Swire team cites preparation as key to winning
Fostering friendships, gaining a bird's eye view of business operations and honing analytical skills are all part of some of the crucial learning elements evident at the Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) annual game event, designed to challenge business executives with everyday commercial scenarios and problems.
Teams, comprised largely of four members, that entered the HKMA Hong Kong Management Game 2006 were asked to set up a mock company of a specific nature and over the course of about four months - six rounds - they were expected to react on behalf of their companies to simulated business developments that could include interest rates fluctuation, economic developments and the increase or decrease of raw material prices.
Participants needed to analyse the simulated data and formulate smart business models to help them with their responses.
'Management is such a broad subject that it is impossible to use one game to simulate all management functions. [These can] include production, finance, human resources and marketing,' said Raymond Leung Ka-man, flight operations manager at Cathay Pacfic and second year in the Swire management trainee programme. His Swire Group team won last year.
'The challenges in the competition are realistic. The organisers have used a mathematical platform to simulate real business scenarios,' Mr Leung said.
Communication between teammates was tough because they were all management trainees of the Swire Group and worked in different Swire subsidiaries in Hong Kong. Team leader Alick Liu Ke, for instance, is based in Manila.
'There was definitely a geographical challenge. We relied heavily on e-mail and had a few teleconference calls,' Mr Leung said.
Despite this hurdle the team came out on top, beating six other teams in the final. The only face-to-face portion of the competition involved short-listed teams responding to similar challenges they had solved throughout the competition, except that the ultimate hurdle was compressed into a five-hour period.
Mr Liu, now in his final year at the management trainee programme and assistant to Cathay Pacific's country manager in the Philippines, said the team won by the way it delegated work and the thorough preparation for the final day.
He said there were two parts to the competition.
The first was the technical exposure which enabled the team to refine basic skills of reading financial reports, analysing data and studying how to run a business in a more profitable manner.
The second was people skills through interaction with teammates and the strengthening of communication abilities.
'It was a very useful exercise for me to understand the general concepts of how a business is run from the function of cash flow to understanding the role of research and development, and marketing,' Mr Liu said.
'A lot of my work now is about sales and the running of financial models to determine how we should price airline tickets and the budget to be spent on marketing campaigns. Many of these responsibilities are similar to the challenges of the competition.'
Mr Liu felt the competition's most challenging aspect was the time pressure imposed on teams during the final. They only had a matter of hours to make strategic decisions and did not have sufficient time for analysis.
Teammate Henry Yao Jie, now in his second year of the management trainee programme, said participating in the game as a relatively fresh graduate opened his eyes significantly to the world of commerce. And, by simulating different aspects of business, showed him the building blocks of commerce.
Mr Yao, who studied management, economy and risk management at university, said his degree gave him some common sense grounding to understanding basic economic principles and it was this that partially helped him set up an aspect of the team's integrated business model.
'There is no fixed formula to winning the competition. The business model we created was just a tool to help us make better decisions,' he said.
'As a fresh graduate I didn't have much experience in business management, so the game definitely provided me with a platform on which I could better understand various business functions, how they related to each other and how crucial it is for different departments to work together. This concept of collaboration has helped me a lot with my work.' Mr Yao is seconded to Swire Cold Storage in Australia.
While there is no proven secret to winning, teammate Richard Song Wen-lin, in his final year at the management trainee programme, advises those participating in the contest to assemble a stellar team that can work well together.
'Members must know each other's strengths and weaknesses and figure out how they can best co-operate by making sure each person focuses on a specific area so the team can respond quickly as a whole amid a pressured and tense environment.'
Russell Morris, who runs Universal Business Management Simulation, has been behind the simulation software development for 15 years.
Mr Morris, who is also a consultant to the HKMA, said the objective of the game was to reflect real events in the business world without focusing on any specific industry or business aspect.
What ultimately sets his game apart from others is the way it reflects a general business sense at every level.
'Other business games in the market are either very primitive or highly specialised, catering for specific industries such as logistics,' said Mr Morris.
'The benefit of this game is that it covers general business simulation and engages all aspects of management. And it gives a critical business overview, which helps people see that their individual jobs are one part of a bigger whole.'
After forming the imaginary company, the teams were given deadlines to formulate responses to the challenges and then e-mailed their solutions to the organisers of the game.
Challenges can range from creating a viable marketing campaign to selling certain products, increasing market share of a company and addressing labour issues such as strikes or natural disasters like floods or earthquakes.
The ultimate benchmark by which the winning team was assessed was based on the mock company that could best maximise profit and minimise costs.
Mr Morris said he incorporated scenarios in each game based on situations that had inspired him in the real business world. He has altered the content of the game
over the years to reflect the
changing commercial realities of
'The competition is now posing more complicated and interesting scenarios,' he said.
'There are more choices and decisions to be made at each stage and management has become more complicated.'
He foresees even more complex and challenging games in the future with increasingly sophisticated components entering the scenario.
The winners of the competition will participate in a regional competition that will be held later this year in Calcutta where the winning criteria will be the same as the Hong Kong game.
The winning Hong Kong team will be awarded four airline tickets
to India and a cash prize of HK$25,000.
The deadline for application submission is June 13, with the conclusion of the first of six rounds scheduled for June 20. The final this year will be held on August 11.
Competition over four months; spread over six rounds
Analyse simulated business data and formulate models
Winning criteria - the company that can best maximise profit and minimise costs
Teams should focus on work delegation and working under tight deadlines