"Why should I take a loss?! I deserve to be paid out just as much," stated the unsecured creditor representative. The unsecured creditor—roleplayed by a bankruptcy attorney—was one of the judges for the American Bankruptcy Institute's 13th Corporate Restructuring Competition hosted at Wharton. These lively “conversations” were par for the course throughout the three-round competition on a cold, November morning for every team including Johnson at Cornell University, UPenn Wharton, Columbia, Northwestern Kellogg, University of Chicago Booth, and NYU Stern.
The competition brought together a diverse set of second-year MBA students to represent Cornell for the first time, and after a marathon 24 hours of financial modeling, credit analysis, and presentation development, we brought home a 2nd place finish to Ithaca. Our success was a result of the lessons learned at Cornell, skills obtained through our summer employers, mentorship received from alumni, and the diversity of our backgrounds.
We were never anxious and always felt prepared leading up to and during the competition. During the first semester of our first year (read: recruiting season), the then second-year MBAs held weekly seminars in the High-Yield & Restructuring Club to expose us to the large, complex world of credit instruments with particular focus on leveraged finance and restructuring. Also during our first year, Professor Drew Pascarella of the Investment Banking Immersion assigned us to groups to work through a different transaction every week, walked us through nuances of real-world analyses, and held us to high standards of quality and preparedness throughout the five-month immersion. This culminated in all of us (Ilhan Kirpik, Prem Khosla, myself, and Igor Kotsiuba) being prepared and obtaining return offers to our respective employers—Citigroup, J.P. Morgan, Lazard, and UBS.
Between our first and second year, each of us received opportunities to learn from, dialogue with, and build mentorship opportunities with alumni in the financial industry across M&A advisory, restructuring, distressed private equity, and credit-oriented hedge funds. These alumni included Barry Ridings, MBA ’76; Rob Symington, MBA 92; Dave Breazzano, MBA ’80; Max de Gennaro, MBA ’98; and Cullen Murphy, MBA ’14. Some were formal opportunities afforded to us through courses, such as Lectures in Finance, while others were informal connections made through networking and career-related events. Each mentor provided unique career perspectives from both advisory and investor lenses. Moreover, we took away practical career and life lessons for both near- and long-term goals.
Lastly, the team’s differences helped us to look at the competition case from multiple lenses. Our professional experiences prior to business school and during the summer ranged from leveraged finance, financial institution modeling, leveraged buyouts, corporate development, and management consulting. There were always moments when one team member knew more than the rest, but by the end of the competition we were all on the same level. Our cultural differences and learning about those differences helped the team to collaborate and perform well. At first glance there may not be many overlaps between a Ukrainian, Turkish-German, Indian-Canadian, and Korean-American—or possibly even polar opposites. However, the fun and bonding during the nine-hour roundtrip drive to Wharton, the daily preparation meetings, and late night snacking allowed us to learn what drives each other, understand nuances in cultural upbringing, and discover unique humor and tastes. While not immediately apparent to us, judges and guests commented that it was apparent that we all worked well together and shared the burden based on our equal knowledge of the strategy, implications, and analysis and how we supported each other during the Q&A process. The saying that one can go faster alone, but further together definitely rang true during the competition. Whereas, the politically heated exchanges of U.S. presidential election—which was occurring the same week as the competition—were going on around us, this team was a great example of how diversity brings out the best in us and allowed us to go further than before.
Johnson’s MBA team took 2nd place at the American Bankruptcy Institute's Corporate Restructuring Competition.