Hua Hin, a traditional beach resort overlooking the Gulf of Thailand, gets too sultry during August-December to attract many visitors. But recently, a large group of people descended on the largely empty resort that neither looked like tourists nor did it do any of the usual touristy things.
Instead, the group with only men and women of ages 25-50 in it split into teams that wore similar dresses and worked their way through thick jungles, mountains and rivers around the resort on legs, bicycles and kayaks, always in search of something. For three days, they did mostly that.
To the casual eye, the 210 people gathered in Hua Hin would have looked like members of some sort of a cult, as they went about their grind with monastic nonchalance.
But, in fact, they were top executives from the Indian corporate world who had stepped out of their boardrooms to test their mettle in the third edition of the Microsoft Corporate Challenge.
The contest sought to make the participants from 35 companies think, plan, strategise and execute complex tasks in unknown settings. This was done over three days beginning August 30 through a series of events that tested the intelligence and stamina of the participants as they made their way through the lakes, rivers and jungles of Kaeng Kachan near the Thai-Burma border, the dark caves and crevices in the steep hills of Sum Roi Yot and other obstacles, picking clues along the way.
During the five-stage contest, managed and produced by Sports Media Limited and DNA Networks and sponsored by Microsoft, Business Today and others, the teams comprising seven members had to have at least two women and one senior executive.
Doug Hauger, COO, Microsoft India and one of the participants, had to collect clues from his colleagues returning on a kayak and then proceed to a tropical jungle nearby where the other members of his team would join him with more leads collected during a tiresome biking ordeal through a harsh oriental terrain—all the effort was meant just to solve a puzzle! Did he enjoy? You bet he did.
“It’s just not about physical ability. The key to winning the challenge was to remain together as one unit throughout the course. This was not easy to accomplish over three days in extreme conditions. Only the most physically able, mentally astute and completely cohesive team steals the show,” explained Prem Bhatia, Managing Director, Sports Media.
At the end of three days, points were awarded on the basis of the least time taken to complete the various stages after adding bonus points and deducting penalties.
The Accenture team, which was participating for the first time, emerged champion clocking 398 minutes. Bennett Coleman & Company was the runner-up for the third time with 414 minutes, while Microsoft ‘A’ team finished third in 417 minutes.
“I think this is an amazing competition which brings out the best in you and charges your spirits up both as an individual and as a team,” said Ajay Vij, Senior VP, Facilities & Services, Accenture. “We had differences at various levels, but we worked them out as a team by evaluating our weaknesses and strengths.”
For Deep Kalra, CEO of makemytrip. com, who took part in the challenge along with his team, it was a whole new experience. “This has been a fabulous experience. Apart from participating and enjoying every moment to the fullest, I got to know my colleagues better,” he said.
The teams had to do quite a lot of work over three days: run in the dark to gather clues for a word puzzle; take part in a mock drill to restore an electrical grid-network of a town that had collapsed; search for clues strewn over a large terrain in an exercise that involved running, cycling and kayaking and tested stamina, level of coordination in the absence of restricted means of communications, ability to multitask and deliver under pressure.
In the last stage, members of all the teams had to cycle five kilometres, climb a rock and run across a mountain before converging on the beach and doing some numbercrunching exercises.
The teams then had to walk with wooden planks attached to their feet for extra points before discarding the planks and running towards the finish line on the Sam Roi Yot beach.
“I just loved the competition though I wish I had more time to do a bit of sight-seeing,” rued Aman Wasan, an executive with the sales division of Microsoft.
In the 1st and 2nd edition of the Microsoft Challenge held in Goa and Kochi, respectively, the winners were ICICI and Standard Chartered Bank.
Some of the heavyweight competitors this time round included Unilever, MICO, Deutsche Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Satyam Computer Services, Barclays Bank, Pepsi Foods, JWT, Reliance Capital, Morgan Stanley, JM Financial, RMZ, Indiatimes, Aircel and NDTV.