P&G; India CEO Challenge Winning Team Member Piyush Lahoti, IIM A

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    A PGP student from IIM Ahmedabad, Piyush Lahoti is part of the team who won the national round of the Procter and Gamble's CEO Challenge and will represent India in the international round. Prior to his MBA, Piyush completed his Computer Science and Engineering from IIT Indore where he represented his college in the prestigious ACM ICPC World Finals 2013 held in St. Petersburg, Russia. Piyush has previously worked in Housing.com and Computer Associate Technologies Inc., Hyderabad in software development roles. While in IIT, he served as the founding member and lead coordinator of the Student Entrepreneurship Support Cell.

    In this article, I would like to walk the reader through my team's experiences and learning while participating in the P&G CEO Challenge. My teammates, Anshul Gadgil and Thammadi Shiva Aditya are fellow students from IIM Ahmedabad. Anshul is a Mumbai lad, who after graduating from BITS Pilani, Goa campus worked in ZS Associates for about a year. TS, as we fondly call Thammadi Shiva Aditya, is from Hyderabad who was working in Capgemini after graduating from IIT Kharagpur. P&G CEO Challenge is a case based and simulation competition which happens all across the world. Last year, about 6600 students from 140 universities participated from the India, Middle East and Africa regions itself. My team won the national round of the event and will be competing in the international round soon.

    Campus Round:

    The first round in the competition is the Campus Round which takes place in select B-Schools across India, some of which are IIMs A, B and C, XLRI etc. The competition is only for students in their first year of management education. It typically takes place in the month of October, near the summer internship placements.

    This is a 2-3 hour long, online simulation round where every team is given a common problem set describing the market scenario to required detail. This information is to be used to take various decisions in the market. Just like real life, there are no right or wrong answers here. However, the problem setters have a 'perfect answer' in mind which they think would be most apt for the given situation.

    During the competition, there are 3-4 phases and at the end of each phase, the team is required to answer a few questions. Based on the answers, a score is generated indicating how close were the team from the 'perfect answer'.

    A few important conclusions we drew in retrospect:

    1) Time is of the essence. You would not get the time to apply frameworks, do elaborate calculations and base your answers on that. However, it does not mean that you skip all of this. Optimize the process. Make assumptions and take approximations. Relying on only intuition can also be hazardous in several deceptive cases. Thus, maintain a balance of quick thinking and back it up by taking assumptions and making calculations swiftly.

    2) Although it might seem counter intuitive, do not think simply from the customer's perspective. This might cause you to neglect important factors like distribution network, shelf space etc. which are vital to make  sale.

    3) Give coherent reasoning. If you have made a decision, stick to your choice and answer the later stages accordingly. Do not hesitate second guessing your previous answers.

    Our journey was in many senses remarkable. We were three students who did not have 'marketing' companies as their first choice. Our grades in marketing courses weren't stellar either. But we still coursed through, mostly because of the rapid constructive discussions regarding every micro decision which we had to take. And somehow, the entire process seemed plain and natural as if it was embedded in our sub-conscious. I believe our teachers play a big part in this. The quality and diversity of discussions which we have in the classes and the level of rigor which we go through on a daily basis prepare us to tackle these situations well.

    There are three big perks of winning this contest:

    1. Brand new Kindles
    2. An interview opportunity with P&G (Given that you clear the psychometric test)
    3. The Label of CEO from all your friends :)

    National Round:

    The national round of the competition happened on 9th February at P&G HQ in Mumbai.

    We were given a case study on a P&G product based in another country a week before the contest. The case described all the basic necessary figures and conditions, and rest was up to the contestants' assumptions.

    Being an extremely busy week in the college, we tried to squeeze time for this event but could barely find much. Consequently, we barely slept the night before the contest so as to double and triple check all the scenarios and contingencies. Confirmed, how our plan would be effective and how a few things which seemed very intuitive would actually turn disastrous. So after avoiding these traps, reinforcing the logical rigor and constructing a coherent flow, we made a minimal but informative presentation deck. Here the division of work helped a lot. We kept on taking second opinions on every major decision we took, but gave the liberty to independently manage the details.

    We were presenting our strategy to the CEO, CFO, Head of Supply Chain, Marketing Director and nearly all the top officials of P&G India. Teams representing many premier B-Schools were participating in the competition . Needless to say, the stakes were high and tension was rising. We tried to remain calm, keenly scrutinizing minute details from each presenting team and discussing how we could improvise on every front.

    While presenting, I believe making a connect with the judging panel is extremely important. We did not have exorbitant balance sheets and income statements to justify the financial calculations. We did not have very flashy PPT either. Many teams came up with innovative marketing and social campaign ideas which were truly awe inspiring. We did, however, manage to convince the judges about each and every decision which we made. We made it a point to give strong reasoning behind every step we had taken, even for the decisions which we chose to discard. That helped massively.

    There was a brief round of questioning after the presentation in which the panel tried to challenge the logical rigor of a team's strategy. I would like to stress, that such question and answer rounds should be taken as a period of constructive discussion. The CEO of P&G India, Mr. Al Rajwani having personally worked on the product under consideration, pointed out a major flaw in our strategy which probably any contestant wouldn't have thought of. We agreed to his argument, and graciously accepted our mistake. One of the participating teams turned the discussion into a mild debate, which should be strictly avoided. The people in the judging panel have immense industry experience. They should be queried, but not questioned.

    Here I must confess, IIM C, IIM B and XLRI did extremely impressive work and I thought we would be fourth in the competition. In the end, all the participants were asked to guess who won the competition. We remained quiet. Others, in unison, shouted “Ahmedabad”. The compere agreed.

    Next moment, we were just looking at each other and laughing, trying to soak in what had just happened.

    After the competition, Mr. Rajwani gave us a few tips to remember while presenting a strategy which personally were the biggest takeaways from the competition:

    1. Make sure your arguments are coherent and logical
    2. Do not burden the observer with excess of information
    3. Rehearse what you say and deliver the message rather than reciting what is already visible

    At any point of time in the competition, we never inquired what the prizes were. It was never about the prizes. We were, partly trying to restore our confidence and pride, and partly trying to test our knowledge in a real world scenario. We are happy, we succeeded in both.

    International Round:

    We will now be going to Dubai representing the Indian contingent in the competition, competing against teams from Asia and Africa. The challenge will be tougher, as usually the trend is. Hopefully, we will bring back the trophy to India this time.

    MBAtious wishes the team all the best in Dubai.  :)


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