Featured case:
Vitality Group – Internationalization of Health Tec

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The case

whoWho – the protagonist

Barry Swatzberg, Vitality Group CEO.

What?

Vitality is a health tech company that brought its intellectual property and assets to insurers and large companies across the world to create Shared Value Insurance. This involved the use of client behaviour data to set incentives and drive healthy behaviour and lifestyles by customers of medical and life insurance.

vitalityWhy?

Vitality enjoyed huge success in South Africa and 16 other countries but the company wanted to expand further, facing challenges such as what type of rewards to offer customers in different countries, and how the excellent staff culture could be transferred from South Africa.

When?

The Vitality Program was developed by Discovery in 1997 in South Africa, where the company had a strong brand presence.

vitalityWhere?

Operating in 17 different countries across the world, Vitality had more than 300 permanent employees, and its products were used by about seven million people.

Key quote

“Our culture is really important – but how do you scale culture? Our staff must have Discovery experience because that is what our partners (insurance companies) are contracting from us.” – Barry Swatzberg, Vitality Group CEO.

What next?

Barry had three options to choose from for further expansion; a partnership model, acquiring equity in an existing insurance company or going it alone.

What was the best option?

 
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Featured case: Vitality Group – Internationalization of Health Tec
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Teaching note
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The authors

authorAlbert Wocke, Robert Grosse and Maxine Jaffit

Albert discusses Vitality and the importance of having a protagonist.

Healthy debate

healthy debateAlbert said: “The topic is really about how to internationalise the business model.

“Discovery (the parent of Vitality Group) has built a business around using data to reduce the risk of customers. It is very difficult for students to quickly grasp that the business model differs from other insurance companies that assess the risk of clients when they sign on, while the Vitality model reduces risk while they are customers. Vitality has been doing this since the 1990s so has an advantage over firms trying to do this for the first time.

“We see three different approaches to internationalise and each have pros and cons. A major debate is how will Vitality avoid their partners becoming their competitors. Vitality does this through continuous innovation and understanding of both risk and behaviour.”

Interesting and current

Albert continued: “There are two reasons why we chose to write this case, we have a novel and interesting business model; and we are able to tell the story while it is happening. We believe that these are the qualities for a good case study. The student is put in the shoes of the protagonist and gets to experience what the protagonist needs to decide.

“We had really good access to the executives actually involved in designing products. The main protagonist has already been integrally involved in building a successful MNE and is now rolling out a new business model. He has three different approaches and needs to evaluate which one is best, without much historical financial data.”

top tipTop tips

He commented: “Using a protagonist is the best way to get the story behind the case study dilemma/decision across. 

“When writing the case, it is important that the protagonist understands the purpose of the case study, that it is for teaching analysis and decision-making.  A ‘vanity’ case study that showcases the firm without a good decision-point is not attractive to teach, and students could simply read about it elsewhere. 

“When writing a case, you need to decide on the theory being taught quite early in the writing process, so that you have a framework to collect the data. Data is important for analysis and we prefer exhibits.”

Ensuring a case is versatile

He concluded: “The best cases are rich enough to be used in several courses, generally if it can also be used in a strategy course then it is a good case study. Executive education students and MBA students are generalists and case studies need to be balanced accordingly.”

About the authors

Albert Wocke is a Professor at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria.
e wockea@gibs.co.za

Robert Grosse is a Professor of International Business & Director, Latin America at Thunderbird School of Management.
e Robert.grosse@thunderbird.asu.edu

Maxine Jaffit is a faculty member at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria.
jaffitm@gibs.co.za

 

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