For those unfamiliar with the business case teaching method, it is grounded in similar training in medical and law schools. Students are presented with the facts surrounding a management decision, analogous to intern rounds or moot court. They analyze the situation and recommend a course of action. From a grading perspective, there is no single right answer. Assessment is based on the extent to which a student’s preferred option is supported by the facts.
Teaching case method is particularly rewarding if you have the principal, e.g. owner or executive, in the classroom for questions and answers following the Socratic debate over the possible options and analysis. In one case during my years as a professor of entrepreneurship at Miami University, a student proposed a solution which had never crossed the business owner’s mind. In response, the head of a product marketing company told the student, “I sure wish you had been there at the time.”
One of the most popular and illuminating cases about business management is “Johnsonville Sausage Co.” written by Harvard professor Michael J. Roberts. Owner and CEO Ralph Stayer (photo) is faced with a decision whether to take on a new customer despite the current lack of production capacity. While addressing the opportunity, Stayer has an epiphany about his management style. Previously he considered such judgments to be executive prerogative. However, in this case the decision process was more inclusive, from which he realized his history of micromanagement was holding the company back.
I never had the privilege of Stayer’s presence in my own classroom, but Harvard produced a video of questions and answers in one of Roberts’ classes. During the give and take, the following exchange occurred.
STUDENT: At what point did you become so enlightened? Pre-1980, it seems like you had a pretty authoritarian shop there. And now it appears you are diametrically opposed to your previous management style. What caused your shift?
STAYER: It’s a great question. It really is. I was on the road to Damascus and lightning hit me. Knocked me off my donkey. And when I came to, I was enlightened.
For those unfamiliar with Stayer’s reference to Damascus and the donkey, it is attributed to the conversion of Paul the Apostle described in The New Testament. Prior to the crucifixion, Paul had been among those who persecuted early Christians. On his way to Damascus, Paul (then known as Saul the Pharisee) was blinded by a light from heaven and heard a voice which asked why he would persecute the Lord. Once in Damascus, his sight was restored after which he was baptized and became a follower of Jesus.
Why, this morning, did I choose to school readers on the likes of Ralph Stayer and Paul the Apostle? Because modern day epiphanies do not require being thrown from a donkey by a bolt of lightning or hearing unseen voices. More pedestrian omens serve the same purpose. For example, following a heart attack, the patient makes significant lifestyle changes in diet and exercise. Or the announcement by one’s own child to being gay precipitates a change of heart about marriage equality and LGBTQ rights.
Which brings me to 1:45 a.m. this morning when the news broke Donald and Melania Trump both tested positive for COVID-19. As an agnostic, I cannot believe this was an act of God. With adequate contact tracing, epidemiologists can pinpoint the source of transmission. Like any compassionate individual, I wish the first couple a quick and complete recovery. But that does not stop me from questioning whether the White House responds to this medical event as a conversion opportunity. Will Trump’s own experience deter him from further ignoring the experts and putting his own personal political fortunes ahead of the nation’s well being?
The choice is simple. Trump can either be Paul the Apostle. Or the jackass from which Paul was thrown. As with any crisis, one can hope for the best, but must remain prepared for the worse.
Trump “psychophants” have flooded social media with calls for Joe Biden to immediately suspend his campaign while Trump is in quarantine. How ironic this comes from the folks who have spent the last six months suggesting, just because blue states have had to lock down, there is no reason for red states to follow suit.
Or imagine the situation where one restaurant ignores CDC guidance and is closed down by local officials. Under the above “Trump campaign principle,” all complying restaurants and bars should also suspend operations.
In which case, I have no doubt the Proud Boys would all come to D.C. armed to the hilt to “Liberate The Dubliner.” For those unfamiliar with this Capitol Hill landmark, should you ever have the occasion to be on the corner of North Capitol and F Streets, stop in and order the fish and chips with a stein of Guinness.
For what it’s worth.