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Kellogg students placed first in their group at the 2008 JPMorgan Mergers & Acquisitions Challenge. From left: Arun Kochar, Rukmini Sivaraman, Catherine Wong, Anant Gupta, Manish Nayar and Badri Venkatachari, all ’09.

Kellogg team meets 'challenge' from JPMorgan

Students’ finance strength apparent in annual M&A competition

By Adrienne Murrill

1/17/2008 - A team of six Kellogg School of Management students had an outstanding performance in the JPMorgan Mergers & Acquisition Challenge held Jan. 11 in Chicago.

This year’s case competition pitted eight Kellogg teams against eight teams from the University of Chicago's business school, which hosted the event. Participants were tasked with evaluating several strategic options for a retail foods company owned by a Canadian income trust that would lose its tax-exempt status in 2011. The case was based on a deal previously handled by JPMorgan. Professors from both Chicago-based business schools, along with managing directors from the sponsor, judged the competition. The 16 teams were split into two groups with a winning team selected from each.

The Kellogg School’s “Team Synergy” won first place against their seven competitors. As the winners, Arun Kochar, Rukmini Sivaraman, Catherine Wong, Anant Gupta, Manish Nayar and Badri Venkatachari (all ’09), received a collective prize of $1,050.

Each team had 24 hours to perform the evaluation and financial analysis of the case, which they then presented to the judges. “We had to evaluate the option which created the most shareholder value for the income trust, which meant evaluating the benefits of the status quo, converting the company into a C-Corp now or selling it to a financial or strategic buyer,” Nayar said.

The teams were judged not only based on their financial valuation of the case, but on the time they spent finding a strategic rationale for their decision, something that gave the winning Kellogg team an advantage.

“We were judged based on how we thought about the case and our recommendations,” Nayar added. The panel of judges, which included Clinical Professor David Stowell and Associate Professor in Accounting Information and Management Linda Vincent, acted as the firm’s board of directors in the competition.

One of the interesting aspects of this win is that none of the teammates had prior experience in banking. The competition served as a real experiential learning opportunity for the Kellogg teams. “This gave us a feel for what it is like to be working on a live deal,” Venkatachari said. “There was lots of learning, and it was very intense.”

The team had not only the support of each other, but also the wider Kellogg community. They said their classes in finance, accounting and strategy were helpful in the case competition, and they also received assistance from last year’s participants and members of the Investment Banking and Capital Markets Club.

“These experiential learning challenges force our students out of their comfort zones, making them put their classroom insights to work in real-world settings,” said Dean Dipak C. Jain. The advantage of these tests, he added, is that they bring students closer together as they work in teams while solving real problems.

“This experience is particularly important for those looking to gain a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace,” said Jain, noting that it is essential for students to build their leadership ability now so that they will be ready to put their Kellogg degree to work after graduation.

“Our approach to blending theory with practice makes our students among the most desirable and most prepared for leadership roles,” said Jain.