The MBA Olympics: Organizing The Largest Global Gathering Of MBAs

If there is such a thing as a global MBA Olympics, it is the highly celebrated and intensely competitive sports tournament organized every year by MBA students at HEC Paris. It also may well be the largest gathering of MBA students in the world. Widely known by its simple acronym MBAT for MBA Tournament, the event brings together more than 1,500 students from over a dozen top business schools who fiercely compete with each other over a three-day event that features everything from soccer, cricket and rugby to basketball, ping pong and ultimate Frisbee (the video above captures the hoopla and excitement of the games).

With its elaborate opening and closing ceremonies, the tournament is very much like an Olympics. Teams from each of the attending schools will march into the event in their school colors and flags. A torch will be lit during the opening ceremony on May 4th. Gold, silver and bronze medals will go to the winners of each competition. There’s a dance competition, a battle of the bands, networking sessions and social cocktail parties, along with a closing black-tie gala on May 6th. The most popular competitions evolve around soccer (or as the Europeans call it football), tennis and rugby. But there are also e-game challenges over Formula One and League of Legends. All told, last year’s event featured 25 different games.

And there is no lack of enthusiasm among the participants. “During the three days, there is a huge competitive aspect to it,” says Aditya Vijay, a healthcare entrepreneur from India who is director of sports this year. “It gets quite competitive. And HEC has good rivalries with London Business School and Oxford Said.” In fact, Oxford’s Said Business School team won the overall tournament last year for the third consecutive year. HEC Paris and London Business School finished in second and third place, respectively.


While last year’s event drew 15 of the top European business schools, this year’s organizers are hoping to attract a number of U.S. business schools. “We want this to be the largest global gathering of MBAs so that it is just not European schools,” says Victor Heaulme, president of MBAT this year. The French-born MBA student left Baker Hughes as a digital project manager to pursue his degree at HEC Paris. He’s hopeful that New York University’s Stern School of Business will send a team this year, and the organizers are now approaching Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and other top business schools in the U.S. to make the event more global than ever. “The hardest challenge right now is getting those new schools,” adds Heaulme. “We are reaching out to Singapore, Japan and the States. So it is creating the journey map including a presentation roadshow in January.”

Organizing this gathering is a monumental task in itself involving everything from getting teams to come to campus to compete to arranging bulk rates for student stays at local hotels and transportation. It falls to a team of energetic MBA candidates at HEC Paris. They first had to compete with another group of students for the honor of managing the event. Heaulme’s group, now composed of 14 core student members and two advisors,  won by taking a marketing approach that included a slick video inspired by the TV series Friends and a pledge to focus on three pillars: sustainability, inclusivity and safety. Heaulme put the promotional video up on his LinkedIn page. After an initial presentation by the team in mid-September, students voted on Oct. 31st. It was a close call, with Heaulme’s team winning by just two out of 150 votes cast.

The team hopes to add a few new twists to this next year’s event. Among them are less competitive challenges in the form of board games and a scavenger hunt. And Heaulme would like to see the deans of each school show up for one big challenge. “A tug of war could be one possibility with a giant pitch filled with mud in the middle,” he says. “It would be nice to see them in a different environment after only seeing them in suits most of the time.”


The core team of HEC Paris MBA students organizing next year’s global MBA Olympics

How do the team members balance their organizing work with the demands of a rigorous MBA program? “It’s about priority setting and expectation management,” explains Heaulme. “Besides, we do this out of passion so the hours don’t feel like a chore or a task. I will send emails at 1 a.m. One of our coaches told us this week that someone may not deliver in a given week. We just need to be prepared to pass it to someone else to make sure it gets done.”

The competition rarely gets heated, however. “A lot of people are very aware that they are representing their MBA programs and there is a line that no one will cross,” says Elisa Leehan, an American from Virginia who had worked in consulting for Booz Allen Hamilton and KPMG. Leehan and several other current MBA students at HEC Paris cite the event as one of the reasons they applied to and enrolled at the school.

She concedes that the amount of work ahead of the team can sometimes be daunting enough to cause some restless nights. “I keep waking up every hour to make sure I am not sleeping through my alarm,” laughs Leehan. “The majority of that stress comes and goes. At the end of the day, MBAT is fun. It’s rewarding.”


Vijay agrees. “My stressful nights will come,” he says. “It goes back to the idea that if you enjoy what you are doing it’s easy. We are all expecting a lot of work as the event gets closer but we enjoy making the event successful.”

Pulling off a successful event attended by more than 1,200 students can’t hurt one’s resume. “It gives the leadership teams a great story to tell in interviews,” says Vijay. “It just adds richness to a graduate’s overall MBA experience and allows you to connect with an interviewer on a different level.” Adds Heaulme, “If you went to HEC and you see that on a resume that would allow you to stand out.”

The team has yet to set next year’s ticket price for participants which covers the cost to attend and compete in the events.

Four weeks in, Heaulme believes the team has progressed well on its goals. “We have already accomplished and planned a lot in the first four weeks,” he maintains. “As president, I was told I wasn’t going to sleep all that much. But there are four chief officers for operations, strategy, marketing and finance and they are all very strong. Our operations guy is thinking of everything.  So I haven’t lost sleep a single night. The better we plan it, the more we get to play.”




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