Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The best seat on the plane? Close enough.

"Why do you think we got these seats?", my friend T asked as we walked down the aisle. I couldn't resist now, could I. 'coz these things happen when you travel with me :)

A minute earlier, I had boarded the plane to Duke with my team headed for the Fuqua Product Strategy case finals. The airhostess looked at my boarding card and said, "you have the best seat on the plane". Really? Is it an exit row? "no". smile. "it's the last row, all the way to the back". i dig humor on planes. "and you probably think it's a window seat, don't you?". it isn't?? "well, it is and it isn't. they added new seats where there used to be a closet and there's no window."

So, here I was sitting at window-seat-without-a-window that wouldn't recline and no overhead storage space either. Right next to the restrooms. On a flight that was delayed by over an hour to start with. Nice start to the trip. Actually, the flight turned out to be very pleasant, with good company and time to read up on our target company, John Deere. Got in a hour late, no sign of our transport, waited another half-hour-ish and finally got to our hotel near Duke's campus.

There was supposed to be a social-hour thing starting at 8, but we made our fashionably late entrance past 9, only to find not too many people to strut our fashions to. The other teams had been there for a while and were starting to disperse. Some even were sitting around working out strategies. Us, well we got some drinks. And went to sleep.

Friday was a long, long day. Up at like 7:30. Breakfast with John Deere folks at 8. Got some additional information that was a twist to the case. Drove to Fuqua's very nice business school campus building, and were huddled in a conference room from 10~ish A.M. The case was due midnight. And we got to it in right earnest. Strategies were laid out, work broken up, parts assigned and we were to sync up on our first part by 2 PM. Well, 2 came and 2 went. Some of us were ready, some weren't. And we plodded along. I took a break and met up with Attagirl for a bit. And took another break and checked out Fuqua Fridays. As the deadline approached, things started to fall in place, and, surprisingly, no one wanted to kill each other yet. The financials were done past 11. Our recommendation to the company was finalized. 30 minutes before the deadline. And then thrown away. And a new one was in place. Just like that.

"OK, we have to send this to the judges now". "Is this deck in order?". "Should we review this?"."Hey, you changed my slides!". "No Time". "Does this run like a Deere". "OK, we have to send this to the judges NOW".

What email address do we send this to?

Hmm. Is it in the email they sent us? Let me check. Nope.
Is it in the case document? Let me check. Nope.
I think it was in another email. Let me check. Nope.
We should call the organizers. VoiceMail. Both of them.
Do you think the other teams are still here? Let me check.

Hmm, the doors are all locked. We can't get into the corridor where they are. Maybe that woman will let us in. Did you forget your badge? Well, I'm from Chicago. OK. They are not here. Can you let me into the next set of doors. Thanks. "Hey guys, do you know the email address?". "Yeah, it's in the folder they gave us during breakfast". Ahh. Thanks. How do I get back in? How did you get in here? There was this woman. She left. OK, maybe I can run back down and up another set of stairs.

"hey guys, we got the email address". "What is it?". Dunno, it's in the folder. Let me check. OK it's here. Send. Send. Send. 11:52. Phew.

After being cooped up in a study room for 14 hours, it was such a relief to get this done with and out of the way. Called a cab, that took forever to show up, got back to the hotel and stayed up past 2:00 to go over the actual presentation to be made the next day.

Which started really early, at 7:15 in the lobby. We were bused to John Deere's offices where the five teams made presentations to senior executives in their boardroom. We went 4th, which was great because we got some more time to unwind and think about what we were going to say. The guys at the next table were doing homeworks for class.

We walked out of the presentation and the general feeling wasn't all that great. We were all a little somber, trying to see if we read anything on the judges faces, talked about the things we could have done better, the questions we could have answered firmer, the positioning we could have strengthened, etcetera. After all the work we had put in, not just the previous day, but the past week on this case and the first round, I think there was a slight sense of we-could-have-been-better. For the first time, we felt like we weren't going to win the thing.

We were to be back at Fuqua at 5:30 for the awards ceremony. What would have been a long, agonizing wait was mercifully avoided as soon as we slumped on our beds and fell into a deep sleep. I think the tiredness of the roller-coaster ride got to us. Showed up at the event, good food, good conversation with one of the judges, and it was time to announce the winner.

But, before that, I should do what the judge did and take this opportunity to thank the three wonderful student organizers of this event from Fuqua who worked so hard to make this an unqualified success. Y'all's hospitality was very highly appreciated by our entire team. A really smooth operation from start to finish, with not a cause for complaint. Thank you so much, we enjoyed ourselves. If I may say so, you represent you school very admirably.

And, I think we didn't do a bad job either. We came second !!! It was actually very cool to hear our names be called. I was pretty stoked. We didn't win, but hey, it's our first quarter in b-school. There'll be more of these. The winning team was a 2nd year team from University of Michigan. Congrats to you guys, and all the other finalists. I have to say that I really enjoy working with my group. I hope we'll be back at Duke next year and take it away.

An exciting trip with an interesting beginning begs a fitting end, yeah. We were supposed to hang out at Fuqua's Prom. We almost ended up getting shiny teeth instead. So, we are in this cab headed to a place called Blayloc Cafe in downtown Durham. The driver was a nutjob, talking on the phone all the time, and once turning into a one-way lane into incoming traffic. Not fun when you're riding shotgun. After driving for a while this guy pulls up to the side of a wooded street. Asks us to get off, turn into a parking lot, and walk to the end of it, and that we would find the cafe there. Now, we did get off, but mercifully the dude didn't take off, because there was nothing at the end of that lot. We got back into the cab and this time set out to find the actual address. He's on the phone again and we manage to find a Blayloc. Only problem was, the address he had was for Blayloc Dentistry :-)

Over a half-hour, many wrong turns, more cell-phone-talk-driving, and a de-tour of the supposedly Tabasco District later, we found outself outside the party. And gave ourselves a nice and proper ending. Free Beer.
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