The Case Centre’s bestselling authors

Sumantra Ghoshal

James L. Heskett
Harvard Business School

"A great case should have timeless issues of long-term importance. Great cases include tangible, actionable issues facing managers in the immediate future if the case is to encourage any sense of urgency among students."

Case writing (and teaching) is a learned activity, but it doesn't happen overnight. I was fortunate to do my graduate work at the Stanford Graduate School of Business at a time when its teaching was centred around the case method. During work on my doctorate, there were opportunities for writing cases. And in my first teaching position at The Ohio State University, there was great latitude in the classroom to incorporate cases into plans for one's courses. So experiencing cases as a student, a case writer, and an instructor was great preparation over a period of about nine years for entering an environment at Harvard where participant-centred instruction is the norm.

Timeless issues

As Ted Levitt, a legendary marketing professor, once said, great cases are about important issues in important organisations led by important people. One way of thinking about this is that a great case should have timeless issues of long-term importance. But more than that, great cases include tangible, actionable issues facing managers in the immediate future if the case is to encourage any sense of urgency among students. Third, a great case has to have enough data to give students a fighting chance to come up with a good analysis, regardless of the decision.

Personal favourite

A favourite case that I've written has to be Shouldice Hospital Limited. It illustrates and provides an opportunity for students to utilise in their analyses two conceptual schemes that we've developed over the years: the strategic service vision and the service profit chain. Its business – providing surgery for inguinal hernias – is sufficiently ‘offbeat’ to naturally attract interest among students. The case is of reasonable length and contains the data necessary to lead to a logical decision outcome on the part of students. And it allows for a number of discussions and outcomes. I've probably taught it several hundred times, but never with the same discussion pattern or exact same set of conclusions.

Most admired

A case I've taught many times and wish I'd written is the Benihana of Tokyo case on service operations written by my colleague, Earl Sasser. The business, Japanese steakhouses, is intriguing. The operating strategy it describes is ingenious. It is compact, but contains the data necessary for an analysis that invariably produces ‘a-ha' moments among students. It has real impact on students; they never forget it. And they apply what they learn from it over an entire business career. Cases don't come any better than this one. It is the best argument that I can think of for the power of case method, participant-centered instruction. 

View cases written by James

About the author

James L. Heskett is UPS Foundation Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School. For the past fourteen years, he has hosted a blog on the school's Working Knowledge web site. James has received a number of awards over the years, including the 2010 Distinguished Career Contribution Award in Services Management from the American Marketing Association.

Among his numerous published books are The Culture Cycle (FT Press, 2011), co-authorship of The Ownership Quotient (Harvard Business Press, 2008), and The Value Profit Chain (The Free Press, 2003).

A member of the faculty of Harvard Business School since 1965, James has taught courses in marketing, business logistics, the management of service operations, business policy, service management, general management, and the entrepreneurial manager. He has also served as Senior Associate Dean in charge of academic programmes.

His prizewinning cases include Porcini’s Pronto: ‘The Great Italian Cuisine Without the Wait!' and Southwest Airlines: In a Different World.


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