Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

W2 Systems: Strategically Managing Punctuated Family Business Succession

Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

W2 Systems: Strategically Managing Punctuated Family Business Succession

Article excerpt


The following teaching notes structure and analyses were adapted from Analyzing family business cases: Tools and techniques (Sharma, Blunden, Labaki, Michael-Tsabari, & Algarin, 2013).


This versatile case has been taught successfully to undergraduate, MBA, and executive business students using a three-phase approach that sequentially delves deeper into issues facing W2 and its CEO, Kirk Howard. Phase I serves as an ice breaker to engage the class and focus attention on making sense of the W2 situation. Phase II introduces thought-provoking macro questions to build context and identify in which direction the discussion will begin. Phase III is used to delve into specific issues and constructs that are listed in the sections below, and should be selected based either on questions raised by students or topics covered in the assigned course materials.

The W2 Systems case has a difficulty level ranging from three to six, depending on how the instructor intends to use the case. As such, it is appropriate for undergraduate juniors and seniors, MBA students, as well as executives enrolled in family business, entrepreneurship, family systems, and strategic management courses. The case can be taught in a two hour class period, and it requires approximately three hours of student preparation time. The case is well suited for peer or student group analysis followed by instructor-led course discussions that address career management, work-life balance, entrepreneurship, career planning and management, and quotidian life disruption.


The primary learning objectives of the W2 Systems case are for students to:

* understand real family business situations faced by small family enterprises,

* apply key family business and entrepreneurship concepts, and

* learn how to ask the right questions when faced with a difficult family business situation.


It is recommended to cold call on a student to briefly provide an overview of the case, acknowledge key facts, and identify the most critical issues facing W2 and Kirk Howard. Immediately thereafter, the class should be asked to verify the accuracy of the overview, and provide further clarification. The purpose of this first of three phases is to engage the entire class and develop a common knowledge base from which to begin a thoughtful conversation. It has been found that during this first phase of the classroom exercise, the instructor has considerable leverage to guide the ensuing case analysis and discussion to match learning objectives for the course, or highlight specific topics or theoretical constructs.


The second phase of the classroom exercise includes presenting Socratic questions to further engage students and to develop a platform from which to launch the third phase, a much more detailed discussion and analysis. The following discussion questions attempt to quickly address broad sweeping issues and concerns, and have proven fruitful in fully engaging students and beginning the analysis. It is in this second phase that the specific direction of the case analysis is determined.

Should Kirk Howard enter the family business and help his father through his illness? This question targets a central issue of succession from the "next generation" perspective, a viewpoint shared by most students. It does, however, also bring into play the issues surrounding catastrophic illness within the family, family member duty and responsibility, and career planning. Students are typically split into three camps with respect to answering this question: (1) those who believe strongly that Kirk should stay out of the business and pursue his own interests, (2) those who believe it is Kirk's duty to take care of his parents, see his father through the illness, and save the company, and (3) those who take an analytical approach and base their answer on W2's market value and potential for future earnings. …

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