By Morgan Morris
Traditional frenemies may not have been there this year, but that didn’t take the bite out of the 2019 Business School Vino Varsity Challenge.
First staged in 2015, this competition, sponsored by and hosted at Backsberg Estate Cellars, has annually pitted students from the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) against their counterparts from the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) in a test of viticultural brains and palatal sensitivity. The UCT GSB has stamped its authority on the competition, winning the first four challenges. And they were keen to make it five in a row. However, because of scheduling clashes, the USB couldn’t field a team this year and rather than put the competition on ice, the UCT GSB and Backsberg instead chose to pit two teams from within the School up against each other.
As a result, on 26 July, students representing the UCT GSB’s Modular MBA (the ‘Mods’) and Full-time MBA cohorts competed for the title as 2019 Vino Varsity champions. Also on the line, of course, were bragging rights.
That pleasure will go to the Mods who took top honours on the night.
“I certainly do not think that any of the competitive spirit of the competition was lost,” said Van Zyl van der Merwe, who captained the winning ‘Mods’ team. “In some respects, the fact that you know your competition and will spend more time with them back at campus makes the stakes even higher.”
“MBAs, by default, want to (need to?) win!” concurred Thinesh Vittee, captain of the Full-time team. His squad took that take-no-prisoners attitude into the game, referencing Sun Tzu’s Art of War in their team talk, and even tackling the debate question as if it’s the “enemy”. “Come to think of it, there may have been more competitiveness this year!,” he added with a laugh.
The competition took the form of a debate followed by a design-a-wine brand blend and pitch. The question on the table this year was the hot-button issue of land reform in the South African wine industry; could it be done successfully, if at all, or what alternatives should or could be explored?
His team’s diversity gave the Mods the edge in the decisive debate, said captain Van der Merwe. It included a few class members with agricultural backgrounds, while others were more versed in the political, historic and emotive aspects of the issue. “This helped us to better understand the issue from all angles.”
Keeping score and gauging students’ arguments was the judging panel of Matome Mbatha, market manager (Africa and the Americas) at Wines of South Africa; the UCT GSB’s Professor David Venter; and Heinrich Gerwel of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Stellenbosch University. Mbatha also delivered a short keynote.
Several industry guests were on the side-lines to cheer the two teams including Rico Basson and Philip Bowes of Vinpro, the organisation that represents 2,500 South African wine producers, cellars and other industry stakeholders; as well as two representatives from the the Western Cape Department of Agriculture.
The Business School Vino Varsity Challenge is an offshoot of the popular Vino Varsity Challenge, an event, sponsored by Backsberg since 2009, which sees student wine societies from universities across the country compete against each other.
While the Business School Vino Varsity Challenge has much in common with its predecessor – plenty of vino, food and laughter, for example – the event also has its own character, said Bianca-Joy Lenhardt, marketing manager at Backsberg. This year’s event was even more novel, with distinct differences in approach and thinking observable between the part-time and full-time students, she noted.
While the two formats of the MBA cover the same curriculum, the way they access and process the material is different. The full-time programme runs for an immersive 11 months while the modular students study for their degree over a two year period spending a total of six two-week blocks on campus allowing them to integrate intensive action learning with their work life. Segran Nair, Director of Open Academic Programmes says that the modular programme was introduced to offer those students who were not able to study full-time or who live outside of Cape Town an opportunity to access the UCT GSBs world-class MBA programme.
What stood out, Lenhardt said, was regardless of the differences between the two groups, the quality of their arguments in the debate were equally high. “The thought and detail that went into each presentation was exceptional.”
Issued by: Rothko on behalf of the UCT Graduate School of Business
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