12 May 2016

Stephen Prsa, from the HEC Paris MBA Class of 2017, discusses the lessons that he learned in this year’s MBA Tournament.

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Victory always boils down to the same ingredients: endurance, strength, aptitude, strategy and dedication. This year’s MBA Tournament was the perfect showcase for such ingredients, as over 1500 participants from 17 of the top business schools across Europe gathered at HEC Paris for the largest 3-day sports competition of its kind. From the high-top sneakers on the basketball court to the high-heels on the salsa floor, the competitors certainly earned their blisters. But from my eyes, this year’s winner was a different type of victor; A victor who nevertheless collected the same blisters on their feet as the competitors. While the athletes of one school were guaranteed to walk away with the trophy at the end of the tournament, it was the volunteers who demonstrated the ingredients of victory more than any sports team.

Many had tasks that required a lot of endurance. Perhaps no one endured more over the tournament than the man behind the zebra – a 10-kilogram fleece zebra with absolutely no ventilation. Now imagine you’ve been wearing that zebra costume for 8 straight hours, it’s 27 degrees Celsius outside, you’ve walked a 300-meter vertical climb 4 times already and now you’re running back and forth trying to fire up the crowd at a football match. God bless the zebra (and every other school mascot that showed up for the event to cheer on their squads).

And then there was strength. The strength required of the saints who volunteered to lug the kegs of beer around from tent-to-tent to ensure our guests stayed cool throughout the weekend. Let me put that into perspective for you. A full keg of beer is 73 kilograms. We consumed 141 of them. That means our volunteers muscled the strength to move and pour over 10.2 metric tons of beer in 3 days. I’m sure it was appreciated.

Of course, coordinating an event like MBAT wouldn’t be possible without a keen level of mental aptitude. As I was leaving campus shortly after 1 in the morning on the second night, there was one sight in particular that caught my eye. It was the lights in window of a meeting room on the second floor of the MBA Building – the MBAT meeting room. While there were 1500 participants enjoying their evening a few hundred metres away, a few bright minds were sitting around the table with their own lights on, enhancing and improvising the logistics for the following days. While a few minor glitches are to be expected, those bright minds ensured an incredible weekend for everyone in attendance.

But mental acuity can only get you so far if it’s applied with the right strategy. For the MBAT organizing committee, that strategy started almost 8 months ago. That was before we had sponsors, participating schools, a selection of sports and even volunteers. This team developed a roll out strategy to serve all 1500 participants from 17 schools. That includes 350 different sports teams, over 13,000 meals served, 10 hotels, and jumping through a countless number of unexpected hoops and roadblocks.

Finally, there’s dedication; It came from the head of the MBAT planning committee, to the students who spent their weekend sitting by themselves in the sun, helping the odd student find the right bus to get back to their hotel. And this goes beyond HEC Paris. The captains across all 17 volunteer schools collaborated endlessly to the last minute to ensure a seamless integration, and even new friends stepped up when they could to help a rival athlete with injury, or even just point them to the tennis courts.

And sure, the HEC Paris students might get a credit or two for volunteering their time, but the credits don’t matter. I realized it on the second night while I found myself crowdsurfing on top of 1500 screaming fans watching battle of the bands when my friend yelled to me “Can you believe we’re getting credits for this?!”

The MBA Tournament isn’t about victory, but when you’re surrounded by 1500 MBA students you know that competition is at the core of the experience. HEC Paris was proud to take the trophy this year – We certainly worked hard for it. But when I compare the roar from the crowd at the announcement of “And the winner is: HEC Paris!” to the smiles on the faces of the volunteers who made this year’s MBAT a roaring success, I know where the true victory lies. You could see it in the hidden smile behind the zebra mask, the stressed muscles of the girl carrying that keg of beer, the bags under the eyes of the planning committee, the handshake of every new encounter, and in the blisters on the feet of every single volunteer.

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For more photos from this year’s MBA Tournament, visit the Facebook page.

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