A team of Rady School of Management Master of Finance students recently headed to Irvine to compete in the ACG Cup – a case study competition hosted by the Association for Corporate Growth.
Nine teams from leading business schools across Southern California gathered to compete for the $10,000 prize awarded to the team with the best business plan. The task? To present valuation, capital markets, and merger and acquisition strategic advice to a panel of seasoned industry professionals affiliated with the ACG.
The Rady School team was comprised of Sairam Chitneni, Ishaan Khanna and Jason Kleideris, all members of the 2019 Master of Finance cohort. In order to qualify for the competition, the students competed against three other Rady School teams to see which team had the best presentation for solving a complex investment banking strategy. Local ACG members judged the four teams based on the strategy, implementation plan and presentation, selecting Chitneni, Khanna and Klederis as the finalists.
Once the finalists were selected, they were given a case study to complete in one week.
“This competition is unique because participants are able to assume the roles of investment bankers,” Chitneni said. “We were given a scenario for a fictitious company, then had to create a plan that described whether the company should divest some of its assets or buy another company based on the information we were given.”
The real-world relevance of the competition is what inspired Khanna to get involved with a team.
“I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to take what I’ve been learning in class and apply it to a situation I’ll be dealing with in my future career,” he said. “I was interested in the idea of building a complex plan from scratch. We learn these things theoretically, but building them, applying them practically and especially getting in front of people who actually do this kind of work for a living – I thought that this would be an amazing opportunity.”
To prepare for the finals, the team members enlisted the help of members of the Rady community.
Professor William Mullins helped guide the team in the right direction, providing invaluable insight into empirical banking and corporate finance. Professor Jeremy Bertomeu also supported the team by helping with some of the harder theoretical problems in the case.
In the first part of the competition, the team had a pristine report, but lacked the presentation skills to deliver a clear and concise report of their findings. Robert Schmidt, a lecturer at the Rady School, helped the team fine-tune their presentation skills.
“Professor Schmidt’s expertise in business communication helped us develop new ways to present our data,” Kleideris said. “We put together a comprehensive and clear plan, but we initially had some trouble presenting it in a way that was easy to understand. The goal of this competition was to be able to take complex information and present it in a way that is effective and cohesive, and Schmidt was extremely helpful when it came to developing our team’s communication skills.”
The final showdown
Armed with the knowledge and confidence, the Rady School team of financial experts donned their investment banker personas and headed to Chapman University to face Southern California’s finest business graduate teams in the ACG Cup Finals.
After the initial presentation, the Rady School team advanced to the final round, knocking out powerhouse teams including the USC Marshall School of Business and the UCLA Anderson School of Business. Pepperdine University and UC Irvine faced off against the Rady School team in the final round. The team was tasked with expanding on their presentation and were asked rapid-fire questions from a panel of ACG chapter member professionals.
Although the team placed second to UC Irvine, judges mentioned that the final score margins were razor-thin.
“We were very pleased with the outcome,” Chitneni said. “We were the only team comprised of Master of Finance students. All other teams were from either MBA or Executive MBA programs, and a lot of those students were older professionals who currently work in the relevant fields.”
A worthwhile experience
Each member of the team emphasized the value of participating in the competition.
“We spent hours working on our presentation, but the experience and relevance to our future careers was invaluable,” Khanna said. “If we enter this field professionally, this is similar to the projects we’ll have every day in our careers.”
Chitneni echoed these statements, adding that he gained valuable personal and professional skills through his involvement with the competition.
“This experience really challenged me to improve my presentation skills – I really improved from the first time we presented in the Rady competition, to when we were presenting in front of an entire room filled with professionals at the final event,” he said. “I also think participating in this event improved my evaluation skills. We have studied these concepts theoretically, but applying them in real-world scenarios helped me understand the importance of those assumptions.”
The ACG Rady veterans hope that their success will inspire more Rady School students to participate in next year’s competition.
“I’m definitely interested in helping out next year’s team in the competition – I feel that all Rady graduate students would enjoy the experience,” Kleideris said. “Since we’ve been through it, we understand what the judges are looking for and how to develop a compelling presentation. I think we could be valuable resources for future Rady School teams, and we would be happy to stay involved and help them out.”
With these experts backing the next generation of Rady ACG Cup participants, the school can expect the trophy case located in the Student Services office to grow in the near future.
Founded in 1954, the Association for Corporate Growth has chapters worldwide representing 14,500 members. ACG serves 90,000 investors, executives, lenders and advisers to growing middle-market companies. ACG’s mission is to drive middle-market growth.