Brazilian engineer Fernando Pinto Saliba had never considered a career in the beauty industry before he enrolled at Coppead Graduate School of Business in Rio de Janeiro. But while there, he saw students flocking to play e-Strat Challenge, an online game sponsored by cosmetics group L'Or?al that lets students manage a simulated beauty products organization. Saliba signed up, and in 2005 he and two classmates won, beating 2,000 teams from 125 countries. When L'Or?al offered him a job, he happily accepted.
Games such as e-Strat and Brandstorm, designed for marketing students, give L'Or?al a reputation as a savvy recruiter in fast-growing emerging markets. In addition to the games, which attract more than 50,000 students each year, the company has bankrolled scholarships and endowed chairs at some 200 universities worldwide. And in the crucial Chinese market, a program called Career Insiders invited 120 students last year to visit L'Or?al's mainland facilities and meet company managers. "When you visit universities in China, they all know L'Or?al," says Denis Morisset, a professor at French B-school Essec.
Of L'Or?al's four recruiting games, the most popular is e-Strat, which has students make decisions on everything from retail strategy to research and development spending. As students play online, a computer tracks their decisions and awards points for moves that increase their simulated company's market value. After winning local contests, finalists travel to Paris, giving L'Or?al executives a firsthand chance to see how they perform under pressure.
While other multinationals (PG) sponsor business games, none draws as many participants as does L'Or?al. The games have attracted a flood of players from Asia and Latin America, two regions where the $22.6 billion company needs managers. Only 4 of the 10 best teams in e-Strat and Brandstorm were from Europe last year, while the rest came from places such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey.
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