Simon Cohen

authorsPlanning and choosing good opportunities are important, says John Mullins, London Business School, but it’s execution that really counts. In his Simon Cohen case series, John draws inspiration from Amar Bhide’s classic Harvard Business Review article, Hustle as Strategy, to trace the compelling story of a young entrepreneur in an unforgiving industry. John discusses his approach and shares some valuable case writing insights.

A case series

I always write case series rather than single cases. There are two main reasons for this: firstly, teaching sessions at London Business School are just under three hours, so with Simon Cohen, for example, Cases A, B and C can be nicely fitted into that time. Secondly, a series of cases gives a far more realistic idea of the long, difficult and tortuous path to entrepreneurial success.

Advice for case writers

It’s important to have a colourful and compelling protagonist, like Simon Cohen, for students to identify with, particularly when teaching entrepreneurship. It is very inspiring to have real-life characters who achieve terrific things so we can exemplify what they do so well. In Simon Cohen, students can step into Simon’s shoes and discuss difficult issues that have no obvious solution; they are often stumped about what to do next. Importantly, students can apply the notion of hustle to a real-world setting and discover that it’s possible to make money in unforgiving industries. Alt text

I train a lot of case writers and have written a guide to case writing, Forks in the Road: A Case Writer’s and Faculty Supervisor’s Guide to Case Development. The most common mistake that new case writers make is that they think a case should be a story from start to finish. In fact, it should be half a story. Students should be left asking, what am I going to do now? 

Challenges

The need to use financial data in a case is always a challenge. In every case I write, including this one, finance can be a tricky issue as companies, for obvious reasons, may be unwilling to make this information public. I always offer solutions: for example, the figures can be disguised. I also explain that the financial information will be ‘old news’ by the time the case is published. In any event, by the time the case is written, trust has usually built up and I’m able to use the figures without any problem.

My other major challenge is to find good writers! I always work with students when creating cases, and for Simon Cohen I found two who could write exceptionally well.

Sticking to the ‘rules’

I always stick to my case writing rules as set out in my guide, but when it comes to case teaching, I’m much more flexible. My teaching notes are carefully structured and timed, but I rarely follow them exactly; every class is different. The students learn from each other and I learn from them. No matter how many times I teach a case, it will be unlike any other time. Students will always come up with a new angle or something I hadn’t previously considered. That’s the wonderful thing about case teaching. I’m a great believer in an observation made by William Rudelius: ‘I used to think that students were learning most when my lips were moving; now I know that students are learning most when their lips are moving.’

An insider’s view: Simon Cohen, President and CEO of Henco Global

A ‘once in a lifetime experience’ is how Simon Cohen describes taking part in this case. He explains how much he gained from the experience. 

A great, well-written case

Participating in this case was extremely exciting. From the beginning, we were looking to learn a lot, and the process exceeded our expectations. All our employees, family members and myself were deeply involved in the project, and in the end we had a great, well-written case, with lots of learning.

Networking and contacts

One of the most important things is the exposure that my company has when the case is taught at institutions such as London Business School and to many businesspeople all over the world. The networking and contacts I gain are extremely helpful.

Fresh insights

John´s knowledge and all the feedback received by email and during the live presentations were very useful for me and my organisation. I have watched the case being taught twice and the experience of being there was just amazing; the feedback and the discussions that emerged from the case were invaluable to us.

No regrets

If you have the opportunity to take part in a case, do it. You will never regret it. The experience is really worth it and you will win a lot. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.

I would like to thank London Business School for the opportunity. We feel really proud to be part of one of the best MBA programmes worldwide.

Case details

Click on the case title to view further details and, where available, an educator preview copy.
Simon Cohen (A)

John Mullins, Darice Gubbins and John Walker 
London Business School
Ref 813-046-1

Also available:

Simon Cohen (B)
Ref 813-047-1
Simon Cohen (C)
Ref 813-048-1
Teaching note
Ref 813-046-8

About the authors

John Mullins is Associate Professor of Management Practice at London Business School.
jmullins@london.edu

Darice Gubbins is Associate, Commercial Strategy Corporate Finance at Credicorp Capital, Latin America
e dgubbins@credicorpcapital.com

John Walker is Director, Open Access Strategy, Elsevier, Amsterdam
e jwalker@elsevier.com

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