The Turnaround Man and Harris Roberts

Case details
Video lectures

About the authors

Professor Herminia Ibarra, INSEAD, talks about The Turnaround Man A & B and Harris Roberts A & B

Herminia IbarraHow did you identify the need for the cases and how do you use them?

Both cases arose from teaching needs. In the case of Harris Roberts, I wanted a rich example to teach about career change in a business school setting. Many of the people described in my book, Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career (Harvard Business School Press, 2003), made more radical career changes than my eMBA and executive participants are interested in making. Harris resonates with them because he wanted to move from being a functionalist specialist (regulatory affairs) to a general manager. Which he ultimately did but not in the way he expected.

I use that case to kick off a day or half day on the process of career change. After the case, I do a lecture much like the one in the Moving Out video (view this video lecture at The case works well because Harris encountered all the difficulties people typically face as they contemplate a major career move (one's own lack of confidence and risk preferences, family situation/constraints, a mentor who is not very helpful, adult development issues, imperfect alternatives, etc.). In discussing this case, people come to clearer idea about what might be holding them back.

In the case of the Turnaround Man, I wanted a vivid example of how people use 360 feedback to make changes to their leadership style and approach as they make transitions into bigger leadership roles. Wim is a functional expert (operations manager) whose leadership skills are stretched in his new role as a board member of a company he and several others bought out. As a result of this transition, he has strategic responsibilities he is not yet prepared for, and he continues to spend most of his time managing the operational details of his two factories. He faces the same challenges I describe in the Moving Upvideo (view this video lecture at

I use this case to close a week-long leadership executive programme in which participants debrief the same 360 degree instrument that Wim did (and whose results are reported in the case). The case kicks off a session on action planning for 're-entry' in which participants do individual and small group work to come up with action commitments for what they will do immediately on their return. Wim is a great example because he had personal, interpersonal and organizational issues to deal with on his return, and these issues are very typical for people transitioning to bigger leadership roles. His experience really makes people think about the range of things they need to do to put into practice the learning from the programme, and warns them that having clear feedback about weaknesses is rarely enough - the need to actively manage the 'knowing-doing gap'.

These are field based cases, how was the contact with the featured organisation made?

Wim de Boer (the Turnaround Man) was a participant in one of my executive programmes. Harris Roberts was a participant in the research project that led to my book, Working Identity. Both cases feature individuals, not organizations.

Did you encounter any difficulties when writing the cases, and how were these overcome?

No, the only difficulty I encountered is getting in touch with Wim now, to find out how the story has evolved. I have not been able to reach him.

What are the benefits of presenting the material as case series' as opposed to single cases?

Having an A & B format allows you to give only one part (part A) to the students, and ask them what they themselves would do in such a situation. When participants know what happened, they are less likely to explore different action possibilities. In this kind of format, it is important that the B case be short (approx 1 page) so that students can read it in class.

Case details

Click on the case title to view further details and, where available, an educator preview copy.

The Turnaround Man (A)
Herminia Ibarra and Mark Hunter
Ref 407-005-1
Also available:
The Turnaround Man (B)

Ref 407-006-1

Harris Roberts (A)
Herminia Ibarra
Ref 405-018-1
Also available:
Harris Roberts (B)

Ref 405-019-1 

Video lectures

Video icon Watch Professor Ibarra's video lectures, Moving Up and Moving Out, at

Contents of Moving Up

1. Introduction: how we overestimate our leadership skills 
2. The first area where change is needed: skills
3. The second area: relationships
4. The third area: style
5. Inbred networks: a common failing
6. Closing thought: shedding an old identity

Contents of Moving Out

1. Introduction: the bad news first
2. Finding a new path: action beats introspection
3. Three career change strategies
4. Strategy one: develop side projects
5. Strategy two: expand your network
6. Strategy three: work on your story
7. Closing thought: the myth of the 'one true self'

About the authors

Herminia Ibarra is Professor of Organisational Behaviour and The Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning at INSEAD, France.

Mark Hunter is an Adjunct Professor at INSEAD, France.

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