Students Defeat Faculty in SOM MBA Challenge
Through five rounds the two sides battled like gladiators, only they were in a wood-paneled Yale auditorium instead of the Roman Coliseum and were answering questions on business trivia rather than facing hungry lions. But the atmosphere in the room on November 15 was one of great import as the challengers fought off questions about stock symbols, famous business leaders, and which U.S. company bought Godiva in 1966 (Campbell Soup).
The event was the SOM Student-Faculty MBA Challenge, pitting a team of students from the Class of 2008 — Bob Doherty, Koichi Kurisu, Jeff Levi, Krishnan Vishwanathan, and Lisa Howie — against a Murderers’ Row of faculty — Doug Rae, Jeff Sonnenfeld, Keith Chen, and Stan Garstka. The idea for the contest sprung from the student team’s victory in August in the first CNBC Fast Money MBA Challenge, where they defeated the University of Texas in a live taping in front of the NASDAQ in Times Square to claim the $200,000 first prize. In this version, held on the Yale campus, the $1,100 winnings would go to student-run fundraising organization the Internship Fund (in the event of a student victory), or the United Way of Greater New Haven (in the event of a faculty victory).
The Student-Faculty MBA Challenge was coordinated by the staff of the Office of Student and Academic Services, led by Sheri Scully, ably assisted by the SOM IT department, led by SOM CIO Tolga Ergunay, who developed the graphics and “gameshow” environment.
Through the first round, the two teams traded the lead, with the faculty going up first (Q: What’s the only Fortune 500 petroleum company headquartered in Manhattan? Chen: Hess?). The students caught up and went ahead when Doherty correctly answered the question, What company’s stock ticker is a knockout? — Coke (KO). The faculty, though, opened a lead through the second round by correctly identifying which oil tycoon earned $1.1 billion through two hedge funds in 2006 (T. Boone Pickens) and the product invented by New Haven’s A.C. Gilbert (the erector set). As the game moved into the "Stock Ticker" category, the faculty had to be feeling confident.
During the third round, things got ugly. A slim faculty lead turned into a massive deficit, as the students made no mistakes and the faculty couldn’t come up with a single correct answer. At the point at which the students went up 100,000 to 55,000 by correctly identifying JWN as Nordstrom, Podolny turned to the faculty with the next symbol, PX. “Here’s an opportunity to make up some lost ground,” he said. But judging from the body-language of the faculty, only more ground would be lost. Chen, looking bewildered, held his head in his hands. No one in the group knew that PX is for Praxair. By the end of the round, students led 105,000 to 55,000.
Both sides stumbled through Round 4, or the “Hot Seat,” giving back points. After dropping to 35,000 points, the faculty rallied a bit, answering two straight questions correctly to pull within 75,000 to 50,000 going into the final round, “Name That Person.” Each side would be asked a single question, worth at first 100,000 points, but decreasing in value as more clues were offered. The faculty needed only two clues to name Michael Bloomberg as the answer to their question, pulling ahead, 130,000 to 75,000.
For the first time since early in the competition, the faculty led. The crowd, made up mostly of students, grew quiet. The student competitors had faced a similar situation in August against Texas. They had come out on top then, but it wasn’t clear they’d be able to pull off the feat a second time.
These were the clues the students — all from the class of 2008 — were given:
1. He was born of an American mother and a Syrian father, but soon put up for adoption by his unwed mother.
2. His first job was at Hewlett-Packard, followed by a stint at Atari. His first company helped people make illicit free long-distance phone calls.
3. In 1983, he lured John Scully, then at Pepsi, to his company, famously asking him if he wanted just to make sugared water or change the world. Two years later, he got booted from the company he founded.
For 60,000 points, the right answer is…. There was a moment of confusion, and it appeared the students didn’t have an answer, but then one of them shouted out “Steve Jobs!” and the audience erupted in cheers. An epic victory had been achieved against the faculty — and the students were off to a pizza party featuring Modern Apizza, to celebrate. Dean Joel Podolny, the event’s moderator, turned to the faculty and offered his condolences. “You were way closer to them than anyone predicted,” he said. “You beat the spread.”