Virgin Mobile UK

Jamie Anderson, TiasNimbas Business School, Netherlands and Martin Kupp, ESMT - European School of Management and Technology, Germany discuss the development of their Virgin Mobile UK case.

Jamie Anderson and Martin Kupp

Why Virgin Mobile UK?

In early 2006 Richard Branson sold Virgin Mobile UK to NTL for more than USD1.6 billion to form Virgin Media, at that time the first quadruple play telecoms & media company in the UK. We were struck by this bold move and immediately asked ourselves, what had lead to the deal. Rather than write a 'typical' case which is often a snapshot in time, we were looking for a case where a company had to adapt to a fast changing industry, which would allow us not only to discuss strategy planning and implementation, but to also discuss the importance of emergent strategy in a high turbulence environment.

Case development

After researching the story of Virgin Mobile UK and also talking to various people within the UK telecoms industry the amount of data became so rich and a lot of new ideas were generated. The story was so multi-faceted that we really had to force ourselves to concentrate on the elements we specifically wanted to stress: how to use tools like industry analysis and resource analysis in a fast changing environment.

Our approach to writing this particular case study was what we call needs based. We started our search with a clear teaching need and worked our way towards identifying an interesting story. That is why the case ends in 2006, even though it was written very recently - the events that took place at that time fitted our needs perfectly. By starting very focused, we were able to match all the facts and elements of the story to our teaching need, and we were also able to keep the case quite short.

After we had both taught the case both in an MBA and an executive education setting we got together and compared our experiences. We were both surprised how well the case resonated with the audience. Apart from only minor changes to the case we spent a lot more time on polishing the teaching note to make it as complete as possible, placing the case into the literature and discussion. This was not only for the potential reader of the teaching note, but it also forced us to focus and really think through the whole process of teaching not only the case but the relevant theoretical models, concepts and tools.

Teaching objectives

The case explores how Virgin enters the well established UK market for mobile telecommunications services through an innovative business model. It aims to help students develop a deeper understanding of the concepts of positioning, business system fit and sustainable competitive advantage. Virgin Mobile UK has the crucial ingredients of a compelling case - a situation, complication and very real organizational question or dilemma. And no matter what angle or perspective you take on the case, people are quite passionate over Virgin as a brand and also about the mobile telephone industry. This almost guarantees an animated discussion. And after all, this is what you want to get from a good case, isn't it?

The possibility to identify with the main character adds excitement but also depth to the case discussion. It opens up the opportunity to use different formats like role plays and will help to foster a discussion which is not centred around the lecturer but participant-centred. It reminds students that decisions are not made in an aseptic vacuum but by real people.

Originally the case study was intended for MBA courses in Strategic Management, Innovation and Marketing but we have also found it to be very efficient in executive education programs, for example as part of a competitive strategy program to discuss issues related to positioning, achieving functional alignment in strategy execution and sustainable competitive advantage. Things we did not really plan but have found that participants like are that the case takes place in the UK, is rather recent, develops over time and features a big, yet not that typical multi-national company.

Bringing the case to life

To add to the overall experience in the case discussion we frequently use Virgin Mobile commercials that can be found on YouTube to highlight the key elements of Virgin Mobiles value proposition: fun, innovation and value for money. There are also some excellent interviews with Richard Branson available on YouTube that work well if the instructor has more time in the classroom.

Case details

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

Virgin Mobile UK
Jamie Anderson, TiasNimbas Business School, Netherlands
Martin Kupp, ESMT European School of Management and Technology, Germany
Ref ESMT-309-0094-1
Also available:
Teaching note
Ref ESMT-309-0094-8

About the authors

Jamie Anderson is Adjunct Professor of Strategic Management at TiasNimbas Business School, Netherlands. e

Martin Kupp is Faculty Professional at ESMT, Germany and Head of the Practice Group Technology-Based Industries, ESMT Customized Solutions. e

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