Team Abra, Kadabra, Alakazam! goes to Hong Kong

6 weeks training, 15 cases down the line, 101 dumplings consumed, millions of post-it notes used and one trophy later it’s all over!

We set out for Hong Kong at the dawn of Auckland’s winter – arriving in 30 degree heat 12 hours later. Our first impressions of the city were formed on our shuttle ride in from the airport: an amazing harbour with a port at least 20-times the size of Auckland’s, and a city skyline of extremely dense, tall skinny sky-scrapers. But it wasn’t until we started driving through the streets that we got a glimpse of the real Hong Kong: the city is alive with activity, with every square-metre used for some thriving shop or restaurant. There are bright colours, interesting smells, and the constant buzz of a busy city.

After briefly settling in, we began our preparation for the competition in earnest. After several team meetings, and another practice case, we made some major tweaks to our team process, and we felt ready for the task before us: 24 universities competing in a single elimination tournament with four teams making the final at the end of day three.

Then it was time for a near-vertical tram ride up to Victoria Peak and the stunning views of the city from above – and the start of the team’s (particularly Rhea’s) addiction to dumplings for lunch. And then came the shopping – oh boy! When we were told we were going to a mall, we thought it was the bottom level of the building we were walking towards – not the first 18 floors! Although not the cheapest place for shopping, the range of retailers in Causeway Bay was amazing and we left with a few bags, and the whole team intact (despite some, errr, complications with a certain team member *coughtaylorcough* leading us to believe they were kidnapped for an hour).

By evening time we were starting to feel the jetlag a little bit – but Hong Kong never slows down – so we were off to the laser show and the night markets. Much haggling was had, and several bargains and minions were acquired (the cute banana-loving ones that is!).

After our final preparation the next day, we were off to the opening dinner – the start of the HSBC Asia Pacific Case Competition. We were taken via barge to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant – truly a sight to behold – which we took advantage of by taking several photos with the other teams whilst waiting for boats to take us across the water.

Even from the opening night, we could tell this competition would be different from the others we’d been to – the intensity level with which things are done in Hong Kong is a big step up, and from the start of the dinner, through the introductory skits, conversations with judges, team photos, and draw for round one, we were weary of the maintaining stamina through the whole competition.

Day one was a rollercoaster. In Hong Kong you only get two and a half hours preparation time before presenting for 20 minutes, and answering questions from judges for another 15. The case was a bit left-field, looking at the implementation of a $70,000 USD minimum wage within an SME in Seattle, and while we were confident with what we put forward, we faced brutal judges who tried their best to crack us in Q&A. We progressed through our group to face off against the University of Delhi the next day.

But before that, we were whisked away into separate groups and sent on an amazing race around the city with members from the other teams. A great experience, but a tiring one too!

The case against the University of Delhi was on Volkswagen, and recovery from the “Dieselgate” scandal. We put together a comprehensive strategy around crisis response, culture change, and brand redevelopment, and came away with the win – to compete against Peking University in the round of 8.

In the afternoon we had a tour of the HSBC headquarters and several cultural sites. By the end of the day everyone was exhausted, but the real challenges were still to come.

The case on day three was a Hong Kong travel booking agency, and we came up with some creative ideas that made us stand out. Q&A finished early as the judges were out of questions, and we received another win – heading through to the finals, to compete with Thammasat University, the National University of Singapore, and the University of British Columbia – all of whom have had won numerous competitions in the last few years alone.

The finals were held in the HSBC building, and for our preparation rooms we were treated to the meeting rooms on the 44th floor, with 300 degree floor-to-ceiling views of the city – the next two and half hours were absolutely incredible, and we can’t thank HSBC enough for the experience we had with them – it was very surreal. Although we struggled early stages of prep time, we pulled it together with some more creative thinking, and came up with a strategy that we hoped would stand out for the Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo.

We did our best and nervously awaited the results. Our coach (BP) said he was stoked with our performance, and even if we managed to come 4th (out of the 4 teams presenting), we’d done what we set out to do. We did better than that, picking up third place, and a prize of USD $2,000.  NUS finished in first place, and Thammasat in second – both thoroughly deserved as they were excellent competitors and the nicest people we could hope to meet.

I won’t go into too many details with the antics that followed later that evening. As with the final night of many case competitions, there was a bit of drinking, a bit of dancing, a bit of drama, and some things which will be left unspoken (peanut brittle was eaten, and sleep eventually reached before 6:00 am).

On our final day in Hong Kong we were lucky enough to have long-time patron of the University, and Alumnus Raymond Webb take us to the Ozone Bar on the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton building – the highest bar in the world at a staggering 490 metres high!  What a way to celebrate!

And then it was all over, and we boarding our flights for our return to New Zealand, and the reality of exams and wintertime. But something special happened in Hong Kong. It was a time we will never forget. Until next time, Ka kite anō!

The Hong Kong team: Rhea Sampoornanand, Taylor Brown, Renee Mitchell and Cameron Haworth.