After the introductory mixer and networking, we holed up in the hotel room to go over the presentation again and again and make some final tweaks and sweat out every last solitary detail. We had found out the names of our judges, profiled them and anticipated their questions to prepare stock answers. We were ready.
I had butterflies in my stomach as we kicked off, but was pleased not to hear anything to betray my nerves in my voice. The rest of the team stepped up to deliver their sections and everything went off without a hitch. During the Q&A we expertly addressed the questions, pivoted to the appropriate team member and kept the answers succinct and informative. We were well prepared. It showed and it was a first class effort.
After some pretty good Mexican food and a lot of back slapping and excitement, we filed into the large auditorium with the other competitors to see the announcement of the Top 5 and who would fight it out in the finals. The results came up. 4 Universities from the USA, one Russian/Chinese collaboration. Not us. We hadn’t made it.
We were gutted.
We had thrown everything into that presentation. We knew that not any one of us could have done more to prepare, pushed ourselves harder or had more commitment. It was the best work I had ever done to that point and I knew the others felt the same. And it just wasn’t enough.
And that was when the real learning started.
Because we were out of the competition, we were able to watch the 5 finalists fight it out for the top spot. In the audience were the other unsuccessful teams from around the globe; France, Britain, other American universities and more. More people that you could possibly manage to meet. All with the same questioning looks on their faces. What more could we all have done?
And then I saw the first of the American Universities compete and I got it. Ding! It’s not that their presentation skills were better than ours necessarily, or that their plans were more well thought out or credible, it just that they were in a different wheelhouse. Where we had one sole advisor, they had teams. Where we had upskilled ourselves to understand the complexity of the global markets and entrepreneurial nuances, they were born into a machine that already had the knowledge we had acquired and they built on that amazing wealth of experience so they could excel.
The American university system that I saw that day made one thing crystal clear: the MBA students from American universities were standing on the shoulders of giants.
I went away from that experience so much wiser and better informed and it has enhanced my business skills and acumen in ways I will be forever grateful for. During that trip I gained a respect for American entrepreneurship and saw the benchmark of what can be achieved. I heart the USA. I think I always will.