So could we sell more, probably not. You could even have just eliminated that from the beginning. And then talked with me about pricing, which was one of your key hypotheses and gone deeper into what we could have done there. And then cost reduction, and then maybe competitors on the outside.
Jenny Rae 32:58
In addition, you could have layered competitors under pricing. And one hint is that if you put internal profit, when you’re looking at that, just call it something different. So instead of pricing, like say pricing, but then say operations and then use all the cost things under operations. But maybe you know, don’t lay out that pricing structure. And again, this is all second round. I told you I’d pass you in the first round. That structure was a vanilla-ish, first round structure. I wanted something more for second round. So go back and rewrite that.
Jenny Rae 33:32
Then let me point out some of the things I thought you did really well. I liked you at the start of the case. You were eager, excited, enthusiastic, your recap was strong. I think you could have gone a little deeper into the context of the recap that you were adding in. But overall, you got everything. You seemed like you were super with it. In your grand pause, you took two minutes and 20 seconds, just a little over the two minutes. But it felt natural. And it felt like you did something with that time. So when you came out with your game plan, it wasn’t like you just been sitting there for two and a half minutes.
Jenny Rae 34:02
And again, I felt like you attacked it. I liked the vigor that you went after that with, so I feel like there’s a little growth there. I gave you a three on the math. I don’t know, if you felt shaky about. I gave you a three because I think your notes were messy. And you did a really good job at the beginning. Your first math problem was your best one. That was the one where everything felt like it was beautiful and life was simple, right?
Jenny Rae 34:28
You started without giving me a recap, then you recapped it. You started diving into the numbers and you took a step back and you walked through the structure. Then you did a shortcut for the math by just diving right into the final piece which became a nemesis for you later when I asked you to tie everything back, but that’s okay. That’s okay. And you still got there and your math was solid. You didn’t make a math error. You only made structure errors in your math in that you didn’t necessarily use the right things to get to the answer that I needed you to do, but there weren’t fundamentally solving errors.
Jenny Rae 35:01
So I felt comfortable with your ability to do this job mathematically. And I didn’t feel a hindrance for that. But as you saw in the second math question, we went to over seven minutes to answer it. And that was largely reflective of, I think, note taking and a lack of structure. And maybe not in your notes accommodating for what would happen later with math, so not kind of keeping that section with a little bit of space to be able to refer to it.
Jenny Rae 35:41
Well, and then, you know, I felt like your case closing was strong. And I know, you felt like you just wanted to take a deep breath. But you did a good job diving in. Practice diving in, partners don’t have any attention span for that kind of nonsense, the whole structure yourself at the end. You know, we’re almost done here. Let’s just finish it off. So I thought that when I corrected you on that you went for it, you put all three elements that were there, the next steps, you did make a recommendation, and you included a little bit of your methodology.
Jenny Rae 36:08
It could have been a little longer, you probably had another 30 seconds to give me more of the methodology you’ve gone through in the case. And it’s sometimes a good way to message to people like even though my notes were messy, and my process was messy, I do know what I was doing. I just want to congratulate you for doing a really good job and also giving us some material. Thankfully, it wasn’t perfect. I mean, gave us some material to talk about in terms of coaching.
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