Michael Smigielski ’13 (James Scholar) is an exceptionally high achiever and even he was intimidated by the international team he found himself sitting with in Athens, Greece.
It all started back in November when Michael learned his application to Deloitte’s International Student Business Forum had been selected after extensive review by Deloitte’s Kristen Horan, campus recruiter, Matt McGrath, tax manager, and Sara Klein, audit partner. Thousands of applications from around the world were reviewed and ultimately whittled down to 68 of the most talented university students Deloitte could find. Those 68 were flown to Athens and divided into teams of 5 or 6.
Michael met his team in March, four talented students from Germany, Poland, United Kingdom, and Switzerland. Together they formed Team Tokyo, tasked with a case competition to convince judges that the 2020 Olympics should be held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The five-day event began with a series of team building exercises organized into a mini-Olympics with unusual tasks like dropping a ball into a bucket while blindfolded and wearing boxing gloves. Sidelined team members directed participants using spoken commands.
Though Michael had already studied abroad in Granada, Spain, this trip was different. “I had never before had the chance to test myself. In a moment of stress, most people revert to what they know, like telling a blindfolded team member to move inches to the left before dropping their ball in to a bucket-when all they know is metric. In the heat of the moment it’s hard to process everything rationally and according to another’s cultural norms.”
Through their team building exercises they soon learned an appreciation for the difference between individual proficiency and a true team effort. Unfortunately, they couldn’t seem to find their way to the latter. Their highly individualistic personalities hindered their effectiveness and synergy necessary for a competition win.
An unexpected solution presented itself during their downtime. Most of the team had iPods or similar technology and once they started to share music selections, the walls started to crumble. “We found peace in music,” said Michael. “Our meetings became more personally meaningful as we enjoyed common tastes in music.”
The team truly found their focus once Michael stepped up as the group’s leader. A great listener and visionary, he was able to focus their many great ideas and efforts into a team effort.
At one point, Michael recalled, his team doubted whether they could actually win against so many other great teams. It was then they decided they would simply do their best and walk away with no regrets for their effort.
And that’s exactly what they did. They worked tirelessly, they grew to enjoy each other’s company, and they gained respect as only a committed team can know.
It was Team London who would eventually take the title, selected by a panel of Deloitte professionals.
But Team Tokyo received an unexpected second place, known as the People’s Choice award. Voted on, not by judges, but by their peers and coaches, they were heralded for immersing themselves into the consultant’s role and setting a memorable example of a group effort.
Through their rough start and many adjustments along the way, Team Tokyo left the competition with an education and something many feel is even more valuable than taking the title-the respect of their peers.
“I feel profoundly honored for the opportunity given to me by Deloitte and all the excellent people who made Deloitte’s International Student Business Forum a rich personal success,” said Michael, “I walk away a better person and I am forever grateful for the experience.”
Congratulations to all those with true Illini spirit.
Michael Smigielski – USA
Carolin Sonnberg – Germany
Magda Trojanowska – Poland
Beat Meier – Switzerland
Hitesh Pankhania – United Kingdom