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Karel Cool

Karel Cool

"I consider a successful case to be one that students and executives are eager to discuss because they find the challenge interesting. Secondly, it must accurately describe the situation that the focal decision-makers face."

I was trained as a researcher and had never given much thought to cases as they were ‘just for teaching’. But when I started my first case project on an INSEAD client, Thomson Travel Group (with the help of Martin Brackenbury, a Thomson board member), I discovered how interesting it was to find out how an industry works and what companies do. I tackled the case research and writing with the same approach as writing papers, and I got an immense amount of learning out of it, which I could share with MBA students and executives.

Case style

Since that first experience, I have approached every case I write in the same way, hoping each time to write ‘the best twenty pages’ on the industry and/or firm. Along the way, I developed my case style, which helps me in the writing and, hopefully, the students in the reading. Surprisingly, however, it still takes me as much time (or more) today to write a case as it did ten years ago, since there are more data and reports to sift through, or because data is harder to access depending on the geographic setting of the case. Each case remains a discovery, which I still enjoy.

Successful cases

I know that some of my colleagues have objectives that are different from mine when writing cases. However, I consider a successful case to be one that students and executives are eager to discuss because they find the challenge interesting. Secondly, it must accurately describe the situation that the focal decision-makers face. Rather than having a ‘stylized description’ of the situation, I prefer to give the context and details as faced by the managers and let the reader decide what is important and interesting. Thirdly, a successful case is typically a story that is very accessible to the readers because they face or faced a similar situation or can visualise the situation of the decision-maker.

Cases about the travel industry or the iPad are typically more enjoyed by a broad audience than cases about petrochemicals or insurance! However, as I teach an advanced elective in the MBA programme (Industry and Competitive Analysis), I do not shy away from writing those tough cases since students need to be prepared to handle a wide range of situations.

Finally, a successful case is more than an interesting story. I find it essential that through the case, we can discuss key concepts, frameworks and tools of strategy analysis (for my courses).

Favourite cases

Several of the cases I have written stand out for me and typically they have an almost ‘timeless’ component: Thomson Travel Group, Toys ‘R’ Us in 1999, Michelin and the World Tire Industry in 1993 (four case series over a span of twenty years), Michelin in China in 2011, and PlayStation 3 vs. Xbox 360: Video Game Consoles in the US in 2006. These cases all illustrate very important and almost universal market mechanisms; they are very accessible and can be enjoyed by very diverse audiences.

I teach only my own cases. Not, of course, that I do not like the work of others, but because I believe it is my responsibility to bring new, original material to the classroom at INSEAD, material that I know inside out because I wrote it and that I can discuss with enthusiasm. Also, I do enjoy writing cases! 

View cases written by Karel

About the author

Karel Cool is Professor of Strategic Management and BP Chaired Professor of European Competitiveness at INSEAD, France. His research, teaching and consulting interests focus on problems of industry dynamics and competitive strategy, and he has worked with many major companies, including Unilever, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Daimler, IBM, and BCG.

Karel has published in many journals, including Management Science, the Strategic Management Journal, Harvard Business Review, and the Academy of Management Journal. He has also edited European Industrial Restructuring in the 1990s, 1992 (with D. Neven and I. Walter; Macmillan 1992), and Restructuring Strategy: New Networks and Industry Challenges (with J. Henserson and R. Abate; Blackwell 2004, SMS Book Series), as well as contributing to many books on competitive strategy.

He has won the Best Teaching Award in the MBA INSEAD Programme six times, and is the Founder and Director of the long-running Competitive Strategy executive programme at INSEAD in Fontainebleau and Singapore. Karel has also been the recipient of a case writing award from The Case Centre for British Sky Broadcasting (BSKYB).


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