Getting on the case
Teams in this year’s CICC battle each other and the clock
This weekend, 18 teams of undergraduate students from top universities around the globe will gather on the campus of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) in preparation for the 11th Citi International Case Competition (CICC), which kicks off on Tuesday.
Competitors will be looking to emulate the winning ways of their host's previous team in last year's competition as they bid to be the first name read out when the winners are announced next Thursday evening.
Citi has sponsored the CICC since its launch in 2003. Wayne Fong, Citi's head of corporate affairs, says the bank is proud of its continuing involvement with the competition.
"I think this is a unique global competition for business students," he says. "It allows them to come together and analyse a real case from a real company within a short period of time - around 24 hours - and then present their ideas and recommendations to a prestigious panel of judges, which includes a representative from the case company. They will be in a very time-intensive, adrenalin-driven environment that recreates the sort of real-life situation found in companies."
Chairing this year's panel of judges is Professor Paul Forster, a senior lecturer in the department of management at the HKUST School of Business and Management.
Forster, who first got involved with the CICC back in 2006, has seen how the art and science of preparing and presenting a case has changed over the years.
"Today's students have an incredible amount of information and superior technologies available to them. This is a blessing and a curse," he says. "They have to pull together a large amount of information, frame a coherent argument, create a beautiful presentation and deliver it in front of a critical audience in just a few hours. The expectations of the quality of case presentations have greatly increased."
He adds that students find that preparing and presenting a case in a contest such as the CICC is very different from doing so at their universities or business schools.
"Probably the biggest difference is that during a case competition, there is no professor to guide their analysis. It's all on the students. They need to have the maturity to make their own decisions and work with their team while under pressure. It's not easy. I've seen teams fall apart in these competitions," he says.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that the identity of the case company is only revealed at the start of the contest. Fong says that, as always, the case will come from one of Citi's clients in Hong Kong, chosen with inputs from HKUST.
"We first look to make sure the case is challenging and interesting enough. We also look at whether the industry the company operates within exists around the world, so that the students will be on a level playing field," Fong adds.
For those team members who find themselves struggling in the heat of the contest, Forster has some words of advice. "Sometimes people get stuck between a reliable, conservative solution and a more risky, creative solution. There's no easy answer for this one, but I would say that competitions do tend to favour the bold.
"Also, when the competitors are very tired after 20 hours and are mired in the details, it really helps if you get your head up and check to see where you are in the big picture," Forster adds.
"Case analysis is about trade-offs. You can't do everything, so you have to constantly make sure that you're doing something that is of value to the final presentation."