This article was written on the day of the final by Dr Carol Padgett, Head of Undergraduate Programmes at Henley Business School.
The journey to the final began at the start of the autumn term when I met students to tell them about the benefits of competing in the Universities Business Challenge.
I promised them the chance to experience team work, to think on their feet, to improve their presentation skills and to have fun.
During the autumn term each of our three teams took part in a business simulation, running a fictitious company and responding to changing market conditions from the comfort of home. The semi-final took the teams to Bristol where the challenges came in real time and with an audience. One of our teams triumphed that day, coming first and earning a place in the grand final. I suspect this morning that Cameron, Celine, Chessa, Josh and Stephen are questioning the “fun” element of my original pitch as they travel to IBM’s London headquarters to compete against nine other teams. I feel nervous and I am simply a spectator!
After an introduction to the day and to the way IBM works with students, the teams get straight into the first business simulation. As the tension rises, we supporters decide to do some networking outside the room and let the teams get on with their work. When we come back after the simulation, the students go straight into the next activity.
This is a creativity challenge which is all the more challenging because they have to work with students from opposing teams.
The buzz in the room suggests they are taking this is their stride.
Back from a quick coffee break the teams receive their first period trading results and get straight into the second period. The pace does not give up because once the second trading period ends the teams go immediately into a speed networking event with placement students and IBM employees on the graduate scheme. This is an intense day.
After lunch the results of the creativity challenge come in. The good news is that both the winning and runner up teams in the creativity challenge include Henley students, this can only help our score and provide a confidence boost as the team starts the third trading period. Trading ends and the teams get their creative juices flowing as they prepare for a two-minute presentation at the end of the day. They are given paper, pens blue tack … and hats – and told that if they want to dance on the tables they must first remove high heels. This is going to be interesting …
After the levity of the creative session the teams go straight back to the final trading period for their company. The pressure is on now to generate as much profit as possible. As we await the results of the simulation we see how the students have interpreted their brief to create a new type of CV. We get some rapping, singing and even a homemade kilt.
The Henley team shows us a film which leaves the observing staff from other universities asking how they managed it – great reaction!
The time comes when the teams can do no more. They have to wait for the results while IBM staff talk about their experiences with the company. One presentation focusses on the importance of “being in the room”, that is hard for people who are waiting to find out how they did in a day of intense competition. Finally the wait is over and our team achieves 6th place. I can sense some disappointment, but even reaching the final of a competition which is open to every university in the UK is a tremendous achievement. The Henley students have worked hard, shown their creative sides and been great ambassadors for the school – we can all be proud of them!