The Inspiration: Industry-Academia Connect
India has a strong demographic dividend. With almost 400 million Indians born after 2000, one third of this population is yet to enter the secondary education ecosystem. Anticipating this demand, there are over 5500 Business Schools in India churning out a staggering 3,50,000 MBA graduates every year. Though the educational ecosystem has matured fast, there is still a huge gap in terms of the skills taught and the skills required by the industry. According to a study by ASSOCHAM, only about 7 % of India’s B School graduates are actively employable by the industry. There is a grave need to right-skill and up skill the rest of the population.
The primary reason for this situation is – ‘Disconnect between industry and academia’. While the B-schools focus on classroom teaching, industry practices are far removed from textbook knowledge. This growing gap between industry and academia is a challenge that is recognized by both stakeholders. One area of this disconnect is the lack of new-age skills in digital and technology domains
The Mahindra group consists of a diverse federation of companies that leverages talent across India and globally. The group deploys various HR programs to tap into the skills of it’s employees – existing and potential. Created in 2007, the Mahindra War Room (MWR) is an initiative for top Business Schools in India, designed to attract and engage budding young talent to creatively respond to live and realistic business challenges.
Mahindra War Room is conceptualized on the philosophy of Situated Cognition, which emphasizes that all learning is based on the actual construct of application and is impacted largely by the social and cultural ecosystem of its application. It is built on the vision of not only providing students with ‘live’ cases but also with those problems that are central to the business strategy. All other attributes of MWR like multi-disciplinary nature of problem solutions, real life fieldwork and leadership engagement owe their origin to its above-mentioned vision.
In essence, Mahindra War Room is a case study competition with a difference, which is evident in the way B-School students perceive it. The event draws upon the best aspects of both a case study and a business plan competition. The unique structure of the MWR encourages students to move beyond the classroom and go out in the real world and run actual tests on their solutions. The best solutions usually enable students to derive immense learning from the process of embedding their recommendations in the real world context. MWR ensures dual benefits – it offers a heightened learning experience for the students and for the Mahindra group, it brings a strong outside-in business perspective through real life validation of ideas presented by the students.
The six- stage process of MWR ensures an outside-in perspective on problems faced by the top managers of different businesses within the Group. The following description of the process sheds light on how the group goes around building thematic anchors for the initiative every year.
Phase 1: Preparation & Planning Phase
Every year MWR is anchored to a central theme which guides the philosophical direction of the case studies. It is a perfect synergy which is derived from the fact that every year the Chairman of the group, Mr. Anand Mahindra sets out a broad strategic level direction for the group through a large scale senior leadership meeting called M 101. Here contextual themes for the relevant period are discussed threadbare. Further, the impact of on-going business, geo-political, micro & macroeconomic trends are juxtaposed to the discussion and the most apt anchor theme for the year is created.
Finalization of Caselets: The organizing team along with the Knowledge Partner - Broadvision Perspectives, holds discussions with respective CEOs and Head of Strategy from various businesses to arrive at a key issue which is live and real. The caselets are then drafted by the Broadvision team and the organizing team, based on inputs from select members of Group Strategy Office, CEOs and Head of Strategy of various businesses. These caselets are then uploaded on the Mahindra War Room website to offer to the participating teams.
Preparation of the Launch Calendar, Launch Presentation and Collaterals: The organizing team of MWR formulates a launch calendar in consultation with the campus’s placement team and Broadvision team to fix a mutually convenient date and time for the launch. The visiting team comprises Presidents, Group Executive Board (GEB) and the organizing team. Next, the launch presentation, posters and banners are prepared. These collaterals are used to drive the launch campaign at the respective campuses which helps to inform students about the event and also encourages them to register their teams to participate in the event.
Phase 2: Campus Launch Phase
Campus Launch Events: The Mahindra War Room event is launched at key B-school campuses in India and globally. These are campuses where the Group engages with students through summer internship and final placement in the Group Management Cadre (GMC) program. The organizing team along with Senior Leadership (including Presidents, GEB) visit these campuses to launch the event. The launch event is divided into 3 parts
1. Overview of Mahindra Group
2. Overview of Business Caselets
3. Mahindra War Room event details (timelines, rewards etc.)
The launch events for these campuses take about 10-12 days. The team travels to each of these campuses. Senior leaders from the Mahindra Group (including members of the Group Executive Board) are part of the launch where they interact with the students. Also, communication and important announcements are driven aggressively on the social media handle.
The international campuses also receive detailed attention. These campuses are also visited and vetted for their participation into MWR.
Phase 3: Team Registration and Short-Listing Phase
Teams from the participating campuses register in groups of 4 (per team) for the event. The registrations are done through their official email IDs. Students based on their topic selection work on the caselet for over 8 weeks and submit their solutions in the form of PPTs by uploading it on the Mahindra War Room website (www.mahindrawarroom.com). A team of senior leaders at Mahindra evaluate these presentations and top 5 – 9 teams are shortlisted from each campus to present at the campus evaluation round. The teams which are shortlisted for the Campus Evaluation Round are called ‘Blue Tier’ teams. Five days are allotted for shortlist release and campus evaluation. The teams are shortlisted based on various parameters such as understanding of the business issue, quality and depth of research and analysis, quality of in-sighting, probability of implementation, to name a few.
Phase 4: Campus Evaluation Round
The jury conducts the evaluation rounds based on a random draw of lot. Each team gets 30 mins to present their cases which includes 10 mins of Q&A. Up to 3 teams from each campus are declared as winners in this specific round. Overall, this adds to about 63 teams from 21 campuses. These 63 teams are called ‘Silver Tier’ Teams. All these teams are bucketed based on the case they have chosen and are then sent to the next round which is the ‘CEO's round.
Phase 5: CEO (VC) Round
In this round, CEOs of the specific businesses that are represented in the cases evaluate the teams on the basis of their presentations. The evaluation has a unique 3-4-3 format which consists of 3 minutes of Executive summary, 4 minutes of Research work and 3 minutes of Question and Answer session. The best teams are collated and post the normalization of scores, the top 8 teams qualify to the Grand Finale directly and next 12 teams graduate for the Jury’s pick round at Mumbai.
Phase 6: Jury’s Pick Round
The 12 teams from India’s Top B Schools and 4 International teams are next evaluated at the Mahindra Towers, Worli in Mumbai. Senior leaders from the Mahindra group form the jury. Teams present their cases in 3 minutes of Executive summary, 4 minutes of Research work and 3 minutes of Question and Answer session by the jury. Top 2 teams along with 1 international team are shortlisted based on the jury’s deliberation.
Phase 7: The Grand Finale
The jury at the Grand Finale comprises of the Chairman, Anand Mahindra, M&M MD Dr Pawan Goenka, and five Group Presidents of Mahindra Group evaluate. They give feedback to the finalists and the students get a first hand feedback on their case studies from the leadership team. In addition, the leaders benefit significantly from the perspectives offered by multiple teams on real and live problems faced by the Mahindra businesses. At the end of the event, the leaders walk away enriched from the discussion, having engaged with the youngest, brightest and the best talent from the country.
Over the years, participants for MWR have grown from 6 B-schools in 2008 to 21 B-schools from India and 4 International B Schools in 2017. The total number of registrations have increased from 800 in 2008 to over 2200+ in 2017. MWR has also evolved from being a largely national level event restricted to Indian B-schools, to a competition with global presence. Every year, at least one international team makes it to the shortlist for the grand finale.
Mahindra War Room Season 10 – Face the future, Ace the future
The theme for MWR 2017 that culminated earlier this year, was ‘Face the Future, Ace the Future’. The concept is quite pertinent as it looks at the future as full of possibilities. The theme draws its inspiration from the fact that today disruptions are the norm and it is expected for businesses to look at future challenges as opportunities and not as roadblocks. That is where the concept of Antifragility was further woven into the event. The concept behind the theme ‘Antifragile’ is based on Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s proposition that businesses, which are fragile or robust, will find it difficult to survive and grow in the future, but businesses that gain from disorder and disruptions will not just survive but thrive in the future. Such ecosystems like the mythical hydra, which grows two heads if one is severed, are referred to as Antifragile and will be the ones that survive in the coming times.
The case lets were drafted - in the areas of Mobility (Automotive and Aftermarket), Farm Equipment (Agribusiness), Information Technology (Tech Mahindra and Mahindra Comviva), Urban Lifestyle (Club Mahindra and Mahindra’s Realty businesses), Financial Services (Rural Finance), B2B (Steel Trading and Logistics), and Susten (Clean Energy). Top 8 teams for the Platinum tier to present in the Grand Finale were selected from 20 best teams across the country Global participants were also listed from Fudan University from China, Yonsei University from South Korea, Asian Institute of Management from the Philippines, and Nanyang Technological University from Singapore.
It was an IMT Ghaziabad team that ultimately emerged as the winner in the Mahindra War Room, Season 10. The team stood out for its insightful analysis of how the Mahindra Farm Equipment Sector could create a rural tourism ecosystem for farmers. The team through its analytical skills, carefully positioned it as a suitable business opportunity for the sector, which would also contribute to overall income levels of the farmer community. Given the sector’s focus on driving rural prosperity as a key business philosophy and the robustness of the solutions, the case study was adjudged as the best for the season.
Feedback & Key Takeaways
During and after every edition of MWR, meticulous feedback is collected from its stakeholders – participants and key influencers at B-schools. Feedback collected on the campus round attracts a near perfect score every time. In a presentation made by the organizing team to the senior leadership, attributes such as ‘opportunity to be placed’ and ‘learning by doing’ were highlighted as MWR’s key takeaways.
To quote one of the campus leaders verbatim on the program - “MWR is one of the most talked about events on campus. We know it means hours of brainstorming and ideating because if we get it right, not only do we get placed, we also get to work on the idea we presented. It’s almost like having your own entrepreneurial venture with the backing of Mahindra & Mahindra.”
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