Battling over computer programs, pretend mergers

By Martin Weil
Saturday, November 6, 2010; B08

In these crisp days of autumn, it is not just football in which students at local colleges and universities go toe to toe and head to head in fierce competition. It is also in areas such as computer programming and mergers and acquisitions, an important area of high finance.

Football, of course, has often been characterized as preparation for life, but it would seem that competition in programming and in the process of creating conglomerates and making big firms out of smaller ones might also provide a pretty good introduction to the challenges that lurk outside the ivied walls.

The Mergers & Acquisitions Competition drew 10 teams of business school masters degree students to the University of Maryland at College Park last week. The idea was for the teams to create M&A proposals and present them to a panel of judges.

The competition, held this year on Oct. 28-29 "gives students the kind of real-world, problem solving experience that all MBA students need," said G. "Anand" Anandalingam, dean of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

In a statement, he said M&A calls for "more than just good finance skills." It is, he said, "more important than ever that business leaders approach decisions with considerations of all possible outcomes," and how the decisions will affect all those involved.

Teams came to College Park from as far away as Berkeley and Chicago for the fourth annual contest.

A team that represented the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville took third place, which carried a $1,000 prize.

"We are very pleased that we placed," Beth Schmid, spokeswoman for the school said in an interview.

She noted that Darden's dean, Robert F. Bruner, counts M&A among his areas of expertise. Among his published works, it happens, is "Deals From Hell: M&A Lessons That Rise Above The Ashes" (2005).

The winning team, which received the $5,000 first prize, came from the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.

Another local school that took part was the Kogod School of Business at American University.

As described by the Smith School, the competing squads "worked through the night to create persuasive arguments" in a hypothetical case, which involved strategic merger and acquisition alternatives for a technology company.

Kogod student Alan Yu was quoted in an AU statement as describing the competition this way: "the most pressure and fun I have ever had in the 20-hour time span from case release to final due time."

The event "really prepares students for the job market," said Olga Perin, a manager in the investment banking and market division of Thomson Reuters, which sponsors the competition.

Judging was on the basis of qualitative arguments and quantitative models used by the teams in support of their proposals.

Meanwhile, local teams are scheduled to participate this weekend in an early round of the Intercollegiate Computer Programming contest that is sometimes called the Battle of the Brains.

It is an international event with world finals to be held next year at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

The idea is to give college students the chance to demonstrate and sharpen their problem-solving and computing skills.

Maryland will be in the Mid-Atlantic regionals that will be held this weekend at Johns Hopkins University. The competition lasts for five hours, with each team trying to solve as many problems as possible.

Maryland has showed its braininess to good advantage in this competition in the past. Earlier this year, Maryland placed first among all U.S. public universities in the world finals that were held in China.

It was tied with 22 other schools for 14th place overall, and was fifth among competitors from the U.S., the school said.

The high scoring three member team was composed of three veterans who had competed the year before.

However, the university was more cautious about this year's prospects.

"The professor who oversees the teams - Amol Deshpande says this is a 'rebuilding year' " a university spokesman said by e-mail.

Compared with the seasoned hands who had represented the Terrapins so well over the past two years, this year's team was described as "so young."

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