How They Teach The Case Method At Harvard Business School

HBS case protagonist Stella McCartney (L) with Angelina Jolie - Wikimedia Commons photo

HBS case protagonist Stella McCartney (L) with Angelina Jolie – Wikimedia Commons photo

In the podcast, Mukunda doesn’t reveal Carroll’s choice. Carroll herself, however, explains in a 2012 Harvard Business Review article that she shut the mine for seven weeks to improve safety and safety-train 30,000 workers, and also started working with the South African government and miners’ union on country-wide mining safety initiatives. By 2011, deaths at the company’s South Africa mines had fallen 62% to 17,  from 44 in the year before Carroll’s arrival.

HBS faculty, when researching for cases, must gain access to companies and receive approval to research and publish a case. Companies usually provide data, reports, and memos to assist in the research. Frequently, the faculty member’s relationship with the company means the protagonist, or company representatives, will visit the class in person or via video link for the case discussion. For many cases, such as Mukunda’s on AngloAmerican, the entree into the firm comes via an HBS alumnus. However, when HBS marketing professor Anat Keinan looked for a way into the fashion company of designer Stella McCartney, the alumni network didn’t help. So Keinan resorted to another form of cold call: a Hail Mary to the company. It worked.


Keinan’s Stella McCartney case is the other case study featured in the HBS Cold Call project so far. It concerns the prominent fashion firm’s efforts to build social and environmental sustainability. It also features a female protagonist in McCartney, and was published in January, a year after HBS Dean Nitin Nohria vowed to double the number of female protagonists in case studies over the next five years. This case takes students a world away from the deadly underground chambers of Mukunda’s Carroll case. In the “Cold Calling Stella McCartney” podcast, Keinan tells host Kenny that students’ response to the case on McCartney’s luxury brand surprised her. Many admired the brand, but had no idea that sustainability lay at the core of the designer’s business model and “did not realize the extent to which this company is making an impact and doing so much to protect the environment.”

So students in Keinan’s Luxury Marketing class are ripe for the primary messages Keinan uses the case to teach. “People would ask me, ‘Why are you making such a big deal about sustainability in a luxury class? What does sustainability have to do with luxury?’

“Luxury and sustainability share similar values. Luxury is all about being the best, having the very best. And products that cause misery or environmental damage now or in the future are no longer considered to be the best in class,” Keinan says in the podcast.

HBS professor Anat Keinan

HBS professor Anat Keinan

“Fashion is one of the most polluting industries, not just in the amount of dyes and chemicals and water that you use to produce the items, but also the waste. People throw away 90% of what they are going to buy in the next two years.


“It is possible to be profitable, commercially successful, and build a prestigious and desirable brand while being environmentally and socially responsible. Being environmentally responsible does not necessarily request complex changes and additional cost.”

The case teaches another lesson, one particularly valuable to the current generation of students, Keinan says. “It’s about patience and persistence, and it also relates to the millennials who expect everything to happen fast – immediate gratification, to be successful fast. Stella McCartney was determined to follow her values and make a difference. But as you see in the case, it wasn’t easy. Even with her education and background and all the right connections, it took time until the industry took her and her ideas, the sustainability ideas, seriously.

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