The Case Centre’s bestselling authors

Benjamin Esty

Benjamin Esty
Harvard Business School

"It’s important to be concise yet rich: you have to craft the case to make every sentence and every line of every exhibit count. Keep cutting until you have just the critical elements (less is often more)."

It took me several years to learn how to identify good subjects; to manage the collaboration with firms (the case writing process); and to craft effective cases. It was extremely helpful to have senior colleagues, notably Tom Piper, Bill Fruhan, and Rick Ruback, teach me the process and provide detailed feedback on my cases, teaching notes, and class plans.

Essentials for success

Before you can write good cases, you must have some experience as a case-based teacher. Teaching experience helps you know how to design an effective class plan, energise discussions, and draw out important points. Next, you have to identify a big decision with real tension; the bigger the stakes and the more disagreement or uncertainty there is among the key protagonists, the better. For richness, I often like to have a primary decision and one or two secondary decisions embedded in the case.

It’s important to be concise yet rich: you have to craft the case to make every sentence and every line of every exhibit count. Keep cutting until you have just the critical elements (less is often more).

Finally, the situation has to be real; while I think there is merit to writing library cases, and I have written many of them, I think there is no substitute for having real people facing real decisions, and hearing their versions of the story.

Favourite cases

I like two of my cases that combine business strategy and financial strategy: Airbus A3XX and Acquisition of Consolidated Rail Corporation. I like the former because it combines so many topics (valuation, marketing, business-government relations, forecasting, etc.) in a single case; I like the latter because it is such an effective mechanism for teaching basic valuation tools and is such a rich and entertaining situation (a merger agreement in the A case becomes a bidding war in the B case). It also poses a very counter-intuitive question: why are smart people willing to overpay for an acquisition target?

I also like my first case on project finance, Petrolera Zuata, Petrozuata CA, which illustrates the economics, terminology, and institutional details of this rapidly evolving approach to financing capital investment (known as project finance).

Four others I like very much are: Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project (a five-part case series exploring the tension between economic development in a country with authoritarian rule); VHSS: Valuing Ships (an analysis of the financial crisis and how it affected the valuation of ships and the stability of German banks); Dividend Policy at FPL Group (a case on dividend policy in a changing competitive environment); and Service Corporation International (a detailed look at a very carefully crafted and very well executed – at least initially – corporate strategy, and one that radically transformed the industry and the value proposition.) This connection between competitive and financial strategies is a theme that runs through many of my cases including the most recent ones (the Molycorp case series and Dow's Bid for Rohm & Haas).

Most admired

My favourite case by another author is Butler Lumber Company by Tom Piper: one of the shortest yet most effective and most memorable finance cases (ask any MBA which finance case they remember!). It is a great illustration of the ‘less is more’ philosophy. 

View cases written by Ben

About the author

Ben Esty is the Roy and Elizabeth Simmons Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Ben currently teaches the introductory finance course in the first year of the MBA programme, but has taught a variety of elective courses including advanced corporate finance and project finance. His current research focuses on corporate finance, project and infrastructure finance, and financial strategy.

Ben’s articles have been published in a variety of academic and practitioner-oriented journals. In addition, he has written more than 100 case studies, technical notes, and teaching notes on project finance, financial strategy, mergers and acquisitions, emerging market investments, and valuation issues. Including those distributed by The Case Centre, more than one million copies of his cases have been sold to date. The case studies and notes on project finance are included in his book, Modern Project Finance: A Casebook (Wiley).

In addition to his academic research, Ben has provided consultancy and training services for investment banks, consulting firms, government agencies, and multi-national corporations on a broad range of investment, financing, valuation, and leadership issues.  


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