Best 30 Hours Of My Life, Spent On Competition And Strategy – Pratik From IIM Bangalore

It was the day of Sept 17th, 2015 and term 2 had just started for us. Some of us being too lazy to wake up for the breakfast and directly got into the class at 10 a.m. The next class was Competition and Strategy at 12 noon. As soon as first the class finished at 11.30 a.m., most of us headed towards ‘Amrith Kalash (Paid canteen in IIMB)’ for breakfast and tea. With the pleasant breeze of monsoon, most of us were enjoying a cup of tea at Amrith Kalash.



We were supposed to read a case on “Coffee war’s in India”, an article by Harvard Business School. Actually, it wasn’t just a read, but analysis and that too, 360 degrees. As the clock started moving towards the stroke of 12, we started heading towards the class. “Time is sacrosanct” was one of the first rules we were taught by our seniors while getting admitted into IIMB.

At the stroke of 12 noon, Professor Srinivasan R. entered the class and said: “I hope, all of you have analyzed the case”. The class was in ‘pin drop’ silence mode as most of us had just glanced it and some of us had not even done that. As it was the first week of the term and that too first class, “who cares” attitude was there amongst most of us. Some of the “Maggu’s” had prepared for the case with 720 degrees of analysis as the class participation for the course was 20%, maximum till the date for all of us. We had already heard some stories about the “cold calling” by professors at IIMB and it was time for us to experience it. That day was for Mr. A (let’s not reveal the real name) to answer the questions.

He had glanced the case and prepared well enough to answer the questions behind the case. He answered some of the questions and when professor started bombarding him with a series of questions on minute case facts, he went into freeze mode. The professor didn’t stop and continued digging him for about 45 minutes. He was expecting the answers from only Mr. A. After 45 minutes, it was the turn of Mr. Y to answer the rest of the questions and the same thing happened with B. At the end of the class, all of us were in a horrible state and everyone started preparing for the next case on next day.

The next lecture was even more interesting than the earlier one. It was the “Cola wars Continue” case, which was focused on the competition between coke and Pepsi. The Professor came in class with an unusual kind of bag in his hand. It was well packed so that we couldn’t guess what’s inside it. It was the day for Mr. C to handle those 45 minutes of his life. As an earlier lecture, the questionnaire started and went for about 20 minutes. While questing the case insights, the question arose with “who is the biggest fan/consumer of Pepsi/cola and can distinguish between them blindly?” Some of the students raised their hands and professor chose three of them for the blind test. Professor asked them to go out of the class for a couple of minutes and opened the hidden secret of the bag which he got into the class. He opened six bottles of cold drinks viz. Coke, Pepsi, Thumps Up, and diet version of all of them. He poured them into six different glasses and asked students to come in class for blind test one by one. The first one came in and tested three of them and was unable to answer any of them correctly. The second one came in and was able to answer two of three correctly. The third one was able to answer only one of the three. At the end of the experiment, the entire class was in laughter mode as the biggest fans of the “Black Water” were unable to guess all of them correctly in a blind test.

The similar kind of 45 minutes digging went in further lectures. By the end of a couple of weeks, we started getting some insights on “who would be the next person to answer the questions as another section was sharing the same professor for the same course. They used to have a lecture just before ours and all the strategy professors used to be fully prepared with all the data of the entire class. They knew all the students in the class by their name from the first lecture and the industry they worked in. So the hint for most of us used to come from past work experiences as well. Usually, the cases on automobile industry would be handled by a student with relevant work experience in the automobile industry and so with the other industries.

It was the same time when the shortlists of the big consulting firms started coming for a summer internship. It was the case study on “McKinsey” and we came to know who’s going to be the next victim for the questionnaire. There was only one girl in our class who got shortlisted for McKinsey, a day before the class. So it was sure that she would be the first person to be screwed for the first 45 minutes. But who would be the next person? According to the info from another section, the news was “Two of the McKinsey’s shortlisted were screwed today”. But we had only one. The first 45 minutes of the session were answered by Ms. D and suddenly Professor asked the question, “Pratik, how does fresher consultants at McKinsey work on unknown industries as they do not have enough experience on them?” For a minute, I was in shock and when the professor asked the question again, I answered, “From their experience of case study analysis at B-school, same as we are doing now”. The entire class including the professor was in ROFL mode for a couple of minutes. I was unable to think more as it was unexpected cold calling for me. Further digging made me answer the question as ‘’From the expertise of the McKinsey Employees, Senior Consultant, and Partners”. The digging went on for another 30 minutes on different aspects of the case before the class ended. It was once in lifetime experience for me as I had never experienced such cold calling and that too for such a long time. It was an awesome and memorable day for me.

After class, when everyone started asking questions about the industry discussed on the same day (part of after class participation), I went and asked the professor some questions on the similar lines. Seeing me, the professor was still smiling, and said “your first response to the question was damn good. I can tell the students of the other university that we do all learning in class without the help of industry experts.” Though it was sarcasm, but the professor was still smiling until he was invisible.

Strategy class was one the best times in my career. It made me analyse the cases than just glancing or reading them. They were the best 30 hours of my life (although I prepared at least 60 hours for them).