What Topics do MBAs Cover in the Case Study Method?

Awards for business cases

What are the world’s top business schools teaching their MBA students? The latest set of annual awards handed out by the Case Centre provides an interesting indication into the business topics and trends that have had a strong impact on teaching conducted through the renowned case study method over the past year.

The case study method, about which you can read more here, allows MBA students to imagine what they would do when placed at the center of a business challenge put together by academics in the fields of business and management. They then discuss their ideas and conclusions with classmates and faculty instructors.  

The Case Centre’s awards are designed to promote the case study method as an essential teaching tool in business education and this year’s 10 winning cases show just how far individual business cases can travel. The winners have a combined international reach that spans 30 different countries, and have been picked up by faculty members attached to 84 business schools, universities and institutions for use on their courses and programs. 

From Amazon to IKEA – topics covered by popular business cases

One of the winning business cases, written by HEC Paris’s Jeremy Ghez, aims to put MBA students in the shoes of Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, in trying to put the tech giant’s success in perspective and demystify the underlying reasons for its meteoric rise.

Another “makes students think about how Apple has been able to support its business and product strategies through unique supply chain capabilities,” according to its authors, P Fraser Johnson and Ken Mark – both of whom are attached to Ivey Business School.


Elsewhere, wide-ranging ethical concerns faced by IKEA as they sought to enter the Russian market in the 1990s are brought to the surface in a winning case study from ICFAI Business School (IBS), Hyderabad. Its authors, GV Muralidhara and Namratha V Prasad say the business case gives students an “in-depth understanding of the issues related to corruption prevalent in those emerging economies that are considered to be attractive investment destinations,” adding that it also offers great scope for lively classroom discussions.

Another of the winning business cases was penned by a team at Harvard Business School (HBS) and considers digital transformation in the publishing industry by focusing on The New York Times’ introduction of a ‘paywall’ for its online articles and features in 2011. As was the case last year, HBS picked up more awards for its cases than any other institution and also scooped a best teacher award (based on student nominations) for professor, Anita Elberse. A course entitled ‘Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries’ run by Elberse at HBS has proven extremely popular with the school’s MBA students and she has been behind business cases featuring some big names in the worlds of entertainment and sport, such as Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Sir Alex Ferguson

Using L'Oréal’s mushroom dilemma to show MBA students market differences

The overall winner of the Case Centre’s awards this year, however, was one that presents students with an advertising dilemma – whether to feature a top model or an unattractive, yet useful, mushroom in an advert for cosmetics company Yue Sai in China, which was in need of something of a reputational makeover to combat years of underperformance since its acquisition by L’Oréal in 2004.


The case is described by its authors, Haiyang Yang of Johns Hopkins University and INSEAD’s Pierre Chandon, as offering students a window into “how Chinese consumers may differ from consumers in other markets and how brands must operate differently to achieve success.” INSEAD’s Chandon, meanwhile, was also the recipient of a second accolade for his contribution to the case study method, having been acknowledged for cases on four previous occasions in what is now the 26th edition of these awards.

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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