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Executive Education

Business skills through competition

By Peter Walker for CNN
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(CNN) -- As well as learning skills through lectures and seminars, an increasingly important part of modern MBA life comes when students pit their wits and skills against peers from other business schools in competitions.

These are usually designed to mirror the real business world as closely as possible, whether via simulated environments such as investment contests or more tangible business plan competitions.

An example of the former came earlier this month, when students from the UK's London Business School triumphed in the second annual Evergreen Investments Alpha Challenge, hosted by the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Stanford University's Graduate School of Business won second place and the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business took third.

The contest sees teams of three MBA students -- at least one of whom must be in their first year -- pick from a pre-determined selection one stock to buy and one to sell over a 12-month window.

A week later, these choices are presented to the judges, who can then ask follow up questions, with a winner selected on a range of criteria including analysis, investment thesis and skill of delivery.

Another competition decided this month takes a different approach -- uniting MBA students and those from other disciplines to put forward an actual product to be launched to market.

First prize in this year's Idea to Product Global competition, hosted by the University of Texas in Austin, was taken by Smart Surgical Appliances, a team from London University's Imperial College and the college's Tanaka Business School.

New research

The three-strong team -- an EMBA student, a surgeon and a doctorate student in medical engineering -- won with the Smart Bougie, a new surgical appliance initially intended for operations removing esophageal blockages.

The device, based on research by one of the team, surgeon and Tanaka technology venture fellow Omer Aziz, is intended to improve the sensitivity of surgical procedure, decrease patient trauma and lower costs for healthcare organizations.

The Idea to Product competition differs from the more traditional business plan contests entered by many MBA students.

It requires participants to actually devise a finished product using innovative technology before proposing how to market it.

"Not only do these events give business students the chance to apply the knowledge they are acquiring during their courses, but more importantly, it gives them globally relevant business experience," said Tim Meldrum, manager of the Entrepreneurship Center at Tanaka, who coached the victorious team.

"When our graduates are out in the workplace, developing products in multidisciplinary teams, the practical skills they have picked up from these competitions will stand them in good stead."

David Simmons, the EMBA in the team, said the collaborative effort had been rewarding, noting that "the learning experience of working with a medic and an engineer, coming from very different backgrounds, will prove invaluable in my future career."


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Making the right choice: students had to recommend stocks.

FACT BOX

FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Hong Kong UST, China
3. London Business School, UK
4. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Kellogg, U.S.
9. Stern, NY, U.S.
10. Cass, City University, UK
Source: Financial Times 2006

FACT BOX

EMBA SNAPSHOT

Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.

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