The Curious Case of CBS Culture
by Aditya Luthra, BFIA’24
And there they were, arriving in all their glory, the prestige of winning a global case competition following them like their own shadows.
“How many slides did you make?” asked a first-year student. “Can you please share your PPT template?” asked another student, barely able to make his voice heard among all the commotion surrounding the winning team. “How did you prepare the financial model?” asked the enthusiastic second-year student who just knew he had found new role models. “Not a big deal, they won via luck” were the words of a third-year CBSite, who came fourth in that same competition (yes, almost every competition has multiple finalists from CBS, sometimes even all of them).
Well, I don’t think I need to say this out aloud, but this whole anecdote was slightly exaggerated. However, if you’re unfamiliar with the history and culture of this great institution, you’d be surprised to hear that reality isn’t SO different from this. Case competition winners are still looked at as heroes by the majority of the college, and that status is exponentially elevated if the competition is a global one. But why are these competitions so significant to us? Better question to ask, what are these competitions in the first place, and if they are so prevalent, surely that would lead to some element of jealousy or toxicity right?
In short, business case competitions are competitions where a team is tasked with finding solutions to a problem plaguing a real-world entity, and present them in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. These competitions are conducted throughout the year, by eminent national and international institutes including but not limited to Harvard, Stanford and IIMs, and even by multinational corporations like Amazon and Microsoft. Winning them is considered a must for any business school graduate, as they have two major benefits. The cash prize after winning them (sometimes in upwards of even 1,00,000), and them often translating to polishing your resume, which means better job opportunities, which is what business schools are all about. In case you haven’t already guessed it, this thought process is indeed permeated into students of our institution as well.
Almost every student here has participated in at-least one such competition. Many aren’t aware (speaking from personal experience here) of what these even are before they join this college, but over the course of just a couple of months, Unstop (a platform which allows you to find and register for said competitions) becomes as much as an addiction for them as Instagram was in the mid-2020. Fascinating, isn’t it? However, there’s a very real dark side to them as well. A side which is often glossed over.
Since almost everyone is participating in them, oftentimes the scenario becomes such that CBSites have to go head-to-head amongst themselves for the title of winner, and this breeds jealousy and contempt. Think about it, you spend close to a week researching and crafting a beautiful PPT, only to lose out to someone who you considered inferior to you? Case competitions are draining, they sap your energy and time, they occupy your mind 24X7. Couple these stresses with the fact that it becomes a question of your ego when you see another CBSite in the final, and you have all the ingredients of a toxic relationship.
If they’re such a hassle, then avoiding them altogether is the best solution, right? Well, I won’t say so. Broadly because of 2 factors. First, “FOMO” is very real. Seeing your contemporaries preparing complex financial models while you are watching the latest Premier League fixture is a real jolt to your self-confidence. Second, after a while, a good chunk of people start evaluating one’s worth by the amount of competitions he/she has won. A notion that’s fundamentally incorrect and shouldn’t be encouraged. Once you’re sucked into this whole ordeal, its pretty hard to get out as well. You’re constantly on the hunt to prove yourself better than your classmates, and that thought-process drives you, sometimes even to quite extreme levels.
If you haven’t understood already, this whole piece is just a crust of reality with LOTS of satirical paprika sprinkled. These competitions do have very real plus points and help you learn quite a lot. I personally experienced a lot of personal growth participating in these as well. The dopamine rush after your efforts are finally rewarded is unparalleled. However, I also feel devoting a significant chunk of your time to these isn’t worth it, and is unsustainable in the long run. There are a lot of fun things to do in CBS, contrary to what some might tell you. Because, after all is said and done, college life is short and as Theodore Levitt excellently put, “Anything in excess is a poison.”