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After a Twitter API change and policy change block his fledling startup, solo entrepreneur Alex Holt evaluates his options. Should he double-down with a major investment in new servers, rewriting his app from scratch, and charging users for a service that had prided itself on being free? Or give up and admit defeat? Was there any middle ground?
The Behavioural Insights Team case introduces students to the concept of choice architecture and the value of experimental methods (sometimes called A/B testing) within organizational contexts. The exercise provides an opportunity for students to apply these principles to solve a managerial problem - increasing tax compliance rates among delinquent taxpayers. Students are asked to rewrite the letter that the UK tax department (HMRC) sends to delinquent taxpayers; this exercise is based on a successful behavioral field experiment run by the UK government.
The case 'Google Inc. in 2014' describes Google's history, business model, governance structure, corporate culture, and processes for managing innovation. Reviews Google's recent strategic initiatives and the threats they pose to selected competitors. Asks what Google should do next.
OpenTable considers adjustments to increase its benefits to merchants, including a novel payments service that lets customers skip the multi-step process of using a credit card.
ShopRunner considers adjustments to improve its online shopping service which offers no-charge two-day shipping as well as easy returns and other conveniences. Competitors' diverse pricing models and ancillary benefits raise questions about how to structure and price ShopRunner's offering. Meanwhile, an investment from Alibaba presents new opportunities in China but risks distraction from the core business.
LevelUp's mobile payments service lets users scan a smartphone barcode rather than swipe a credit card. Will consumers embrace the service? Will merchants? LevelUp considers adjustments to make the service attractive to both consumers and merchants, while trying to accelerate deployment at reasonable cost.
Paramount Equipment, Inc., based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is a large manufacturer of cranes and compact construction equipment, aerial work platforms, and food service equipment. Founded in 1987, Paramount now had manufacturing operations in 24 countries. However, it lost its competitive position because it took on too much debt in the form of bank borrowings relative to the risk level of its business. Now the company must seek funding and guarantees in order to restructure its debt. Paramount's future depends on whether existing lenders, management, and the government of Ontario-where the company employs more than 7,000-can reach a feasible restructuring and refinancing plan fast and whether Paramount was able to secure a capital injection from new investors. Students must determine the optimal capital structure policy consistent with competitive risks and assess available tools for financing a company in financial distress. The case requires students to perform only limited quantitative analysis and is ideal for use in first-year MBA courses in financial strategy or corporate finance. It would also work well in advanced undergraduate finance courses that cover capital structure and financial distress.
WeaveTech, formerly Johnson-Ware, is a clothing company that produces jackets, coats, overalls, coveralls, and fire-resistant clothing for the military. A private equity firm renamed the company after it acquired Johnson-Ware several years ago. WeaveTech now faces a changing market, and its new CEO is planning to change its strategy. As part of this strategy, the CEO wants to cut the number of WeaveTech managers by 20%. He asks Frank Jennings, WeaveTeach's VP for Human Resources, to recommend how to do so. Jennings has done his best to balance these changes with the company's long history, its small-town culture, and its high-performance culture. The case presents information on the implicit lifetime employment contract, a significant change in strategic direction, and a problematic performance appraisal system. Jennings finds the decision to reduce headcount to be challenging. Is it ethical to discharge high-performing managers? Is the new strategy sound? How should Jennings respond to the managerial reduction mandate, and what should he recommend to the board?
In September 2013, Miles Griffin, CEO and chairman of the board of Newfield Energy, prepares to present financial proposals to the board of directors for approval. Newfield (based in Houston, Texas) was a large independent energy company primarily engaged in the exploration, development, and production of crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids. It had experienced declines in earnings and cash flows in recent years because of the decline of natural gas prices and asset write-downs. The proposals to the board, prepared by the CFO, included (1) a press release outlining that the company was planning to divest several natural gas projects immediately, probably at significant book losses; (2) a significant reduction of common stock dividends; and (3) an exchange offer under which the company would exchange up to 20% of its common stocks into newly issued preferred stocks. Griffin was concerned that the breadth and complexity of the proposals might cause investors to worry. This case is ideal for use in first- or second-year MBA courses in corporate finance or capital markets or in a finance course for advanced undergraduates.
Sales of CleanSpritz all-purpose cleaning spray have been steadily declining for the past five years, and management believes the decline correlates to a growing environmental concern among U.S. consumers. CleanSpritz's management is considering several options to address the environmental concerns in hopes of reversing the decline in revenue: re-launching the current product; adding a new product that includes stronger concentrate in a recyclable pouch; adding a new stronger concentrate in a dissolvable packet; or keeping the business status-quo. Students must present their recommendations for the most effective strategy, keeping in mind the potential risks of each alternative. Students learn to demonstrate the importance of packaging in the marketing mix, analyze the costs and benefits of being a first mover, and learn about the decision-making process for a product extension that represents a creative attempt to rejuvenate a mature brand. This case can be used in courses on marketing management, product management or new product development, or marketing and social responsibility.
Peak Sealing Technologies (PST), a manufacturer of premium carton sealing tapes, stresses technological innovation as the company's core value. But when a new regional competitor introduces a less expensive and inferior product, PST is faced with a decision that could conflict with their values. Product manager Emma Taylor must decide if the company should augment its existing high-quality product line with a cheaper, less effective product to compete with their competitor. However, this decision could cannibalize PST's premium line. Emma is faced with a key issue in product line management--determining the variety of products in the line that serve the same function. Students are introduced to the problems of "trading down" the product line and must consider whether the company's corporate values are a strength or liability. This case can be used effectively in a first-year MBA course on marketing management to illustrate concepts associated with the risk and strategy of introducing a product line extension. It also allows for more complex analysis that would be appropriate in an Executive MBA program or advanced MBA elective courses in Product Management, Business to Business Marketing, Sales Management or New Product Development.
The Clique Pens Writing Implements division of U.S. Home is a manufacturer of a full line of pens, pencils, markers, and art supplies. Despite solid sales, division president Elise Ferguson has seen gross margins drop from 42% in 2010 to just over 36% in 2012 as a result of various discounts, allowances, and other off-invoice deals. She is now considering a move away from these discounts in favor of Market Development Funds (MDF), which would be used explicitly to promote retail merchandising activity for Clique and in theory provide the company with more control of trade promotional dollars to influence consumer behavior. Along the way, Ferguson must consider the structure and problems of various trade promotions and the conflicting needs of her sales and marketing departments. This case introduces basic elements of promotion and pricing policy and the challenges of marketing through major mass retailers.
Martin Blair is a first-time entrepreneur who draws on his experience in the food service industry to develop two different restaurant concepts almost simultaneously. In relating his experiences, he reveals several important concerns of the thoughtful entrepreneur, ranging from securing financing to building out physical spaces. Both restaurants are successful, and Blair now wants to grow the business. In particular, he must decide whether to grow one or both of the concepts, and whether to use franchising as a growth strategy for either, or potentially both. He must consider the pros and cons of franchising, which apply differently to each of his restaurant brands.
New MBA graduate Larry Steffen has accepted an attractive job offer from Athena Global Technology but must now choose one of two alternative compensation plans. The first compensation plan option includes a base salary plus a $25,000 cash bonus, and the second includes the same base salary plus employee stock options. In order to evaluate and decide on one of these plans, Larry must estimate the value of the offered stock options and consider several complicating factors, including whether he will remain at Athena for the five-year vesting period necessary to receive the options. This case introduces students to option valuation and facilitates a discussion about the effectiveness and potential benefits and problems associated with the use of stock options in compensation packages.
The CEO of SafeBlend Technologies must set a price for the company's environmentally friendly fracturing fluid additive. The firm is negotiating a new contract with its biggest client, Bristol Natural Gas. For the past two years, SafeBlend has been the sole provider of additives to Bristol due to aggressive negotiation and limited competition. New competitors are entering the market, and the CEO believes one competitor is prepared to offer Bristol a chemical-free additive for 50% less per gallon than SafeBlend. Anticipating lower bids from competitors, he considers reducing the price in the new contract to maintain the relationship with Bristol-despite the impact on revenue. However, the competition may not be able to supply enough additive to meet all of Bristol's needs, so he also considers the impact of setting a more competitive and profitable price that assumes losing only a portion of Bristol's business.
StepSmart Fitness, a manufacturer of exercise equipment, is undergoing a sweeping reorganization. The new CEO has terminated the District Sales Director and Regional VP and promoted 30-year-old Benjamin Cooper to manage the underperforming New England district. A first-time manager with no one to train him or explain the causes of the district's underperformance, Cooper has 10 weeks to diagnose the problems and make recommendations that will ensure a turnaround in the territory in less than 16 months. Left to his own devices, Cooper must review the sales data, the incomplete notes left by his predecessor, and his own thoughts after spending a day in the field with each sales person. Then he must make decisions about termination or probation for current employees, the hiring of additional salespeople, ways to increase productivity, and potential new methods of evaluating salesperson performance. He is set to present his conclusions to his also-newly-appointed manager, the Regional VP for the Northeast, in a few days.
Jackson Automotive Systems produces automotive parts for advanced heating and air conditioning systems, engine cooling systems, fuel injection and transfer systems, and various other engine parts, and it supplies them to the automotive industry primarily in Michigan. Like many OEM suppliers for the automotive industry, Jackson cut back production following the financial crisis in 2008. By 2013, the firm is back to operating at capacity. The company experiences a bottleneck in production of some key electronic components and, as a result, is unable to repay its outstanding debt to the bank. In addition, the firm delayed replacing equipment during the downturn and now must replace aging equipment to avoid future production delays. The president approaches the bank for an extension to repay a loan and for an additional loan to cover the new equipment purchase. Before meeting with the loan committee, the president must prepare a presentation on the firm's financial position.
Andrea Torres, director of new product development at a high-end chocolate confectionery company, leads her team through a carefully sequenced program of market research to support the development and launch of a new product, healthy dark chocolate with fruit. This is the first time Montreaux USA, an offshoot of a Swiss confectioner, has created a product specifically for U.S. chocolate consumers. The case explains the steps Torres and her NPD team have completed and describes the decisions that lie ahead, a few months in advance of the anticipated launch. A challenging situation is intensified by a competitor also having tested a dark-chocolate-with-fruit product that was likely to be introduced into the U.S. marketplace in the near future. Students must perform a quantitative analysis as part of their work.
Unilever's new Global Brand VP must not only revitalize Lifebuoy soap's sagging market performance, but simultaneously impact the health of one billion people worldwide. The latter challenge comes from Unilever's new CEO who has introduced the Unilever Sustainable Living Program (USLP), a set of bold environmental and social objectives that he has integrated into the heart of the company's global strategy. In contrast to most corporate social responsibility programs, USLP's quantified objectives are clearly defined, tightly specified, and independently audited. And managers are held strictly accountable for their achievement. After describing the background of the 100 year old Lifebuoy soap brand which is now sold primarily in developing country markets, the case outlines the steps taken by Samir Singh, Lifebuoy's newly appointed Global Brand VP as he tries to reverse its declining sales and profit performance. The case then focuses on Singh's relationship with Sudir Sitapiti, the category manager for Lifebuoy in India, the brand's largest market worldwide. Although Sitapiti has done a creditable job in turning around sales and profitability, he has fallen behind on his USLP challenge to bring handwashing behavior change to 450 million people in poor, remote Indian villages. The case concludes with some specific marketing investment decisions that Sitapati is considering and that Singh hopes to influence.
Beidahuang is a major new Chinese player in global grain trading that in 2013 is seeking access to grain both to help assure China's food security and in pursuit of its own commercial goals. Focusing on potential trade in Brazilian soybeans, the case asks students to re-evaluate the role of agricultural cooperatives in the global trading system and to assess what sort of model Beidahuang can create to capitalize on current industry trends while remaining true to its character as a leading Chinese agricultural grower and distributor.
Ciaran Meghen and Ronan Loftus, co-founders of IdentiGEN (an Irish company that had created a unique service called DNA TraceBack to help customers identify and trace meat products), were discussing the company's future. The recent crisis over beef products being contaminated with horsemeat in Europe had generated strong demand for IdentiGEN's services. But more than this, DNA TraceBack gave customers strong insight into their operations to ensure product was genuine, and helped facilitate a continuous feedback loop between all players of the supply chain to deliver a high quality product to consumers. In light of strong demand, how should IdentiGEN proceed in terms of which customers to work with, and which products should it support?
The case describes a pilot project on applying activity-based costing to measure the cost of treating patients. After an overview of Boston Children's Hospital and its local health care market environment, the case presents process maps and financial data relating to patients making office visits to a plastic surgeon for three different diagnoses. Students use the hospital's existing cost system and a proposed new system, based on time-driven activity-based costing, to calculate and compare costs and margins of the three types of office visits.