Is there a link between management and rowing?

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The Independent Online

In this year's Boat Race, which Oxford won, were no fewer than six students of the university's Saïd Business School, four taking the MBA and two an MSc in management research.

Despite having to devote hours to their studies, they also found time for the gruelling physical training which began last October, just as they were beginning their MBAs.

Thus it was that on the night before the race last month that Colin Smith, George Bridgewater, Ante Kusurin and Alex Hearne were concentrating, not on Cambridge's weaknesses or the dangers of a headwind, but on the market for electrolysis-based hydrogen fuel in automobiles.

"We had to sit exams before the race, lead a presentation to venture capitalists for a term-long project and hand in an end-of-term 4,000-word paper, due the day after the race," says Hearne, 25, from Princeton, New Jersey. "So on the Saturday night we were putting the finishing touches to it."

Normally the crew stays in London for two weeks before the race. Not this year. "We had changed our training schedule to ensure we were in Oxford to sit our exams," says Hearne.

These exams were, for the record, in developing effective managers, technology and innovation strategy and operations management – and some of it clearly stuck, as Oxford's strategy of developing a strong rhythm and maintaining it whatever happened enabled them to pull clear of Cambridge, after a clash of oars.

"I believe we handled ourselves well in terms of balancing the need to focus on academic study but also to prepare for the race," says Hearne.

The other two Saïd members were Ben Harrrison and Tom Solesbury; the latter is one of five Olympic oarsmen in the boat. Another, Colin Smith (one of the silver-winning British eight at Beijing) had already been an undergraduate at St Catherine's, so when he decided to take an MBA with a view to setting up a business consultancy, Oxford was a natural choice.

"The mix of enormously challenging physical training and the high-powered intellectual requirements of the MBA brings out the best in me, and this is the experience of the other guys," he says. "I certainly think it demonstrates what we are capable of if we put our minds to it."

Cambridge coach Chris Nilsson says the race is all about recruitment – and "Oxford happen to be better at that than us". Rowing students, he says, seem "more able to get their courses at Oxford than they are at Cambridge".

Cambridge has some consolations. It still leads the Boat Race series 79-75, and the Judge Business School's MBA programme was recently ranked three points above Oxford's by the Financial Times. But no Cambridge oarsman was taking an MBA. Will the Judge intake this autumn show signs of brawn as well as brain?

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