MBAs Compete for Bragging Rights in Sailing Competition

Participants in the Rolex MBA Cup Regatta 2012 Photograph courtesy of RSM Sailing

MBA students and alumni from all over the world will descend on the coastal town of Santa Margherita Ligure, near Genoa, Italy, for a three-day sailing competition that starts Sept. 27.

The Rolex MBA Conference and Regatta—hosted by corporate sponsor Rolex, Yacht Club Italiano, and SDA Bocconi School of Management, whose sailing club coordinates the event—will have more than 350 student participants from 11 countries. Participating business schools include Harvard Business School, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Last year’s winner was a Swiss school, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

“When you see all these boats with all the logos of the business schools in this small town in Italy, you see the world is flat,” says Gianmario Verona, director of the MBA program at SDA Bocconi. Still, this is a race, and Verona says he leaves that part of the program to the students. Recently, Alice Pivoli, an MBA candidate at SDA Bocconi and president of the 2013 sailing club, spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

What makes the regatta special?

This is the regatta’s 12th year, but it’s the fourth with sponsorship from Rolex, which allowed Bocconi to make this a big event. Twenty-three schools will participate with 44 boats. The weekend is also aimed at networking with a gala dinner and conference, “Communicating the Impossible: New Challenges Offered by the Global Crisis,” on Saturday night [Sept. 28]. The three keynote speakers for that event are Lauralee Martin, chief executive of Jones Lang LaSalle in the Americas, Sergio Bertolucci, director of research and scientific computing at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, and Marshall L. Stocker, an American investor. The weekend will be a combination of sport, business, and socializing.

How does the race work?

There are two divisions. Division A, which is for the more serious competitors—namely, current MBA students—will include 18 boats, and Division B, which is more leisurely, will feature a mix of current students and MBA alumni and will include 26 boats. In Division A, the boats must all be the same. The difference is only the crews. In Division B, the teams can use any boat available for charter. Then, a handicap is determined based on how big and fast the boat is to even the playing field. Everyone who participates will also sleep in the boats.

What do the winners get?

The winners get a trophy, the glory, and a Rolex.

Why is sailing relevant to MBA students?

A boat is the most immediate place where you can feel the importance of a team. It’s a simulation of work life. If people are not communicating or coordinating their efforts, the situation does not work. It’s the same in a company. People with different roles have to be aligned with the same objective. When you see people studying together, they don’t always know each other well. If you’re in a boat together, you’ll remember each other forever.

Join the discussion on the Bloomberg Businessweek Business School Forum, visit us on Facebook, and follow @BWbschools on Twitter.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.