Vodafone in Egypt: National Crises and their Implications for Multinational Corporations

A double triumph: Urs Müller has won The Case Centre’s ‘Hot Topic’ case writing competition for the second year running.

Cases are submitted anonymously and independently judged, so this is an amazing achievement!

Urs first won this Award in 2013 for Defining the Purpose for Borussia Dortmund GmbH & Co. KGaA , co-written with Ulrich Linnhoff and Bernhard Pellens. This year, his successful case, co-written with Shirish Pandit, explores the 2014 Hot Topic theme of ‘Crisis as Opportunity’.

The case, Vodafone in Egypt: National Crises and their Implications for Multinational Corporations, is written from published sources and traces recent events in Egypt during protests against the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak. It focuses on the dilemma faced by Hatem Dowidar, CEO of Vodafone Egypt, when the government ordered Vodafone and other service providers to suspend communication services in certain areas. Students are asked to consider how Hatem should respond.

Urs explains how he and Shirish wrote the case, and why the situation in Egypt offered a unique opportunity to explore the ethical dimensions of doing business, particularly in foreign markets.

New perspectives

Winning this competition means a lot to us. A high number of cases were submitted and we feel honoured to have been chosen as the winners. Especially as I was also lucky in the Hot Topic competition last year, and have another winning case this year in the Human Resource Management/Organisational Behaviour category. Case awards bring visibility and increase the likelihood that other educators will use the case; this can lead to interesting conversations with colleagues who bring new perspectives.

A unique case

The Egyptian revolution was widely covered and the role of social media and ICT industries during this time caught our attention. Then we learned about the government’s request to shut down the network as well as to send pro-government text messages – and about the different reactions of the network operators. Given the fact that Egypt was traditionally considered to be a stable country and a safe country for foreign investment from Western companies, we realised that this would make a unique case to enable discussions about the risks and opportunities for foreign investment from an ethical perspective (a topic that we had wanted to include in some of our classes for a long time, but had been missing a strong, non-obvious case).

Ethical dimension

The ethical dimension was our main motivation to write the case. Vodafone entered Egypt during a phase of relative political stability with a regime that was supported by most Western countries. Many of these countries, and also some of the companies entering Egypt during this time, judged that the advantages of collaboration and market entry outweighed the human rights problems – and possibly even believed that contributing to the economy would help to improve the political situation. But everything suddenly changed and partnering countries and companies realised they had a problem. The main focus of our case is to discuss how companies should/can react to such sudden changes.

Conflicting perspectives

I believe that one of the most important drivers of engagement among learners is the potential for conflicting perspectives in the class. A great case shouldn’t have an obvious answer – but rather polarise the class (at least initially). And it is even better if the participants don’t have clear answers for themselves, but move between different options – this will increase energy and excitement and finally lead to higher levels of engagement. This higher level of debate and controversy emphasises the message that the most important learning about ethics is that there are different perspectives, and we can understand how these develop and how to deal with them.

Field-based versus published sources

Writing a case in collaboration with a company brings the advantage of authenticity and access to more detailed information. On the other hand, when writing a case from published sources, you don’t have to take anything into consideration other than the facts and the intended pedagogical use. But even when writing a case from published sources, we believe that it is still best to have a protagonist as this helps students to immerse themselves in the situation.

Case development

This case is a prime example of how I prefer to develop new cases. Instead of writing a full-blown case and then using it in class, I first summarise the case in a PowerPoint presentation for use in a safe context, ie in a class with limited exposure where failure wouldn’t be too harmful. Based on this experience, I modify key elements of the case such as timing and protagonist. I repeat this process once or twice until I feel confident enough to write the full case, which is then tested a few times in class. It is not until the end of this process that I finally write the teaching note. During the entire process, I make lots of changes and modifications to the case.

Crisis as opportunity

The crisis is more obvious than the opportunity in this case. However, the case does allow for extensive discussions on how the companies and individuals concerned could have used the situation as an opportunity, either for selfish objectives (such as differentiation and related profit maximization) or as a way to contribute to societal development.

Learning objectives

The case is designed to achieve the following learning objectives:
  • Understanding the broad range of implications that national crises have for multi-national corporations
  • Understanding the need to have an action plan ready to respond to crises at various levels within an organisation
  • Exploring some potential challenges that companies face when entering international markets – here expanding into Egypt and more generally, North Africa
  • Realising the need to act as a responsible corporation (corporate responsibility, corporate social responsibility, CSR)
  • Realising that complying with the law might occasionally contradict ethical imperatives in certain situations
  • Discussing the importance of business ethics
  • Discussing the role and importance of social media for social movements – and how this impacts on the actions of corporations that are active in this field, especially in emerging markets with high internet and mobile penetration such as Egypt and North Africa generally
  • Highlighting the broad range of implications that corporations face when moving into markets with dubious political systems
  • Discussing the implications of business strategy decisions on the overall ecosystem within which corporations operate.

I believe that the case would work very well in classes on internationalisation, strategy and business ethics. I use the case a lot as an introduction to business ethics. It’s a good idea to use video footage of TV news about the Egyptian revolution to complement the case and bring the reality of what was happening into the classroom.

Urs is also celebrating a double win in The Case Centre Awards and Competitions category, Human Resource Management/Organisational Behaviour.

Case details

Vodafone in Egypt: National Crises and their Implications for Multinational Corporations
Ref ESMT-714-0144-1 (A) and ESMT-714-0145-1 (B)
Urs Müller and Shirish Pandit
ESMT European School of Management and Technology
Also available:
Teaching note
Ref ESMT-714-0144-8 (TN)

About the authors

Urs Müller and Shirish Pandit are both Programme Directors at ESMT European School of Management and Technology
e urs.mueller@esmt.org
e shirish.pandit@esmt.org

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