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Our cases immerse students in real-world scenarios across various areas of business.
After 18 months pushing for a transition to a self-management organizational system called “Holacracy,” Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh took a decisive step. He offered three months' salary as severance to employees who didn't embrace the new system. In a month, 14% of the workforce, including 20% of the tech department, resigned. This case explores Tony Hsieh's leadership journey at Zappos. When Amazon acquired Zappos for $1.2 billion in 2009, it committed to preserving the company's family-like culture. Hsieh's introduction of Holacracy, however, faced unexpected resistance. His unwavering approach ensured that only fully committed employees remained with the company.
Intuition v. Analytics
In this fictional case study, students are tasked with stepping into the role of a hiring manager at QuantumEd, a leading edtech company. The hiring manager, Samantha, must decide between two candidates, Kristen or Misha, for the critical position of Product Lead for Higher Education Technology. Kristen comes highly recommended by mutual acquaintances within the company, while Misha, with a strong background in instructional design at a university, was identified as a strong candidate by AI analytics. Samantha has a personal preference for Kristen, but this preference contradicts the data-driven recommendation. This case delves into the decision-making process of whether to trust the data or rely on personal intuition.
Dropbox’s story begins in 2007 when Drew Houston, a recent MIT graduate, forgot to bring his flash drive on an hours-long bus ride between Boston and New York City. He became inspired to solve the problems of file sharing, sync, and backup once and for all. This case study follows Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi through their time at Y Combinator, their successful launch, their entry into professional markets, and their eventual migration from AWS to proprietary data centers.
Beginning in 2012, Revolution Prep co-founders Ramit Varma and Jake Neuberg staked the future of their tutoring business on a significant gamble: transitioning their business to an online model. In the short term, this daring decision incurred losses in revenue, staff, and stability. However, in the long run, it enabled Varma and Neuberg to compete in the 'Prep Wars' against more established tutoring firms such as Kaplan and The Princeton Review. Ultimately, the founders savored personal triumph when they sold their company during the COVID pandemic.
Apple v Samsung
In the years following the release of Apple's groundbreaking iPhone in 2007, South Korean electronics giant Samsung released a competing series of personal electronics based on Google's Android operating system. Apple filed a series of U.S. lawsuits against Samsung, alleging several instances of patent infringement. Samsung responded with lawsuits in various other jurisdictions. After years of litigation and hundreds of millions in legal expenditures, we are left with the question of whether Apple or Samsung would have been better off not suing in the first place — is this a classic Prisoner's Dilemma?
In 1976, software engineer Steve Wozniak and entrepreneur Steve Jobs found Apple based on Wozniak’s design for a personal computer. Despite the company’s initial success, the founders' differing visions for Apple's future leads to conflict and power struggles among its top executives. When Wozniak discovers some disturbing truth about the nature of his relationship with Jobs, he is faced with a major decision: continue working with his longtime friend and business partner, or leave Apple altogether?
Co-founders John Wise and Wombi Rose navigate the early stages of their kirigami card start-up Lovepop. They address issues of production, distribution, and the tricky questions of equity in exchange for financial capital and advising.
Analyzing Spotify's business model within the broader context of the music industry, this case evaluates the audio streaming giant's long-term prospects through the lens of corporate strategy, delving into the company’s distinctive position in a two-sided market.
Heart Attack Grill
In 2005, fitness entrepreneur Jon Basso started a small, six stool burger shop called Heart Attack Grill. Having lost a years-long IP battle against a major restaurant chain, fitness entrepreneur Jon Basso set out to expose American fast food restaurants for what they really are: silent killers. Basso started a small, six stool burger shop called Heart Attack Grill (HAG) that serves extremely high-calorie burgers, fries, and milkshakes with a warning that the food “will kill you". This case examines Heart Attack Grill’s marketing strategy and poses the question of whether the HAG really is a net-benefit to society.
As video killed the radio star, Netflix killed the video rental store. Beginning as an internet service that conveniently mailed movies directly to customers and evolving to the streaming mega-giant and producer of Emmy and Oscar-winning original content we now know, Netflix has forever changed the way people consume media. Netflix’s meteoric rise is a compelling story of innovation and strategy.
South African Brewing Company
Beginning in the 1980s, South African Brewing executives Graham Mackay and Meyer Kahn set out to aggressively expand the business across Africa. To accomplish this, Kahn and Graham led the company through hundreds of acquisitions of local breweries across Africa and the developing world. By overhauling these breweries with a focus on cost efficiency and local tastes, SAB turned these local businesses into a money-making conglomerate of beer producers.
In 2022, the industrial and aerospace-defense company CIRCOR finds itself in a precarious situation when auditors reveal a $20 million accounting deficit. Simultaneously, the board initiates a strategic alternative process, indicating a willingness to sell the company. Guided by a committee of investment bankers and board members, CIRCOR strategically navigates the selling process, successfully parting with the company at 3.5 times its valuation from just a year prior. The question remains: how did they facilitate this impressive turnaround?
A garage start-up from Southern California, Turtle Rock Studios has left an indelible mark on the gaming industry of the 21st century, from their work on classics from Half-Life to Left 4 Dead. However, after splitting from industry-leading publisher and developer Valve, Turtle Rock Studios was on its own. Its two new leaders, Chris Ashton and Phil Robb, inspired by the hunting games of the late 1990s, discovered the idea that would become Evolve. In this hunting game, the prey can fight back. With the potential to change the co-op shooter genre forever, and the gilded memory of Left 4 Dead in the rearview, Turtle Rock’s time was here. Could they seize the moment, and elevate into the next stratum of game developers?
The story of Microsoft is best understood by looking at its era-defining leaders: Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Satya Nadella. In the early 21st century, Microsoft's competitive culture aligned with company strategy, successfully realizing the company's ambitious vision of placing a computer in every household. However, after achieving this milestone, Microsoft's growth plateaued. Satya Nadella's innovative leadership revitalized the sleeping tech giant, steering it towards the future of artificial intelligence.
Go-Blu Enterprises has had success in the toy industry for the last three decades, but stock prices seem to have hit a ceiling. Concerns with both their financial state and the ecological impact of their best-selling action figure, Maizeman, have prompted them to try a new approach: they are poised to open a new division of the company, and adopt a powerful new management tool. This fictitious case uses the balanced scorecard framework to demonstrate the power of accessible managerial strategy to both improve and evaluate performance across multiple divisions.
In the aftermath of World War II, the Toyota Motor Corporation faced challenges that influenced the company’s survival strategies for decades into the future. The war had destroyed much of Japan’s industrial capacity. Postwar inflation and wage cuts led to labor disputes that slowed production. After President Kiichiro Toyoda and other top executives took responsibility for the company’s downturn and resigned, scrappy production manager Taiichi Ohno was tasked with radically restructuring the company’s production strategies. Learning from extensive tours and training at U.S. manufacturing plants, Ohno developed the Toyota Production System. This system, which would come to be known as lean manufacturing in the U.S., addressed Toyota’s smaller market and limited manufacturing base by optimizing production per unit. Ohno’s foundational practices of just-in-time production, eliminating waste, and continuous improvement transformed Toyota from a company nearly on its deathbed to the world’s largest automaker in 2008. Lean manufacturing would also bolster Toyota’s resilience during the supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, all because of Taiichi Ohno’s clever response to nearly unmanageable conditions.
Weight Watchers, a long-time leader in lifestyle-based weight loss, made a major change by acquiring digital weight management platform Sequence. This strategic shift under new CEO Sima Sistani marks a departure from their traditional emphasis on willpower and peer support for weight management. The company now prioritizes a health-centered approach, recognizing conditions such as diabetes and obesity as medical issues requiring intervention through the use of weight-loss drugs similar to Ozempic. This case explores the difficulties and intricacies of introducing new products and services for a mature brand, and analyzes how this introduction influences overall brand strategy.
Rent the Runway
Jenn Hyman and Jenny Fleiss embarked on a visionary journey, conceiving Rent the Runway—an innovative fashion platform that reshaped how women access high-end designer clothing. Their inspiration struck during a discussion about closet limitations and the aspiration for a dynamic wardrobe. This revelation prompted the creation of a rental service, setting the stage for a groundbreaking shift in the fashion industry. The founders meticulously strategized the business model, logistics, and technology, positioning Rent the Runway on the cusp of disrupting traditional retail. As the launch approached, the platform stood ready to redefine the fashion landscape, offering a novel approach to style and sustainability.
In 2008, two cash-strapped friends, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, needed desperately to make rent for their apartment in San Francisco. Turning their living room into a makeshift "bed and breakfast" by inflating air mattresses, they seized an opportunity when a large design conference left attendees with no local hotel accommodation options. The idea began to take shape, and they launched "Air Bed & Breakfast" – a humble, but encouraging, start. Realizing the potential of their idea to become a real business, they applied to the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator program, which provided them with the guidance and resources they needed to take the next steps. While in the program, they embarked on a pivotal trip to New York, where they honed and refined their concept. This experience gave birth to Airbnb, forever changing the way many of us travel – and the way some of us share our homes.