The Case Method at the Harvard Business School: Papers by Present and Past Members of the Faculty and Staff

By Malcolm P. McNair | Go to book overview

During the period of more than thirty years of case collection at the Harvard Business School, cases have evolved in the direction of greater complexity, greater detail, and greater coverage, as contrasted with the relatively simple and somewhat sketchy case situations which were used in teaching in the early 1920's. There are still, however, very great differences among cases with respect to length and complexity, and there is still emphatically no such thing as a "typical case." To illustrate the diversity in present-day cases and to give the reader some tangible grasp of what cases are, it seems desirable at this point to reproduce several cases, together with comments by instructors showing the way in which these cases are, or may be, used. A majority of these cases are under fictitious names.

First, Harry L. Hansen presents the case of Florida Foods, Inc., which has several times been used as the introductory case in the first-year course in Marketing. Second, Robert W. Merry offers a considerably shorter case, the Hampton Manufacturing Company, in the general area of Production, showing that it is not necessary for a case to present a great deal of detail in order to afford opportunity for discussion of important questions. Third, Malcolm P. McNair describes the handling of the Conmay Company case, a hardy perennial which has appeared in more than one course in the Business School, with emphasis on the development of close and careful reasoning by students in a narrow situation. Fourth, John Lintner shows how a business-decision case can be used to further the understanding of broad national economic problems.


Some Selected Cases, with Notes on Their Use

I. A Case in Marketing

HARRY L. HANSEN

In an elementary course in Marketing, as in other basic courses to be taught by the case method, there is a very real problem as to what kind of case is best for introductory purposes. Individual students in the course may or may not have had any previous experience with the case method. Given these circumstances, some instructors hold that the content of the initial case makes little difference, that in the first meeting the instructor and the students are groping for a relationship and the important thing is the establishment of effective rapport.

Thus it would be entirely reasonable to begin with a relatively short and simple case emphasizing the importance of the consumer, for instance a one-page transcript of a conversation between a sales clerk

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