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Five minutes with Sam Hariharan

Sahasranam (Sam) Hariharan is a Senior Lecturer in Management at Babson College, Massachusetts, US, and is the Chairman of our US board of directors

When appointed Chairman of our US board of directors in 2013, you stated that you wanted The Case Centre to reach a wider audience in North America and for professionals to access case materials more easily. Have these goals been achieved?


I believe we are well on our way towards these goals.

The Case Centre has, in my opinion, the largest and most diverse collection of materials in terms of sources (both in terms of geographical regions and providers). We needed to make sure that academics and professionals, both our current and potential customers, are aware of the range of materials that we can make available to them.

We have undertaken some positive steps to achieve this.

The team at The Case Centre has sharpened and increased its marketing efforts. We have increased our presence in targeted academic conferences, by being an integral part of conference sessions and professional development workshops rather than just an exhibitor. These efforts significantly increase awareness of The Case Centre and the richness of its offerings.

Furthermore, the trajectory of technological evolution helps customers significantly in purchasing materials from us.
First, we have moved to a virtually complete digital model, with more than 97% of our materials ordered and distributed online.

Second, our website has become better in terms of its functionality, and has made the search and review of materials and the order and digital delivery process much simpler.

Third, the introduction of our CoursePack Creator has made it easier for academics to create customised CoursePacks that their students can buy for themselves.

Finally, with the simplification of the payment process, direct student orders and payments are an increasing share of our orders.

Specialising in competitive strategy in high-tech enterprises, how have you managed to apply the case method in that sector?

As a professor of strategy, the case method is bread and butter for me.

I believe that the case method is one of the best ways to learn how to analyse, understand and craft strategies in any sector. In high-tech industries, it can be even more powerful, where we are witnessing many new and innovative business models such as platforms with multi-sided markets. The deep insights behind these new strategies and business models are best understood and analysed with case studies.

Additionally, since there is considerable uncertainty in these situations, cases allow you to explore the assumptions underlying the choice of strategies. They can be the basis of insightful “thought experiments” and to explore counterfactuals, since these are industries and companies that are still evolving quite rapidly.

You co-founded software application supplier NextStrat in 1999; have you been able to transfer the experiences of creating and managing your own company into your teaching?

looking out of office window

My experience as a co-founder of NextStrat has been extremely valuable in helping me facilitate the learning of my students.

I served on the board of the company and as the Chief Knowledge Officer. In addition to being able to use examples and analogies from that experience to illustrate or illuminate an analysis or concept, I think the experience reinforced two other lessons that I try to incorporate in my teaching.

First, the need for executives to make their decisions in the presence of uncertainty, and without all the information that they would ideally like to have but which is never likely to be available.

Second, the need for us to examine more closely the assumptions we make implicitly (and often unthinkingly) when we use standard frameworks and concepts.

If you could be transported into another profession for one week, which would you choose, and why?

I am very happy as an academic, working on cutting-edge ideas with students and executives.

Given that this stint is only for a week, I think it would be great to be an astronaut in outer space. To be able to see the planet earth, as one orb from above, must be a sight unmatched by any other!

How do you relax?

SaxophoneFor me, listening to music, especially American Jazz, is one way I relax, and easy to do on a regular basis. I especially love classical jazz, listening to the greats such as Louis Armstrong, Billy Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus.

Other than that, I love to travel and explore new places, learning their histories and culture through visits to museums and other experiences.

Do you have a favourite quote or guiding principle?

One of my favourite quotes, attributed to Albert Einstein, is: “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

I think we, as academics especially, need to remain sceptical of all assertions, regardless of who is making them, and not accept them as truth without subjecting them to a rigorous examination of the evidence.

Sahasranam (Sam) Hariharan is a Senior Lecturer in Management at Babson College, Massachusetts, US.

Sam’s research, teaching and consulting expertise are in competitive strategy in high-tech enterprises.

He’s worked in executive education and consulting, advising senior managers from companies such as IBM and Toyota.

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