The case method is a teaching strategy used in many top business schools around the world. The method was pioneered at Harvard Business School, but it has exploded in popularity throughout the 20th century. While many business schools and their publication offices publish case studies, Harvard Business Review sells 80% of the case studies used in business schools around the world.
The central theme of the case method is to put students in the position of a person (real or imagined) who needs to make a business decision. The case will present information and relevant data about the decision to be made. Students are typically assigned cases and asked to prepare a response for what they think should be done prior to class. Cases cover every aspect of a business, from finance and operations to marketing and leadership.
Some cases are artificial situations written up to illustrate a specific point in business. Others are drawn from real-world situations and real businesses and people (who may or may not be disguised). As in real life, in most case studies, there are no “right” answers to arrive at. Instead, the student’s goal is to make a decision that they can back up with some mix of theory and data. After students prepare the case, they then debate the merits of various approaches in class.
Because so many cases are drawn from the real world, there are often updates or addenda that show what decision was made and what the results were.
In this course, you’ll learn about nine of the most commonly taught and influential case studies used in business schools around the world. The cases you’ll learn about are:
1. Erik Peterson at Biometra: Leadership and Organizational Behavior
2. Southwest Airlines: In a Different World—Operations and Strategy
3. Butler Lumber Company: Finance
4. Walt Disney Company and Pixar Inc.: To Acquire or Not to Acquire? Strategy and M&A
5. Inside Intel Inside: Marketing
6. Heidi Roizen: Networking and Organizational Behavior
7. Optical Distortion: Marketing
8. Carrefour SA: International Finance
9. Dogfight Over Europe: Ryanair—Strategy
Erik Peterson at Biometra
The Erik Peterson case is a cautionary tale of how (not) to deal with complex organizational problems. The case is presented in five pieces, A through E.
Case A describes Erik Peterson, a newly minted MBA who was recently hired (and then quickly promoted) at Biometra, a biomedical devices company based in Boston. Biometra was recently acquired by SciMat, a larger biotech company headquartered in LA. Peterson is put in charge of the launch of a new line of catheters and has to negotiate an evolving internal business structure and complex external relationships in order to make the launch a success.
Peterson faces many leadership challenges at Biometra. He is put in charge of a large division and manages people many years his senior who have far more experience in the medical device industry. Some of his subordinates are resentful of his rapid rise and at times publicly disagree with his direction. Peterson also has to manage relationships with clinicians outside the company who are Key Opinion Leaders; without these people on board, the product launch won’t be successful.
Making a difficult business situation even worse, it is unclear to Peterson who his actual manager is. There are two people in the LA office to whom he vaguely “reports,” but neither of them gives him clear direction. Peterson is also portrayed as somewhat passive—he lurks outside of important meetings (in his own office!) and does not tackle issues head-on.
Over the course of the multiple parts of the case, Peterson’s position at Biometra becomes increasingly precarious. His superiors from SciMat come in for a meeting, and rather than letting Peterson go over his vision for the product launch, they spend the day touring the office independently and asking Peterson’s subordinates questions. After a hushed meeting in Peterson’s office, it is decided that someone else should run the product launch and that Peterson should report to one of his current subordinates.
Peterson is shaken but attempts to make this situation work. Unfortunately it does not, and after several months of frustrating limbo, Peterson is unceremoniously fired.
The case is revealed piece by piece; after each section, students are asked what they would do in Peterson’s situation.
The case has several takeaways that are important for new MBAs. The first and most important is that communication in leadership is absolutely crucial. Peterson should have made clear who he was reporting to and what his goals were, and it should never have come as a surprise that he wasn’t meeting expectations. Another important lesson is that leaders need to make sure that they are set up for success. Peterson was promoted to a position he couldn’t reasonably expect to succeed in, and yet he didn’t ask for additional support or clarity. Finally, it likely would have been better for everyone—including Peterson—if Peterson had resigned after learning that his superiors had lost confidence in him.
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