Women In Leadership: Spot The Leopards – A Different Kind of MBA Networking

London Business School’s Women’s Touch Rugby Team

November 2021. Picture the scene: early Friday morning at London’s Stansted Airport, heaving with people. This is enough to make British readers shudder. Most of us avoid Stansted at all costs. We’ve spent too much money on strong coffee, tricked into thinking the 3 a.m. start was worth it for the low-fare flight. But no amount of coffee can prepare you for the hours you’re about to spend with Stansted’s most famous clientele. 90% of airport-goers turn up for their flights wearing fake veils and superhero costumes, jetting off on hen dos and raucous stags (for my American friends, read bachelor and bachelorette parties). I was headed for a different kind of European winter sun. My London Business School-branded backpack and I bobbed through the throngs of not-quite-newlyweds, seeking out the rest of my LBS teammates from the Women’s Touch Rugby Club.

I was about to embark upon my first LBS ‘trek’. Treks are trips abroad organized by one of the school’s student clubs, either for social, cultural or career events. The Women’s Touch Rugby Club runs one of the first treks of the term, Short Tour, together with the LBS Men’s Rugby Club. 75 ‘Leopards’, as we’re named, and a similar number of ‘Hawaiians’ as the boys are called, were gathering in Barcelona; some were ready for the Sangria, others for the touch rugby tournament against Madrid’s IE, Barcelona’s IESE and Paris’ INSEAD. And in deference to the Stansted experience, we too had been charged with a uniform code. All leopards were to don tour attire throughout the trip: any form of leopard print. Elegant scrunchies bobbed through the scanners, socks flashed during security checks and even a faux-fur floor-length coat was spotted amidst the general population of fake veils and obscene t-shirts.

Whilst researching MBA schools, I heard a lot about LBS’ Women’s Touch Rugby Club (WTRC). Most raved about the social scene, others about the extensive careers network – and just a few lauded the sport, particularly the rugby tours in Europe and the USA. I signed up immediately – and not just because it was the only stall at the LBS club fair run by students in costume. It turned out to be the most versatile club too.

Women’s Touch Rugby Club training for their matches


In the two months before this mass gathering of leopard spots in Spain, WTRC had laid on a full calendar of career events, sports training, and innumerable socials. I joined the WTRC media careers circle and met two second-year club members who offered me interview preparation. I’d crawled through the pubs of London one week and tried out roller discoing the next (once is enough I think). Every Tuesday and Saturday, I’d headed to Regent’s Park – arguably London’s prettiest Royal Park – to re-learn how to catch a rugby ball (‘catch’ being loosely interpreted). New captain Jess had introduced us all to ‘bean boots’ (the U.S.’ answer to welly boots) and one or two had unknowingly met their future significant others…

Now WTRC was gathering en masse in Spain for a packed schedule of daytime activities (just leopards) and evening socials and the big tournament (together with the Hawaiians). Kicking off the weekend was the first of many events: Career Canoe lunches. Blink twice and you still wouldn’t miss the matching bum bags and paw-printed bucket hats dotted about the city. I was headed to a tapas lunch organized by the club’s AMC – Alumni, Mentorship and Careers Committee. We’d been put into ‘canoes’, small groups of students with similar career aspirations, work experience, or academic interests. I was in the career-switchers group. As many as 70% of MBA students investigate an industry pivot in their first year at LBS, a statistic you don’t hear about until you get here. Still, you’re limited to choosing just 10 of the 80 electives available to absorb the knowledge and skills needed to ready yourself for your new sector. Here was a group of women who’d come out of adjacent industries, upskilled, and completed a year of their pivot: gold dust for a first-year MBA. Over calimocha and calamari, (which go better together on paper), we chatted about tactics, lecturers, and resources.

I also discovered the existence of the spreadsheet, a list of candid reviews from club members. It’s fiercely protected, locked by every Google security feature possible to preserve the integrity of the club’s paid membership benefits. Beware of the attempt to screenshot it. Your keyboard will fail. Your guilt will be known. Your access rescinded. You’ll bid too little for Pathways to Start-up Success, and too much for Paths to Power. And if you don’t pay your second-year membership fees, you’ll meet the same fate.

London Business School’s Men’s and Women’s Rugby Team Members


Others, who’d paired their tapas more wisely, had requested to be put into a different career canoe: consulting. The (many, many) budding consultants used this opportunity to line up case prep. Case prepping is hot currency at MBA schools. For those who’ve never ventured near the world of MBB, case prep refers to the practice case studies consulting firms use to interview potential candidates. Each case is around an hour long, each applicant should rack up about 20 hours worth of practice before heading to the interview. The best way to practice? Ask your classmates, who’ve already worked or interned at MBB. These MBB-ers help ‘case’ their classmates, teaching them how to break down and work out a case study. Some schools even pay them to ‘case’ their peers. There are perhaps forty in each MBA cohort… versus the hundreds of students who apply to MBB for internships each year (times twenty hours). In short, the diaries of MBB-ers offering case preparation get booked up, fast. You need to find these gold dust MBB students and charm them into casing you.

So, imagine those lucky leopards in the consulting canoes, lunching with the MBB students. There was Denise (Bain), WTRC president. Or those with Jaime (Bain) or Jess (Bain), both captains. Or those grouped with Micah from socials (Bain), Luiza or Lyne (Bain, Bain), AMC’s Laura (Bain), or current WTRC president Kate (jackpot …BCG). Those seeking McKinsey case prep resorted to fraternizing with the enemy (the boys), where two McKinsey MBAs could be found drifting around the pubs of Barcelona…together with, yes, another Bainie.

I underestimated the emphasis the club placed on career advancement before I joined. Now, as treasurer, I manage budgeting and expense tracking. I’d expected the lion’s share of expenses to go towards social events or field, referee, or kit hire. Instead, in the first term of this year, we’ve spent more on hydrating the networking evenings than the pub crawls. I’ve also noticed that the amount of communication the club sends for careers and mentoring roughly equals that of the captains…for training. This is surprising since captains need to train 75 new players to meet standards in 8 weeks. This task is hard when one captain (who’ll remain nameless) sends 8 weeks’ worth of diary invites for practice at 11 am, and the other has to recall and correct all of them (Thank you, Jess) because we practice at 11.30.

Team Members At London Business School Gathered After A Game


There’s no question that sport is the keystone of the club. The highlight is Long Tour, in spring, when the club lays on a week-long trip to the States. WTRC travels to face the D1 athletes of Duke, North Carolina, Harvard, Wharton. and Yale. But for most of the leopards, Barcelona was their first sporting test. Together with the Hawaiians, we were about to take on the European MBA schools.

As we headed to the field, a smattering of background muttering could be heard as teams discussed tactics. Laura and Kate, having newly-learned ‘scoops’ and ‘loops’, were trying to convince their very-unconvinced team members to try them out. Others were trying to remember their drills. Some had decided that today’s field-side refreshments would be the best cure for too many of last night’s refreshments. Senior club members were devising fines for players who’d forgotten their splash of leopard print. I was busy adopting two new team members, two 18-year-olds who seemed to be the only ESADE representatives. They were also, as it happens, extremely talented rugby players. Adopting them was in the open, the welcoming spirit of the tournament – and a very calculated move. That’s because as my team had lined up for our first match, out onto the field strode not 1, not 2, 3 or even 4, but 5 enormous male rugby players and one diminutive woman. INSEAD had brought their internationals.

A touch rugby team should field at least one woman. But those fielding three get an extra point. Each try (a try is like a touchdown or a goal) is equivalent to one point – so by just having three women on the field, you’ll receive an automatic try. Naturally, my team was an even three men and three women (as newbies to the game, we wanted that extra point, thank you very much). Of course, when you have international ex-professionals, you probably don’t need that extra point. Even less so when they’re so tall, they block out the sun.

London Business School MBAs and alumni gathered together


I won’t bore you with the score (we didn’t need to keep count after a while). We’ll fast-forward to the final when it gets interesting. MBAs are competitive people. We’re Type A: we really don’t like losing. By the time four London Business School teams, IE, IESE and the stragglers of ESADE had all lost to INSEAD’s super-team, a new plot was afoot. What’s more, the Hawaiians, fresh from defending their MBA World Cup Championship title, had noticed the furor and turned up to support us (read: guzzle sideline beers). In the final match of the day, nearly 70 players, continuously rotating on and off the field, took on the INSEAD titans. Perhaps the sideline refreshments were too refreshing, or the scoops were too easily confused with loops and loops with scoops. In the end, the might of INSEAD again prevailed.

There was only one recourse: the pub. Leopards, new and old, crowded in for the time-honored tradition of post-match ‘court’. For many leopards, this was their first court experience. I remember looking on, intrigued, as the social chairs booted up yet another secret spreadsheet and began to call new members up to the bar, one by one, amidst whispers of initiations, songs and new nicknames…

The rest of the story will remain a mystery. The social scene of the club is perhaps its strongest feature, but also its best-guarded secret. Newcomers turn up with stories inherited from alumni, who return year after year to make more memories. Rumors abound, snippets about Hawaiian pockets, our mascot Clemmie, and unusual nicknames… but club members are tasked with preserving an air of mystery around our social rituals. If anything, this is largely for the rest of the club’s amusement. Take our nicknames, for example, chosen in honor of an amusing or relevant rugby-related story. Imagine my consternation when having to explain to any who asks, that my nickname Chiclets (ice hockey slang for a tooth injury) was chosen after I chipped a tooth in my own flat, tripping over my own feet whilst trying to demonstrate to my flatmate the simple task of picking up a rugby ball. Luckily, leopards may only reveal their own nickname stories, so those with exciting tales, (Captains Jess Daz and Christine Tiny Rebel heave a sigh of relief) are safe from further revelation in this column. It’s part of what makes this community strong, and why so many join. Building a network is a long-term investment. Instead of trawling through databases of contacts, it’s a lot easier if you can meet and bond, organically. In my experience, there’s no group more powerful than a girl gang, no icebreaker better than leopard print.

Written by Jemima Chiclets

Bio: Jemima is a second-year MBA candidate at London Business School. She is a Forte Foundation and BK Birla scholar and is Vice-President of the Entrepreneurship Club, Women in Business and Women’s Touch Ruby Club. Prior to LBS, Jemima spent 8 years in advertising and communications at AMV BBDO and challenger brand consultancy eatbigfish. Jemima worked across numerous sectors, winning a silver Cannes Lion and numerous marketing awards. Jemima is also a qualified Coral Reef Research Diver and received her MA in Classics from Queens’ College, Cambridge. She is currently completing the Entrepreneurship summer school.



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