As we wrap up this course, we want to take a look back over the nine cases we’ve studied. Each case has an interesting set of takeaways that, combined, can give insight into how the case method is used at top business schools. Let’s review these cases one by one:
Erik Peterson: The main takeaway of this case is that a leader does not wait to bring up difficult topics and hope they go away. Rather, a leader faces difficult managerial and interpersonal issues head-on. If Peterson had asked for greater support or clarity early on, he could have avoided the embarrassing end to his career at Biometra.
Southwest Airlines: Southwest was a disruptive startup that had grown into the most profitable airline on earth. As disruptors grow, they must manage a tradeoff between sticking to a successful lean business model and adjusting the model to take advantage of new opportunities. Every successful startup will eventually face this decision.
Butler Lumber: The Butler case highlights the key distinction between accounting and finance—accounting is about recording and interpreting the past, whereas finance is about planning for the future. Butler was a successful and growing company on paper, but it was in danger of going bankrupt because of financial mismanagement. Because of the lumber industry’s low margins and extended payment timelines, the company actually needed to slow its growth in order not to run out of money.
Disney/Pixar: Disney’s acquisition of Pixar has turned out to be incredibly successful, but at the time of the original case, that success was far from certain. The Disney/Pixar case highlights the important role that company culture can plan in a firm’s success and explores how mergers can (but don’t necessarily have to) change or even destroy that culture.
Intel Inside: Intel Inside was one of the most successful marketing campaigns of the 20th century, but it has failed to make the jump to mobile in the new millennium. This case explored the decision of whether or not to expand Intel Inside to the mobile space and weighed the pros and cons of betting big on an already decade-old campaign. In hindsight, we can see that Intel’s reluctance to pursue this option may have cost them big in the mobile processor arena.
Heidi Roizen: The case itself is chock-full of takeaways about how to grow and maintain a strong professional network. But the studies done after the case may be even more interesting—the Heidi/Howard Roizen study shows that students consistently show a bias against the female “Heidi” compared to her male counterpart “Howard.” Interestingly, the problem isn’t that Heidi is viewed as less capable than Howard, but rather that she is simply less “likeable.”
Optical Distortion: The Chicken Contact Lens case is a great story of taking a business from zero to 100. There are two big takeaways from this case. First, big profits don’t always come from the most attractive industries; chicken farms can be innovated too. Second, all the parts of a business—from R&D and manufacturing to sales, pricing, and distribution—have to come together to build a successful company.
Carrefour SA: The biggest takeaway from the Carrefour case is that MBAs need to be adept at breaking complex problems into analyzable pieces. Carrefour is an exercise in stating and testing assumptions, calculating risk, and using math to make decisions. While it is unlikely that anyone will be in an exact situation like Carrefour’s again, the numbers-based analytical approach is a hallmark of MBA education.
Ryanair: Ryanair serves as a lesson in the strategy of disruption. Ryanair was able to enter a market and offer a much lower-quality product and much much lower price point, and as a result, stole significant market share from the incumbent players. A takeaway for any business entering a crowded market is that it is usually unwise to start price wars, especially if you don’t have the capital resources to outlast your competitors. New entrants must find a way to differentiate their offering and compete on service or product.
This list represents just a fraction of the types of materials you might come across in business school, but it hopefully gives you a taste of what the typical MBA student learns.
Thanks for joining this class! Whether your future plans bring you to business school or not, we hope these cases provide useful frameworks and ideas for whatever opportunities come your way.
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