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Aggies know business

Students place 4th in finance competition against top schools

Published: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

Four Aggies braved three days of competition among business students from the world and came out fourth in 43.

The team was seniors Josh Groner, Corey Walter and Ben Huffman and junior Neil Azzam. The four finance majors traveled to Toronto, Canada, to compete in the Rotman International Trading Competition on Feb. 18-20.

A&M's fourth place finish trailed MIT, Babson College and the University of Queensland from Australia. The four Aggies bested teams from Harvard, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon and others from Europe, Asia and South America.

Cory Walter said the team knew they were up against stiff competition from day one.

"We were pretty awe-struck on Thursday night at the welcome dinner when we sat with four MBA's from the University of Toronto, all of whom had worked at least four years in trading and related roles," Walter said. "We continued to psyche ourselves out when we looked around the room and found the top rated programs [the University of] Chicago, Northwestern, Penn State and MIT."

Teams competed in five events: a credit risk case, sales and trader, quantitative outcry, an algorithmic case and a natural gas scenario. The competitions were based off real-world scenarios and required teams to predict and react to changes in markets. A team's ability to make profits in the shifting market determined standings.

The consensus from the four A&M competitors was the quantitative outcry competition as the most demanding. Groner compared this event to a scene from the 1986 movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

"It's the scene where they are in the building looking down on the pit and there are just people yelling and screaming and using hand signs and everything — that is essentially what we were doing." Groner said.

Huffman said the stakes in each competition were high, and the chaotic atmosphere was tough to handle for some.

"The competition itself was very intense, with some teams getting very emotional," Huffman said. "Having 80 people in a tight huddle screaming orders and prices at one another was more than some could handle."

In each event, there were multiple heats, so if a competitor lost money in one round, he would go at it again after a break. Azzam said the key to his team's success was bouncing back after losses.

"The first heat I went into, right-clicking and left-clicking do opposite things, and I accidently clicked on the wrong side and lost like $250,000 in the first 10 minutes," Azzam said. "Each one of us had a big loss like that, but the key to us doing well is that each one of us came back and did really well right after that."

After one day of competition, the A&M team was in second place overall.  Groner said from that point on, he noticed changes in the behavior of other teams.

"It was kind of funny because when we first got there [the graduate students] were a bit standoffish when we told them we were undergrads. There was kind of an air about them that they thought they were better than us, I guess," Groner said. "Then towards the end of the competition, everyone became a little bit more friendly towards us and saw us for who we were, in a way."

Walter, Azzam, Huffman and Groner each attributed success to the preparation received in the Trading and Financial Risk Management Program at A&M. Detlef Hallermann, the self-described "coach" of the A&M trading team, is the director for the dual bachelor's and master's program.

Hallermann said his students' performance is an indicator the program is on par with elite programs around the world.

"As a whole, the performance of our students shows that in terms of East Coast schools or schools from other parts of the world, A&M is right there at the top," Hallerman said. "There were over 40 schools there and every single one of those universities is in the top 100 schools in the World News Report. Considering we were in the top 10 percent of that group, I feel very strongly about that."

During competition, the Aggies drew attention for more than performance. Huffman said their unconventional wardrobe also set them apart.

"We showed the competition that the Aggies were there to fight," Huffman said, "and by the end of the day, everyone knew who the guys in cowboy hats were."


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