Featured case: The Marvel Way: Restoring a Blue Ocean

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The case

Who – the protagonists

Turnaround superheroes Peter Cuneo, former CEO of Marvel, David Maisel, creator of Marvel Studios, and Ike Perlmutter, lead shareholder and current CEO of Disney’s Marvel division. Former managers include well known corporate raiders Ronald Perelman and Carl Icahn.

What?

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One of the greatest turnarounds in history: Marvel built a blue ocean business in the 1960s by creating the iconic characters Spiderman, Iron Man, The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, and countless others, 8,000 characters in all. Value-extracting corporate raiders drove the business into bankruptcy. This case covers how a new management team turned the business around to build the most valuable movie franchises in the world.

Why?

Marvel exited bankruptcy with $250 million in high-interest debt, angry customers, and a sales channel decimated by red ocean value extractors. They needed a new strategy, a blue ocean strategy.

When?

Marvel exited bankruptcy in 1998 saddled with debt. New managers turned the business around and sold it a decade later to Disney for $2.4 billion, after the release of their first Marvel-produced film Iron Man.

Where?

Marvel is based in New York, US. Disney, Marvel's new parent company, is based in Los Angeles along with Marvel Studios, the blue ocean movie studio Marvel created.

Key quote

‘It is extremely rare for a company to find a new strategy that could add multiples to the valuation of the business. That was the fortunate situation where we found ourselves in 2004. After five years of hard work and careful execution it was extremely gratifying to see the success of the strategy with the well-received launch of Iron Man in 2008.’ – David Maisel, Former Chairman, Marvel Studios.

What next?

Marvel’s Blue Ocean Strategy achieved astonishing success, but is now ten years old. All blue oceans eventually turn red if companies compromise or competitors aggressively imitate their success. What next for Marvel? 

 
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The authors

Michael Olenick, W. Chan Kim and
Renée Mauborgne

Authors

The authors explain why Marvel is such a good example of Blue Ocean Strategy – and why the case is both fun and informative.

Key tenets

In building their blue ocean movie studio Marvel refused to accept the usual industry constraints. Simply eliminating the ordinary Hollywood perks allowed them to create films for 30% less than other studios. Their relatively low pay scales – Marvel actors are not paid movie-star wages – focused the films on the Marvel characters rather than individual stars, which also reduced costs. Finally, targeting their films to non-customers is one of the key tenets of blue ocean strategy.

Widely applicable

There are many lessons that start-ups and existing businesses in both entertainment and other industries can learn from Marvel. After bankruptcy Marvel was legally a new business. But rather than a start-up flush with investor cash they were burdened by $250 million in high-interest debt that required $30 million in annual interest payments alone; they struggled to meet payroll at one point.

Marvel management took the steps necessary to stabilise the business then, rather than remain mired in their dire red ocean situation, competing within the traditional boundaries of their industry, they redefined the market itself to create a blue ocean of opportunity.Authors

Superheros and supervillains

Like a Marvel comic book or film, the Marvel case is fun to study and teach. There are superheroes and super villains of the business world, epic struggles, and a literal Hollywood ending. Embedded within this gripping narrative are deep lessons about value innovation, turnarounds, questions about real value and a strong lesson on business ethics.

Students would probably enjoy reading this case even if it was not assigned and the lessons will benefit future managers of any business. Even when a business seems hopeless, the use of Blue Ocean Strategy to redefine a market and change the boundaries of how businesses execute strategy can bring about resounding and sustainable success.

Powerful and exciting

Besides the case there are a series of additional teaching materials that make the case pedagogically powerful and exciting, but also easy to use for professors. The teaching note is relatively straightforward and includes a series of optional classroom discussions that could serve as entire lectures on their own.

The in-class video (available from www.blueoceanstrategy.com) with former Marvel CEO Peter Cuneo – who led the turnaround in the early days and stayed on as an active board member until the Disney acquisition – is a must-see for any business student. 

About the authors

Michael Olenick is an Institute Executive Fellow at the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.
e michael.olenick@insead.edu
tw @michael_olenick

W. Chan Kim is a Professor of Strategy at INSEAD, Co-Author of the International Bestseller, Blue Ocean Strategy, and Co-Director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.
e chan.kim@insead.edu
tw @BlueOceanStrtgy

Renée Mauborgne is a Professor of Strategy at INSEAD, Co-Author of the International Bestseller, Blue Ocean Strategy, and Co-Director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute
e renee.mauborgne@insead.edu
tw @BlueOceanStrtgy

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Blue Ocean Strategy: a global bestseller

W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne are the authors of which argues that lasting success comes not from battling competitors but from creating blue oceans – untapped new market spaces ripe for growth.

Individual chapters from the book are also available from The Case Centre.

 

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