The Koorana Crocodile Farm

Case details
About the authors

John Thompson, Roger M Bale Professor of Entrepreneurship, University of Huddersfield Business School, UK and Professor Phil Bretherton, Head of the School of Law and Business, Charles Darwin University, Australia, discuss the development of their case The Koorana Crocodile Farm.

Why a crocodile farm?

After years of case writing, it can be very difficult to find something 'different' to use to explore issues of management, leadership, entrepreneurship and strategy. Koorana 'ticks a number of boxes' and, we believe, makes it more interesting for students who will typically know enough to deal with the case but not enough to feel they are experts.

It started in 2007 when Phil Bretherton took John Thompson to a working croc farm while he was visiting Central Queensland University. It was a local visitor attraction but also a business facing interesting challenges and dilemmas. The farm is 'off the beaten track' near the Capricorn Coast and, with investment, it could become more of a tourist destination. There are those who believe farming crocs for their skins is unethical, though, in fact, if left to nature, very few croc eggs survive. But films like Crocodile Dundee and TV programmes with the late Steve Irwin, the 'crocodile hunter', have made people interested in crocs, portrayed as the dangerous animals they are. We discussed the possibility of writing a tourism case until sometime later, Phil learned that Koorana had won a major contract to supply Gucci's tannery in Italy and faced some critical choices.

Case evolution

Once we began properly researching the case, we realised what these choices were and changed the case focus accordingly. The farm is successful against a variety of 'survival' measures, but it doesn't generate enough income to make family succession straightforward. The founder, John Lever, started the farm because he was concerned about protection and preservation, and expansion would require a more commercial perspective and orientation. Decisions about expansion and succession are commonplace but with Koorana we had found an unusual organisation through which to explore these issues. One additional positive point was that the case would provide a vehicle to bring out very different views on the underlying ethics. Some students will be against the idea of using crocodile skins in luxury consumer goods; others will believe it should be made as commercial as it can be. The owner's dilemma was how to make enough money to fund his personal objectives for the business now, and in the future.

Lever allowed us access to work on the case and agreed to be interviewed. Secondary research led to a questionnaire about the farm. We produced a working case draft which we submitted to Lever. Revisiting the farm, we discussed the issues and were given a comprehensive 'behind the scenes' tour which made a number of things much clearer. Lever approved the final case and provided us with photographs. Our teaching trials helped considerably with the teaching note. The main logistical difficulty we faced was geographical distance. In this instance, two case writers were involved; one was located close to the business, one was very far away. Answers to questions do work by email but there was often a delay. Lever is very busy and often travels and there was limited opportunity to visit. But we had a great deal of fun writing the case and learning about the challenges of crocodile farming.

Any advice?

This case started life as a tourism case but emerged as something much more. One piece of advice would be to stay flexible and be willing to adapt as you learn more about a business. It is not unusual to find out the 'real story' part way through the research. Also, never forget that an emergent case takes a number of drafts and that the organisation will have a different perspective on a number of issues from yours. It is therefore also important to foster effective relationships and communications throughout.

With its multiple themes, explored in the teaching note, the case should have an appeal and relevance on a variety of programmes including: family business performance and succession, entrepreneurial values, ecological entrepreneurship, brand marketing, tourism management, supply chain management and strategic growth decisions, as well, of course, as crocodile husbandry and farming!

Case details

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The Koorana Crocodile Farm
John Thompson
University of Huddersfield
Phil Bretherton
Charles Darwin University
Ref 808-052-1
Also available:
Teaching note

Ref 808-052-8

About the authors

Professor John Thompson is Roger M Bale Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Huddersfield Business School, UK.

e j.l.thompson@hud.ac.uk

Professor Phil Bretherton is Head of the School of Law and Business at Charles Darwin University, Australia.
e philip.bretherton@cdu.edu.au
 

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