A First-Ever MBA Fracas
- by Matthew Brodsky
It might have been the first private-equity competition among business schools. But it was definitely the first B-school private-equity competition focused on Latin America.
The Wharton Latin American PE Competition, held Feb. 4, 2012, in conjunction with the Wharton Private Equity and Venture Capital Conference, brought together eight MBA teams from Columbia, MIT, Chicago, Kellogg, London Business School (LBS) and Wharton. Seven managers from top Latin American private-equity firms participated as judges, and more than 20 people audited the event, according to Tomas Gazmuri, a member of the Class of ’12 who helped to organize the competition along with classmates Gustavo Cardenas, Nicolas Escallon, Carmen Madanes and Ricardo Yunis, and first-year student Sam Abraham.
A team from Wharton, predominantly second-year MBA students, won the event. But this outcome was far from certain, recalls Gazmuri.
“It was scary at the beginning,” he says, but not for the reasons you’re thinking.
The competitors were divided into two tracks, with the final showdown featuring the track winners. The organizers’ fear was that Wharton teams would win both tracks—the other Wharton team consisted mostly of first-years—and then teams from other schools would not return for next year’s event.
Instead, the finale pitted Wharton versus Kellogg.
During each match, the teams received a hypothetical business case and had 1.5 hours to decide how to structure a deal to present to the judges. The competition’s design had Wharton’s stamp on it, Gazmuri says, explaining that the challenge was difficult, spontaneous and pressure-filled, and required a presentation in front of peers and practitioners.
When conceptualizing the program last September, a group of Wharton MBAs interested in Latin America PE came together with two goals in mind: to establish the Wharton brand as the leader for PE in the region, and to create a space for networking with private-equity executives and fellow students. The competition appears to have achieved both ends.
“It’s highly probable that we will have a network afterward,” Gazmuri says.
The organizers also forged closer bonds with the judges involved, particularly the Latin American Venture Capital Association (LAVCA), whose president and founder participated. These are give-and-take relationships. As Gazmuri tells it, the MBA competitors were able to provide a fresh perspective on private-equity across Latin America, valuable even to the veteran judges.