I will start this story where it ends rather than begins and let the proverbial cat out of the bag. As my SOM colleagues and I were filing out of the conference room at the venture capital firm General Catalyst last Friday, we bumped into former GM CEO Rick Wagoner. The Managing Director present graciously asked Rick if he’d like to chat with the MBAs from Yale, and to our surprise and delight, we were treated to five minutes with a man who had presided over one of America’s most iconic companies.
It was a fitting end to the Energy Club’s trek to the Boston area. That morning, at the battery technology company A123, we heard about the birth of the young company, its rapid growth and recent IPO, and its strategies for remaining innovative. We then enjoyed a working lunch and peak load ‘event’ simulation at EnerNOC, a smart grid firm that bundles electricity savings and sells this virtual power in capacity markets across the country. After visits at these two entrepreneurial companies, it seemed all the more appropriate to finish our day at General Catalyst, a firm that bills itself as “entrepreneurs investing in entrepreneurs.”That morning on our ride to Watertown, MA, the conversation between my colleagues and I drifted to the recent announcement that Ted Synder would assume the leadership of SOM in a year and half. We discussed how we thought his appointment, the new building, and a growing student body might impact the culture at SOM, which led us to trying to define what exactly that culture is. While at the end of the day SOM is still a business school, there is something that sets us apart from the other top b-schools—this ‘something’ can sometimes be difficult to articulate. The best I can do is to borrow a term from Professor Barry Nalebuff, who has a penchant for creating new business vernacular, including his favorite neologism: co-opetition. Whether in Negotiations or Competitive Strategy, Prof. Nalebuff never misses an opportunity to illustrate the ways in which companies can cooperate to grow the PIE (potential industry earnings). Of course, he then always reminds us that these same companies should compete aggressively to secure the biggest piece of that newly expanded PIE. While other business schools are known for being fiercely competitive, I would describe SOM as being fiercely co-opetitive. This certainly has been the case among the coterie of first-year SOM students vying for internships in the energy sector. While interest in the energy sector has ballooned in recent years, the number of available positions has not kept pace and the sector has become increasingly competitive for MBAs. Despite this, my classmates have not been at all shy about sharing relevant contacts, forwarding new job postings, or reviewing cover letters for positions to which they are also applying. No one ever seems to worry that a helping a colleague will diminish their own chances at landing a particular internship. The trek itself was yet another example of how we’ve worked together to expand our career opportunities. In my experience, this spirit of co-opetition more than anything else epitomizes the unique culture here at SOM.