Forget the prizes and rankings - the highest possible commendation of the quality of this year's finalists in the Citi International Case Competition (CICC) came in an unattributed comment made during the judges' private deliberations. 'We would be ready to hire any of these students,' a top executive from a leading international company told his fellow judges. This piece of insider information was shared by the head judge, Stephen Nason - professor of business practice at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Business School - with the audience at the Harbour Grand Hong Kong hotel on November 3 for the 9th CICC awards ceremony. And it seemed the other judges drawn from the world of business and academia were equally impressed by the undergraduates. 'What they achieved in such a short time frame was excellent,' said Simon Chung, managing director and head of corporate bank for global banking at Citi, the company that founded and continues to sponsor the CICC. Chung said deciding on a winner had been very challenging. 'All the teams were very close in terms of the quality of their work and how well they presented [their analysis and recommendations]. But a contest is a contest and you have to come to a decision.' After three exhausting days, it was the team from Thailand's Thammasat University that triumphed. The University of British Columbia team was first runner-up, followed by the University of Southern California and the National University of Singapore. Paweennuch Klaykaew, Monsinee Sattayarak, Veeranan Pipatwongkasem, and the sole male in the Thammasat team, Tadcha Anunrojwong - were representing a university that had won the competition twice before. Despite this, Veeranan said that when her team heard the verdict, 'we were surprised'. Tadcha added: 'After we'd finished our presentation, we knew we'd done our best. But we also knew the teams we were up against were really tough.' Monsinee said her confidence only started to grow when she saw 'the judges nodding, then smiling, at a particular recommendation.' Twenty teams, drawn from top universities across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific and each made up of four undergraduate students, had gathered on the campus of CICC hosts HKUST on the morning of November 1. There they were presented with a business case focusing on Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) and the city's sustainability as a regional container hub. After meeting with HIT executives at its Kwai Tsing Port facilities, the teams began preparing their analysis and recommendations. They were given only 26 hours to deliver their preliminary presentations. After working together on their analysis and recommendations, the Thais then separately prepared different elements of their presentation. Following the preliminary round, Thammasat was one of the four teams selected for the finals on the afternoon of the next day. 'It was very hard to present the case to the judges,' Paweennuch said. 'Some of the judges are from the business you are talking about. They work there every day and you are telling them what to do.' Fortunately, the judges were impressed rather than offended. 'The winning team's presentation was very solid and well-substantiated. By solid, I mean it was very practical and they'd thought about its implementation,' said Chung. With only Monsinee having been to Hong Kong before, the Thais said they were enjoying their visit.