War games are preparing MBA students for strategic battles

May 5, 2022, 10:46 AM UTC

Good morning,

Students graduating with an MBA this year are facing uncertain economic times, and possibly a recession on the horizon. David Jacobson, a professor of global business strategy at SMU’s Cox School of Business in Dallas says “war games” are preparing students to help companies with strategic battles.  

“We have a lot of hiring partners in the Dallas area, and globally, from American Airlines to Mary Kay to Toyota to tech companies, biotech and hospitals,” Jacobson explains. “When we talked about what their needs are, in their own way, they all said the same thing—’We can hire lots of good MBA students who have gone through lots of good MBA programs, but what’s missing is the ability to engage uncertainty.’” And this skillset has nothing to do with having a finance or strategy concentration, Jacobson says.

He and Arjan Singh, an SMU Cox adjunct professor, have engaged students in war games, a virtual experiential learning experience, which is an extension of the business school curriculum. So, what exactly is a war game? 

It’s a practice that takes place in the business world where a company will divide management into teams, representing the company and its competitors, says Singh, also a strategy and competitive intelligence consultant. The teams all work to outmaneuver one another and pressure test an existing strategy or come up with a new one. War games aren’t a typical part of MBA programs, he says. Through his company, Pharma War Games, Singh runs war-gaming strategies for global tech and biotech and pharmaceutical companies. 

The SMU “battle” is a three-day event and participating students earn 19 contact hours. “We start on a Friday afternoon, and go through Saturday, and then Sunday morning through early afternoon,” Jacobson says. “Battle for the Cloud” for online MBA students took place in February 2021 virtually. “The demand is such that we are now running five or six a year virtually,” Jacobson says. An in-person war game was planned for this June, but postponed until the fall.

In “Battle for the Cloud,” there were six teams and each represented a company—Oracle, IBM, Amazon, Google, Alibaba, and Microsoft. “We gave them a scenario of a cyberattack,” Singh explains. “The students get a briefing document a week in advance,” he says. (It’s more than 100 pages with details about each company.) “But they don’t know which company they’re going to represent.”

“At the beginning of the war game, we select teams by pulling names out of a hat,” he says. Participants must then go build strategies, and come back to present to a panel of judges, who are typically SVP and C-level executives of the companies represented in the war game.

‘Actionable results’

Sarah D’Souza is a recent SMU MBA grad who participated in the event during the last year of her studies. She told me about her experience. “The first exercise was on company strategy—its strengths, weaknesses and assumptions,” D’Souza says. The next exercise was scenario planning.

The competition encouraged different perspectives, she says. “My team had three students from SMU, two students from Madrid and two students from Germany,” she explains. “We all have such different backgrounds. So, we all had different ideas on how to respond.” In January, D’Souza began a new job as a senior consultant for Cognizant within their life sciences business unit. War games enhanced her skills in creative thinking and using it in “ways that can have actionable results,” she says. 

“We tell students to put it on your resume that you’ve been through a war game,” Jacobson says. 

See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada

Big deal

Fidelity Investments released its 2022 Career Assessment Study on May 4. The study found that 61% of young professionals (those 25-35 years old) have changed their job in the last two years, or they plan to make a move in the next two years. When asked what would make them stay at their current job, 63% said a promotion or salary increase, and 39% said a flexible work schedule. "Of course, financial benefits will always be important, but there’s also a heightened expectation from younger professionals to have more paid time off, schedule flexibility and meaningful work – and they’re not afraid to make a change to attain that expectation," Kelly Lannan, SVP of emerging customers at Fidelity Investments, said in a statement. The findings are based on a national online survey of 1,524 U.S. adults ages 25-70.

Courtesy of Fidelity

Going deeper

A new Fortune report, As the Fed hikes interest rates a top market expert sees 4 scenarios ahead—and 3 of them are terrible for stocks, shares the perspective of Chris Brightman, CEO and chief investment officer at Research Affiliates on the economy. "He believes the chances of a recession are 'better than 50-50. We could round those odds to about 60%,'" Fortune's Shawn Tully writes.


Tom Fuelling was named CFO at TuneIn, a live streaming audio service. Fuelling has more than 25 years of experience working for media and technology companies. Prior to joining TuneIn, Fuelling served as CFO for Hulu, OpenX, ARTISTdirect and most recently, Spokeo, Inc., among others. Fuelling was involved in the launch of Hulu Plus, the company’s subscription product which he helped to scale to more than 5 million subscribers during his tenure. At Hulu, OpenX and Spokeo, Fuelling was responsible for hiring and developing the accounting and finance teams.

Andrew Kang was named senior EVP and CFO at MicroStrategy (Nasdaq: MSTR), effective on or about May 9. Phong Le will continue serving as MicroStrategy’s CFO until Kang’s start date, after which Le will continue as MicroStrategy’s president. Kang previously served as EVP and CFO of Greensky, Inc., a U.S.-based technology company. Prior to Greensky, Kang served as corporate treasurer for Santander Holdings USA, and EVP for Santander Consumer USA, a full spectrum auto finance company. Previously, he held positions in finance and treasury at Exeter Finance, HSBC Finance, Capital One and Thomson Reuters.


"Washington is very aware of the shifting strategies, tactics, and implications of escalating cyber warfare, hence the heightened focus and new laws–but the onus is on private owners to protect the private critical infrastructure of the nation."

—Galina Antova, the co-founder of Claroty and a former global head of industrial security services at Siemens, writes in a Fortune opinion piece

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