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Slugfest of the Minds

Tejeesh N.S. Behl and Rahul Sachitanand     November 26, 2007

A sunny Saturday morning saw the auditorium of Mumbai’s Welingkar Institute of Management filled to capacity to watch the brightest B-school minds from the West Zone battle it out for a spot in the finals of the national B-school challenge. And right from the word go, 34 quiz and 28 debate teams went for the gold—to qualify for the semi-finals.

Taking advantage of a partisan crowd and the home ground, Welingkar’s Deepak Verma and Raj Singh Chauhan breezed through to the finals after overcoming the challenge from Pune’s Symbiosis Centre for Management and Human Resources, represented by Navtej Singh and Ashwin Jain. Their topic: ‘Economic reforms in India have benefited only the rich’.

Winning stroke
Slugging it out in the other semi-final was the country’s numero uno management school, IIM-A, with its duo of Vinamra Srivastava and Mohit Sadani, locked in an intense battle with Giridhar Gopal Bagri and Nayana Renukumaran from the Institute of Rural Management, Anand. Both teams debated whether ‘An MBA is the most hyped qualification in India today’.

IIM Ahmedabad triumphed in the end to set up a battle with Welingkar in the zonal finals. After a brief break, both finalists squared up to argue whether ‘Soft skills, more than technical proficiency, are what separate the great managers from the good ones’.

Welingkar’s Verma and Chauhan argued convincingly for the motion, but their arguments were quickly offset by IIM-A’s Srivastava and Sadani who were adamant that technical skills were what mattered when push came to shove in the corporate world.

And while it must be said that Welingkar’s stand did hold water, it was better articulation by the IIM-A duo that saw both judges—H. R. Shashikant, Senior President, Group Human resources, Aditya Birla Group, and Pavan Varshnei, Publishing Director, Business Today—awarding them the title. That allows them a shot at winning the national debate championship in the Grand National Finale to be held in Mumbai on December 15, 2007.

Vinamra Srivastava IIM Ahmedabad
Vinamra Srivastava
But the fireworks weren’t limited to teams matching their debating skills; they were also on display as four teams reached the zonal finals of the quiz round to match their wits and knowledge. It was a contestroyale of seven rounds between Souvik Basu and Govind Grewal of Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies; Prashant Sampath and Chaitanya Marathe from SJMSOM, IIT Bombay; Tanmay Kumar and Alok Dattaray Malshet of Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune; and Srinath T. B. and Abid E.H. of IIM-A.

The victors: Basu and Grewal from Narsee Monjee. But what really stole the show was the B-School Alumni quiz in which alumni from various institutes were randomly paired into four teams. M. Suresh Kumar of TCS and an alumnus of IIM-C joined forces with Tushar Chaudhary—an alumnus of IIM Kozhikode—working with Axis Bank.

Others in the fray included Saurabh Goel of Cognizant (IIFT) and Rakesh Taklikar of SCB (FMS, Delhi); Vishwajeeth P. of Sun Microsystems (IGNOU) paired with Samrat Sengupta of Capgemini (IIM Lucknow); and Prasan Potdar of ICICI (NITIE) with S. Sathi Aseelan of Netcribes (Bharatidasan Institute).

Of course, the questions thrown at both the teams and the audience were aimed at the recipients’ intelligence and ingenuity. Sample this: What is the angels’ share in the alcohol trade? While Kumar of TCS wasn’t sure of the answer, he hazarded a guess—the content in the barrel lost to evaporation—and won some handsome points for his team to eventually finish as the 2nd runners up.

The quiz rounds—named after Business Today’s departments like Cover Story, Back of the Book, Current, Trends, Features, etc.—saw a heated contest among the four teams, two of whom were ousted in the penultimate round. The eventual winners: Goel of Cognizant with his team-mate Taklikar of SCB who came from behind to prevail over Vishwajeeth P. and Sengupta.

And it wasn’t just the participating teams that were drawing the audience’s applause—Acumen host Harsha Bhogle and anchor Tarana Singh kept up the energy levels with audience questions—prizes for which ranged from Acumen T-shirts, Business Today diaries and mugs to Braun electric shavers, Nokia phones by Business Today and a year’s subscription of Harvard Business Review.

And injecting some more fun into the audience round, Bhogle’s throwing of the audience prizes often had them landing in the wrong hands—though they eventually did find their way to deserving persons!

Southern Fire

The scene of action shifted from Mumbai to Bangalore a week later for the southern finals of Business Today Acumen 2007, in association with Aditya Birla Group. The verdant campus of the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, was set alight by the quiz team of Chinmay Mishra and Shamanth Madhava Rao from another IIM (Kozhikode, this time), as they lorded over the competition, winning the competition with a stunning 215 points, nearly four times the second placed team.

“When you have a quiz team like this you keep going on for many more rounds,” declared quiz master Harsha Bhogle. The quiz was spread across seven rounds, with four teams from IIM Kozhikode, IIM Bangalore and TA Pai Institute of Management, Manipal and Bharathidasan Institute of Management duelling across rounds named after cricket (what else) and BT’s own content, such as Straight Bat, Bookies Corner and, of course, Cover Story.

Harsha Bhogle
Harsha Bhogle

IIM-K got into their groove straightaway, building up a commanding lead over the next hour. The questions came in all shapes and sizes, from direct rounds, video and audio clues to seemingly random linkages. Some examples: In 17th century Japan, merchants stored rice in warehouses and in order to get liquid cash they sold receipts called ‘rice tickets’ against the stored rice.

These tickets soon became a general currency. China is believed to have done something similar 6,000 years ago. The Japanese methodology is, however, remarkably similar to the current rules governing which US instruments? (Futures trading); which entity now owns more than half the hotel rooms on the Las Vegas Strip, including the hotel with the most number of rooms as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records? (MGM Mirage); and Frederick’s of Hollywood is a famous US retailer of lingerie with stores in many modern shopping malls across the US.

The business was started by Frederick Mellinger, who is also credited with which uplifting invention, which he called ‘The Rising Star’? (The push-up bra). In the end, Mishra and Rao cantered home and won themselves a place in the national finals to be held in Mumbai.

It wasn’t the quiz alone that kept the IIM auditorium packed to the rafters, with both the semi-finals and finals of the debate keeping the audience glued to their seats. In the first semi-final, the topic was ‘Profits will cease to be corporations’ raison d’etre’, with ISB Hyderabad (Aarti Kothari and Yuzdi Badhniwalla Navroz) out-arguing Loyola Institute of Business Management, Chennai (Soubir Ignatius Ghose and Shelton Shonit Wilfred Rego). Arguing that profits are at the core of all organisations, the duo from ISB contended that other initiatives related to people and processes were only the supporting cast in this act.

In the second round, IIM-B (Sahil Barua and Sandeep Das) successfully argued that globalisation only benefits developed countries, prevailing over a spirited team from IIM-K (Vikram Chandrashekhar and Kaustabh Bhatnagar). The winners successfully argued that globalisation had only benefited developed nations and in the process made millions of residents across under-developed and developing nations poorer.

IIM-B then did even better in the debate finals when Barua and Das defeated their opponents from ISB, by successfully arguing that “Leaders are born not made.” The team convinced the judges that leaders had specific character traits that were inborn rather than acquired. Citing examples of persons as diverse as Jeff Skilling of Enron and father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme Abdul Qadeer Khan, the IIM Bangalore students argued that they lacked specific inborn characteristics such as honesty and integrity and were, therefore, unsuitable to be long-term leaders.

Before these events on an action-packed Sunday, over 40 B-schools slugged it out for a chance to be in the quiz and debate finals on Saturday, with quizzers going through a written preliminary round. Bhogle and an enthusiastic M.C. Mary Ann kept the audience on their toes with snap quizzes, impromptu events (including a laughter competition) and many prizes. The audience proved up to the task every time a challenge was thrown at them, with half-a-dozen of them volunteering for the laughter challenge, and others taking part in a dance contest as well as the audience quiz.

Apart from Business Today and the Aditya Birla Group, other sponsors and partners of the event are TravelGuru, Esprit, Aditya Birla Minacs and Birla SunLife Insurance (prize sponsors for the finals), Headlines Today (TV partner), Fever 104 FM (radio partner), (media partner), (online media partner) and IIM Bangalore (B-school partner). After the crackling southern round it’s now over to last of the regional round to be held in Kolkata and then the big one: the National finals in Mumbai.

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