The look of victory was written all over Adrian Maulana’s sweat-stained face. The MBA student from Indonesia had just defeated his opponent on the badminton court, winning yet another gold for Oxford’s Saïd Business School, moving the University of Oxford closer to a fifth consecutive win at the MBA Olympics at HEC Paris.
Like so many of the matches here at the MBA Tournament, known simply as MBAT, this one against London Business School was fraught with unyielding pressure and visible emotion. There were dives onto the floor of the gym to return a well-placed serve, sudden breaks for toweling off the sweat from the sheer exertion of hard competition, and cheers from teammates watching two players give everything they could muster to win.
The lead in both games was exchanged many times. In the first match, Maulana eked out a 21-19 victory on a low mid-court shot. After his LBS opponent took a quick 2-0 lead in the second game, Maulana came roaring back, 12-5, then 15-8, and finally a decisive 21-10 final score to win the best-of-three match.
OXFORD WON GOLD IN A NUMBER OF EVENTS FROM ROWING TO POKER
Maulana, who often shouted out a celebratory “Cho” after winning a point, prevailed and so did his Oxford teammates, winning gold in numerous events, from rowing to swimming relay and track and poker. By the end of the tournament on late Saturday afternoon, Oxford’s 194-strong MBA team would pile up 685 points in the three-day competition to beat HEC’s 644. Both teams left everyone else in the dust. Cambridge Judge Business School was third with 472 points, with London Business School next at 387, and ESADE Business School in Spain fifth with 342 (see table below).
With many of the finals scheduled for Saturday, heightened passions were evident on every field, court and sports table. The already competitive games were more aggressively played in the hope that teams could either catch up or build on their leads. After an especially hard-fought women’s basketball final between HEC Paris and Oxford, HEC’s chief strategy officer for MBAT had to acknowledge the obvious. “MBAs are competitive,” said Elisa Leehan. “You don’t enter an MBA program if you are not competitive. The rankings mean so much to us precisely because we’re competitive and yet they‘re just a stupid number.”
Regardless of the tournament’s outcome, the 32nd edition of the MBA Tournament was a special triumph for Leehan and the 30 other HEC Paris MBA students who formed the core leadership team to make it happen. Together, they spent thousands of hours painstaking planning and executing the event for months on end. For all the talk of experiential learning in MBA circles these days, the planning and execution of MBAT, with its $500,000 budget and the nightmarish logistics of keeping more than 1,300 people fed, safe, and happy, is the ultimate action-learning project.
‘WHERE DO YOU FIND A CRICKET PLAYER IN FRANCE?’
“It’s such an accelerated experience,” explained Caroline Le Bigot, an MBA advisor to the MBAT leadership team. “There are so many details while keeping the big view in sight. Just think about where you would find a cricket referee in France?”
By all accounts, the student team led by Victor Heaulme worked together seamlessly without conflict or personal drama. Even when Heaulme left for two weeks in February to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with his father and brother, classmates gladly and expertly filled in. Philippe Guiton, a former lawyer from Canada who is getting his MBA at HEC, estimates that he spent at least 120 hours working on the event in the past three weeks, averaging less than five hours of sleep a night. Many of the skills acquired during his years as a lawyer, he says, were transferable to the operations role he played for MBAT including “problem-solving, thinking on your feet, and dealing with stressful situations. But it was definitely out of my comfort zone. It’s all about getting things done.”
In any case, the home team did HEC proud, coming within striking distance of Oxford and winning many gold medals itself. Minutes before the men’s basketball championship between HEC and ESADE, the anticipation of the game fueled a bit of trash talk in a steamy and humid gym. “It’s going to be a slaughter,” predicted an enthused Patti Brown, senior executive director of academic affairs for MBA programs at HEC. “We just have an exceptional team.” After all, HEC could leverage the talent of a six-f00t-nine tall MBA student, Mouphtaou Yarou, who had played professionally for ten years in France.
IN WOMEN’S BASKETBALL, AN ASSERTIVE AND COMBATIVE CHAMPIONSHIP BETWEEN OXFORD & IE BUSINESS SCHOOL
She didn’t lie. ESADE immediately fell behind, 8-0, until finally getting on the board with a couple of free throws. Four of the first eight points by HEC were scored with perfectly executed corner jump shots by Yarou. By the half, HEC was ahead 15-7, allowing the team to cruise to a 32-14 blowout. ESADE never led in the game.
The biggest surprise, perhaps, was the fact that the team didn’t have to rely on Yarou at all. He scored just eight of the team’s 32 points. The school’s MBA athletes proved a well-oiled machine on the court, eager to pass the ball to teammates who had better shots—and who, more often than not, made them. Yarou proved the quintessential team player. When HEC’s victory was secure, he began asking teammates on the sidelines to come in and replace him on the court.
The lopsided victory in the game was a counterpoint to the previous championship match in women’s basketball where Oxford was playing IE Business School for the gold. Oxford women were well trained and prepared for the fight, having admittedly practiced twice a week for six months before the match. The play was obtrusively energetic, assertive, and combative.
‘I DREW ON MY DESIRE TO BEAT OXFORD AT ANYTHING’
Unlike the men’s game, both team’s could taste victory at the half, with IE in the lead by only a pair of points, 11-9. Elbows were out, mad scrambles for a loose ball were common, and all of the women were red-faced from sheer exhaustion by the game’s end. Oxford’s players missed many of their shots on basket, allowing IE to pull out a surprising 23-15 upset.
The IE team was elated. “I drew on my desire to beat Oxford at anything,” said Eva Blumenfeld, a New Yorker who is getting her MBA at IE in Madrid. “It was just pure passion. MBAT is the Hunger Games, and Oxford’s MBAs are the Careers. But all the training in the world won’t mess with someone’s spirit.”
Though Blumenfeld hadn’t played basketball since she was eight years of age, she found herself having to guard one of Oxford’s most aggressive players and left the court after the win with a bad bruise on the left side of her body to prove it.
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