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MIT Sloan team wins international MBA regatta

Sloanies show their sails force.
Adam Traina LGO ’15 (left) and Cooper Engst MBA ’15 compete in the MBA regatta finals on a four-person boat.
Adam Traina LGO ’15 (left) and Cooper Engst MBA ’15 compete in the MBA regatta finals on a four-person boat.
David Hume, Adam Traina, and Mike Buelsing of MIT LGO display their winnings.
David Hume, Adam Traina, and Mike Buelsing of MIT LGO display their winnings.

A 29-member sailing team from the MIT Sloan School of Management that included three students in the MIT Leaders for Global Operations program (LGO) recently took first place in the annual MBAs Conference and Regatta in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy.

The MIT Sloan crew of the 36.7-foot Division A boat, captained by Adam Traina LGO ’15, beat 22 other boats from business schools in 11 countries in the series of races held September 26-29 on the Italian Riviera. Also representing LGO were first-year students David Hume and Michael Buelsing, who captained MIT Sloan’s Division B boat.

In the two-year dual-degree LGO program, students earn both an MBA from MIT Sloan and a master's degree from one of seven MIT engineering programs.

The win was the result of lots of planning and teamwork, said Traina, who was also captain of the entire MIT Sloan team and the only person on his eight-person Division A boat who had ever sailed that type of boat before. In fact, one crewmember had never sailed before and several others had sailed larger boats only a few times.

“Everyone pitched in and found a way to help us win. We started with a huge range of sailing experience, but MIT students are quick learners,” Traina said. “I gave them the tools to succeed, and they provided the rest. The best part about sailing with an eight-person team is that only by working together can you achieve victory, because no one is good enough to operate a vessel that size on his or her own. Our team’s positive attitude, ability to learn quickly, and active listening to each other were the key elements in our success.”

Traina’s background made him a perfect fit for the skipper’s role. A sailor for more than 20 years, he’s captain of MIT's Bluewater Sailing Team, which competes in a 43-foot sailboat called X Dimension. He also taught ocean and nautical science for two years on a tall ship operated by the SEA Semester program in Woods Hole, MA. Traina’s goal is to teach or sail with more than 500 MIT students before he graduates.

Hume, who was chief mate on the Division B boat captained by Buelsing, also has experience on the water, but in much larger vessels. Before coming to MIT, he was a marine engineering officer on large container ships and tanker vessels for months at a time, though he’s also done recreational and competitive sailing.

The students used an array of Sloan and LGO tools to work well together as crewmates. “We implemented standard work by training each member of the team for one specialized job, and we used a visual management system to cue each teammate on when to execute their tasks,” Traina said, adding that their “robust verbal communication protocol” kept team members informed. Also, between each race and at the end of each day, the team held feedback sessions to improve their processes.

The most challenging management lesson they had to apply, he said, was the Toyota production system practice of stopping a production line to solve problems. “In the middle of a race, stopping the boat while in first place goes against every instinct. Before coming to MIT, I might have tried to fix problems as we went along — yet stop the boat we did, making a safe environment long enough to fix rigging that was fouled on the bow so we could continue to race,” Traina said. “Stopping the boat cost us our lead, but we were able to regain control and ultimately win the race as a result of fixing our issues instead of sailing on with them.”

The winning team brought home a trophy and a Rolex watch, but coming out on top wasn’t their goal. The MIT Sloan team decided at the beginning that their mission was simple: "to come home with more friends than we left with," Traina said.

Meeting and collaborating with fellow MBAs (even those on opposing teams) was the most rewarding aspect of the trip, team members said. For example, the team helped competitor Hong Kong University of Science and Technology repair their spinnaker with repair tape that they brought from MIT. And during last year’s event (in which Traina also participated), the Sloanies showed students from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business how to sew a torn sail back together so they could participate the next day. 

The weekend also featured a conference titled “Fast and Curious: Innovating for Value,” and Jalila Bouchareb MBA ’15 was one of just two students chosen to engage the speakers on stage as they discussed the latest in web development, Internet games, and setting the land speed record. And then there were the social and networking events (including a black-tie closing event) that stretched into the wee hours of the morning, so team members were a bit sleep-deprived last week.

“I probably slept three hours per night before leaving just to hand in the work that was going to be due those days, but the effort to front-load and later catch up with classes was more than worth it,” said Diego Escudero MBA ’15.

“The highlight for me was how every person in the MIT team came together to contribute to our mission, which was to leave a great impression of MIT,” said Maria Angelica Posada Rendon MBA ’15, who had sailed only twice before. “Some of us did it through sailing, some of us did it through making sure we were friendly and helpful, and some by just having a blast and making sure others did as well.”

“While I was very proud to be a part of the team that took home first place, an even more special aspect was being a part of a team that upheld Sloan values and has built a reputation for being the funnest and most hospitable school at the event,” Bouchareb said. “Getting to personally connect with my classmates and MBA students from around the world made this one of the most unforgettable moments of my MBA.”

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