India has a strong demographic dividend. With almost 400 million Indians born after 2000, a 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 education ecosystem has matured fast, a huge gap persists in terms of the skills taught and its implementation in the industry. This severe ‘disconnect between industry and academia’ poses a challenge for fresh corporate recruits.
The Mahindra Group consists of a diverse federation of companies that leverages talent across India and at the global level. The Group deploys various HR Programmes to tap into the skills of its employees – existing and potential. Created in 2008, the Mahindra War Room (MWR) is an initiative for top Business Schools in India and International Business Schools, designed to attract and engage budding young talent. It offers a platform for students to creatively respond to live and realistic business challenges through a fair and rigorous evaluation process. Mahindra War Room is an employer branding initiative by the Group. It is rolled out in top Business Schools in India as an endeavour to not only create excitement, but, also transform perceptions, while attracting and engaging top notch B-school talent.
Apart from providing students with ‘live’ cases, the intent is also to make them acquainted with problems central to business strategy. Thus, the war room covers aspects of multi‑disciplinary nature of problem solutions, real life fieldwork and leadership engagement. In essence, Mahindra War Room is a case study competition with a difference, which is evident from the way it is perceived by B-School students. The event draws upon the best practices of a case study and a business plan. The unique structure of MWR encourages students to move beyond the classroom, go out in the real world, and, run actual tests to arrive at solutions. MWR ensures dual benefits i.e. it offers a heightened learning experience for the students and the Mahindra group. Working on achieving the best recommendations offers students immense learning opportunities. To the Mahindra Group, it brings a strong outside-in business perspective through real life validation of ideas presented by the students.
The inception of Mahindra War Room resulted from the twin thoughts of fostering student learning through industry exposure and enriching the diversity and the leadership philosophy of the Mahindra Group. A significant brainstorming was involved while deciding the format for MWR. How does one create brand awareness of Mahindra & Mahindra among the youth? How does one facilitate engagement? What will help students to become industry ready? How to maintain excitement about MWR among students? The answers to all these questions have been skilfully included in the unique format of MWR.
While some companies engage with students through lectures and fictitious case studies, MWR takes real and live cases to students, which are put forth by the business managers themselves. Masking no details, arranging for question-and-answer sessions to respond to the participants' questions, with a promise to implement the solutions they recommend provided the business heads are convinced, has made MWR all the more unique. Students get an opportunity to present their solutions to an esteemed jury comprising Anand Mahindra himself, have the opportunity to be placed with the company, and, own and deliver the solutions they present during the competition. All this has made MWR a much-awaited event to look forward to!
This demands that the winning team be innovative in its ideas to reach for the stars, but deliver a feasible and firmly grounded solution. The seven-stage process that the group follows while building thematic anchors for the initiative each year is cited below.
Phase 1: Preparation & Planning Phase
Each year, Mahindra War Room is anchored on a central theme which guides the philosophical direction of the case studies. This theme is in perfect synergy with the broad strategic level direction that the Chairman of the group Anand Mahindra sets, based on a large leadership meeting called M 101. The impact of on-going business, geo-political, micro, and macroeconomic trends are considered in the discussions related to relevant contextual themes; to arrive at the most apt anchor theme for the year.
Finalisation of Caselets: The MWR organising team along with the Knowledge Partner - Broadvision Perspectives, hold discussions with respective CEOs and Heads 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 organising team, based on inputs from select members of Group Strategy Office, CEOs and Head of Strategy of various businesses. Finally, these caselets are uploaded on the Mahindra War Room website for the participating teams.
Preparation of the Launch Calendar, Launch Presentation and Collaterals: The MWR organising team consults the campus placement team and Broadvision team to collectively decide a suitable date and time for the launch. Next, the launch presentation, posters, and banners are prepared. These collaterals are used to drive the launch campaign at the respective campuses, thereby informing students about the event and encouraging them to participate in the event.
Phase 2: Campus Launch Phase
Campus Launch Events: The MWR event is launched at key B-school campuses in India and across the globe. These are campuses which are a part of the Group Management Cadre (GMC) programme, and the Group works with students on summer internship and final placement arrangements. The organising team along with Senior Leadership (including Presidents, GEB) visit these campuses to launch the event. The purpose being to interact with students and encourage maximum participation. The launch event spanning over 15 days is divided into 3 parts
1. Overview of Mahindra Group
2. Overview of Business Caselets
3. Mahindra War Room event details (timelines, rewards etc.)
Besides, social media is aggressively used for communication and important announcements. The international campuses also receive detailed attention and 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 (official email IDs are used) for the event. Students choose the caselet and have over 8 weeks to submit the solution in the form of a power point presentation on the MWR portal.
A team of senior leaders at Mahindra evaluate these presentations and shortlist the top 5 – 9 teams. The selection criteria includes 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. Next, these 'Blue Tier' teams are required to present the solutions at the campus evaluation round.
Phase 4: Campus Evaluation Round
The jury conducts the evaluation rounds based on a random draw of lot. Each team presents their case within 30 minutes, which includes 10 minutes of Questions and Answers. Up to three teams are declared winners at each campus in this specific round. This adds to about 66 teams from 22 campuses. To prepare for the next round, these 66 ‘Silver Tier’ teams are divided into different groups based on their selection of caselets. A total of five days is allocated for the phase 3 and phase 4 rounds.
Phase 5: CEO Round
Each group of presentations is evaluated by the CEOs of the specific businesses. 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 on the basis of normalised scores. The top 8 teams identified move to the Grand Finale directly while the next 12 teams move to the next round i.e. Jury’s pick at Mumbai.
Phase 6: Jury’s Pick Round
The 12 teams from India’s Top B Schools and 4 International teams present their cases in the same format as they did in the CEO round to the Jury. The Jury selects 2 national and 1 international team for the last round.
Phase 7: The Grand Finale
The jury at the Grand Finale comprises of the Chairman Anand Mahindra, MD Dr Pawan Goenka, and other Group Presidents of Mahindra Group. In this round, students get the prized opportunity to interact with the senior most leadership team and distinguished managers of the Mahindra group. They present the application and execution of their assimilated theoretical learnings. The leaders benefit significantly from the perspectives that these multiple teams offer regarding the real-life challenges Mahindra businesses face. The leaders walk away enriched from these discussions, having engaged with the youngest, brightest, and most talented minds of the country.
Over the years, participation in MWR has grown from 6 B-schools in 2008 to 22 B-schools from India and 4 International B-Schools in 2018. The total number of registrations have increased from 800 in 2008 to over 2300+ in 2018. MWR has 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. According to the Neilsen Campus Track Survey, Mahindra War Room has been rated as the number # 1 B-School event amongst the various events held at the top B‑Schools of the country.
Mahindra War Room Season 11 – Go Big Go Bold
The theme for MWR 2018 that culminated earlier this year, was 'Go Big Go Bold'. In times when there are similar products, with little or no visible differentiation, we cannot break the clutter and become big. In the world of incremental innovation, staggeringly different things are noticed by the world. For product/ideas to stand out, they should be bold and have the ability to become big. So, Go Big and Go Bold is a clarion call.
The caselets drafted covered areas of Mobility (Automotive, Aftermarket, Two Wheelers and Trucks & Buses), Farm Equipment (Agribusiness), Information Technology (Tech Mahindra and Mahindra Comviva, Bristlecone), Urban Lifestyle (Club Mahindra and Mahindra’s Realty businesses), Financial Services (Rural Finance), B2B (Steel Trading and Logistics), and Health Care. The top 8 teams for the Platinum tier to present in the Grand Finale were selected from 20 best teams across the country. There was global participation from Fudan University, China, Yonsei University, South Korea, Asian Institute of Management, Philippines, and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
MDI Gurgaon team emerged as the ultimate winner in the Mahindra War Room, Season 11. The team stood out for its insightful analysis of how Club Mahindra could go Bold into management of Hotels. The team through its analytical skills, carefully positioned it as a suitable business opportunity for the sector.
Feedback & Key Takeaways
During and after every edition of MWR, meticulous feedback is collected from its stakeholders i.e. participants and key influencers at B-schools. Feedback collected from the campus rounds attracts a near perfect score every time. In a presentation made by the organising team to the senior leadership, features 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 programme - “MWR is one of the most talked about events on campus. We know it means hours of brainstorming, but 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.”
Team Concept Crew from IIM Ahmedabad
“For us, Mahindra War Room stands for an exciting battle room where the most brilliant minds of India clash to provide ground-breaking solutions in crafting the growth story of India’s leading business house. This competition is unique in providing an opportunity to interact with the top leadership in the firm as we aspire to grow in our quest for knowledge and experience. Each day in the B-School and with our peers, we strive to pursue kaizen (continuous improvement) in every walk of life and that’s what unites us with the vision of Mahindra to RISE.”
Team Freshly Brewed from MICA
“We were aware of Mahindra War Room even before we joined MICA, there has always been the highest amount of fervour for War Room on campus, since MICA has been the back to back champion of season 8 & 9. Apart from that Mahindra War Room is one such competition which asks its participants to provide comprehensive business solutions to the live business challenges, which opens up a huge playground for all the teams and provides an immense learning opportunity. These are few of the reasons why we look upto Mahindra War Room every year and participate.”
Team Tornado from NMIMS
“Mahindra War Room is one of the most intense and detailed case study competitions of India. The ample amount of time given to do in-depth analysis provided us with an opportunity to deep dive into the live case given, enabled us to come up with a near realistic solution after doing an exhaustive research. Mahindra War Room not only provided us with an opportunity to understand real-life business cases, but also helped us in achieving a holistic MBA experience.”[ak1]
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