The comeback kids

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The Independent Online
BY THEIR own admission, the team of students from Birmingham University took some time to find their feet in this year's Independent NatWest Management Challenge. But they have made a remarkable recovery to win through to the semi-final of the competition, which restarts in September.

Madeleine Rinehart, president-elect of the university's guild of students, said the experience had provided good opportunities for team-building among a group of six people who would have to work together closely over the next year. "The best bit was sitting down and arguing over how many vans to buy, say, and coming to a decision without falling out too badly," she said.

Other students - chiefly those studying for such degrees as engineering - often play such games. But neither Ms Rinehart nor any of the five colleagues who will be taking office in the coming weeks had any experience of them - proof that working together in a planned way can make up for supposed expertise.

The student team was one of 20 - including last year's winners from Severn Trent Water - to qualify for the semi-final of the second competition sponsored by National Westminster Bank in association with the Independent. Its share price was 1.45 ecus.

Many of those that made the cut had been languishing in their groups before the final quarter. The upheaval, said challenge organiser Bill Robinson of Edit 515, was caused by a strong seasonal surge in demand that left many "companies" with "hefty backlogs of unfulfilled orders". Their stock prices were hit by market concern over management ability.

The challenge is due to conclude in November with a national final. It involves teams of up to six players taking on the roles of directors in medium-sized manufacturing companies that sell to the EU and the US.

Performance, measured by the share price in ecus, is based on how the teams fare both against each other and a computer simulation developed by Edit 515. The winner will receive pounds 10,000 in cash and the chance to represent Britain in a European final.

The simulation takes in such functions as sales, marketing and resources. The teams must cover these areas well and show strong balance sheets, good liquidity and effective research and development investment. They must also demonstrate teamwork and good communications.

When the semi-final begins, the qualifiers will face a fresh challenge. The companies they manage will not change, but the commercial environment and the state of the European and American economies will be quite different.