Toy retailer upgrade plan scores win for local team

HKU team takes top prize in finals of HSBC case study competition with analysis of Toys 'R' Us

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 1:13am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 1:14am

The home team from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) won the top prize in yesterday's university challenge that was part Dragon's Den, part job interview as participants tried to convince senior business executives why their companies needed to change.

"Their energy, passion and content kept the presentation at a high-octane pitch all the way through," said panel judge Gordon French when describing the winning team.

In the final round of the annual HSBC Asia-Pacific Business Case Competition, the University of Hong Kong faced off against teams from the National University of Singapore and the University of Auckland.

Their energy, passion and content kept [it] at a high-octane pitch all the way

Given a two-and-a-half-hour group huddle over coffee and sandwiches to prepare a presentation using only old-school transparent projector film, teams had to pitch French and senior toy industry executives on why Toys 'R' Us Asia needed to upgrade its Asian e-commerce platforms.

Toys 'R' Us had a "confused proposition" and lacked a clear Asian strategy, said HKU team leader Ho Tsun-shing. The website was "not fun enough" and so missed an opportunity to get children excited before they went to the store, said Ho's team mate, Chan Wing-yan.

Despite being warned by one panel judge against crossing the line into lecturing, the team was a clear favourite with the judges and was half-jokingly offered jobs by Fung Retailing executive director Pieter Schats.

Fung Retailing manages the Asia operations of Toys 'R' Us.

Teams representing 24 Asian and Australasian universities were whittled down to three finalists over two days of successive real life case study presentations in front of various judges.

The competition is "about making the move from the technical to the practical … the event is about what they are going to have to do shortly," said French, HSBC's Asia-Pacific head of global banking and markets.

In earlier rounds, the students attempted to analyse and find solutions to KFC's China strategy, Microsoft's leadership transition, and efforts to turn around the ailing Industrial Finance Corporation of India.

Gaming apps and a Hong Kong-wide treasure hunt were among the ideas recommended to the judging panel to help differentiate the Toys 'R' Us brand among children and parents.

When buying toys, buyers should automatically be going to Toys 'R' Us before eBay or Amazon, said University of Auckland team member Victoria Clarke as she laid out a vision for the company.

Auckland was the only team to provide a breakdown of costs and revenues and estimated the global toy company should budget US$70 million in e-commerce investment to gain 35 per cent of China's online market by 2019. However, judges were sceptical about the math and the veracity of the potential returns.