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Hometown team triumphs

The staging of the tenth annual Citi International Case Competition (CICC) was marked by a hometown win, but the judges of this year’s contest were quick to praise the quality of all the teams taking part and noted how hard it had been to pick a winner.

“Within 26 hours they had done 26 months of my job, so I think it was a very impressive effort by the students,” said Ricky Wong, chairman of City Telecom (HK), the company which provided this year’s case. “It was very tough to decide on a winner.”

By the third and final day of the contest, the 18 teams that had gathered from universities across the globe had been whittled down to four. “The scores for the top two teams were so close it took us more than 45 minutes to separate them,” Wong said.

The verdict of the competition’s judges was announced in the ballroom of the Mira hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui on November 1. The champions, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), just held off Maastricht University from The Netherlands. Two Canadian institutes – Western University and the University of British Columbia – took third and fourth place respectively.

“It wasn’t until we’d finished our final-round presentation that we thought we might have a chance of winning,” said Sherwin Wong from the triumphant HKUST team. “We felt that in the final round we had improved a lot from the preliminary round. But we only had 12 hours to absorb the feedback we received from the judges and we felt the other teams were really, really strong.”

Simon Chung, managing director and head of corporate bank, global banking, at Citi, was one of the competition’s judges. He agreed that deciding on a winner was difficult. “The standard of all the teams was very high in terms of effort, standards and ideas,” he said. “But one thing that differentiated the winners from the others was their confidence in their idea. Despite the challenges and pressure from the judges, they kept their faith and then pressed ahead and defended what they thought was the best solution for the company.”

Ricky Wong admitted he had based his vote on slightly different criteria. “The HKUST team struck a very good balance between macro and micro issues in the way they analysed the case. Then, in such a short period of time, they came up with a very detailed presentation that included several designs for iPhone apps that are very practicable.”

Teams were assessed on the quality of their analysis and presentations, and the feasibility and innovativeness of their proposals.

“The major takeaway for the students was the entrepreneurial spirit of the business they were looking at and the need to challenge the status quo. Within the presentations we found a lot of good ideas,” Chung said. “Ricky remarked that a good part of one of the presentations described exactly what he is doing. But those students took only 26 hours to digest the case, do their research, debate and discuss, and then come up with some great plans.”

Lilian He, of the HKUST team, said that while they were more excited than nervous about making a presentation in a “real world” context, she was slightly daunted by the scale of the challenge.

“On our [degree] course, we are usually given reasonably comprehensive case packages with lots of data and exhibits,” she said. “But with this case, it really came down to our own research and understanding of the situation, because it’s very difficult to find the information just from the case package. We had to dig much deeper than that.”

Sherwin Wong said the tight time limit added a lot of extra pressure. “We usually get much more than 26 hours to prepare,” she said. “Even though we tried to stick to our schedule, and our time keeper – teammate Angele Law – constantly reminded us that we had to move on, it didn’t really work that well.”

Anson Wong, the fourth and only male member of the team, explained that there was one flaw in the team’s planning. “We did not take fatigue into account. After five hours of concentrating, there’s no way you can continue to be as constructive and focused.” Looking back, he said that, for him, the best part of the contest was the opportunity to meet the other participants.

Law said there was a lot of variety in the way that teams from different countries approached the case. “In terms of presentation we do still see a very distinctive difference between some Western and Asian schools. US schools, for example, pay a lot of attention to packaging and the presentation, while [Asian schools] tend to focus more on the analysis and data. So we can learn a lot.”

Professor Leonard Cheng, dean of the HKUST Business School, was understandably proud of his team, though he believes the main benefit for them was the opportunity to “go through the process and learn from the case”.

He was also quick to praise the support the team had received. “We have a great case teacher in Professor Chris Doran, and an outstanding faculty member as team adviser, Professor Emily Nason.”