How University MBA students can learn through case studies on their own


The standalone B-schools that offer the PGDM program, as equivalent to the MBA program, teach their studies primarily through case studies. However, there are many University B-schools where the case studies are particularly absent. This article is an attempt to guide such students, based on personal experience and learning from experts, on how to independently pursue case studies.

Introduction

In many Universities in India, there are no specifications for the affiliated colleges that offer the MBA course, to have case-studies in their curriculum. Since it is a rat-race to attract the students for the MBA course, the colleges do not take much interest in developing case-studies. The students are also keen to get an MBA degree, even if the inputs are thoroughly theoretical in nature and content.

However, the students face the music only when they compare themselves with their better-placed counterparts in group discussions for selection in common campus placements, where MBA students assemble to get placed on a common platform. They are totally outdated. To avoid this situation, it becomes very essential for MBA students of University-affiliated colleges, to prepare case-studies on their own, and then systematically learn from them. The steps involved in this process are a) Thorough analysis of all business phenomenon daily b) Trace the business history through published sources c) Inter-link data with all functional areas of Management d) Collect all current data about the organization and e) Keep updating all data on a daily/weekly basis.

Thorough analysis of all business phenomenon daily

This is what I would call "preparatory work". The MBA student needs to understand every bit of information that pertains to any case-study that the student wants to prepare. And case-studies can also be good teamwork for some ten students. This will also enable the students to share the cost of needed resources to prepare any case-study. Most colleges subscribe daily to business newspapers like Business line and Economic Times. The MBA students also need to read Business Magazines like Business Today, Business India, and Outlook Business. The students should pool economic resources between themselves and compulsorily buy these magazines.

Let us now take a concrete example. Any case-study will pertain to a particular company, but there are other strands of knowledge that the MBA students need to acquire. This is called domain knowledge. This is the wider ecosystem of the business organization. For example, let us assume that the case-study is on Reliance Fresh.

The ecosystem will pertain to Big Bazaar, the other big players in the market, product segments, Government policy, and so on. The more knowledge that is collected from published sources, the better.

Trace the Business History through published sources

Take the above example. The internet has information that dates back to fifteen years. The old paper and magazine marts in many big cities can enable students to buy even old issues of the Harvard Business Review for Rs. 100 at current prices. The old copies of the business magazines may also be found in bound volumes in good B-schools. One can always request them permission to refer to such sources. Permission is generally granted and the students can also photocopy any of the pages about the case-study. Since the likes of Big Bazaar have been in the business for such a long-time, it does make sense to refer to so many sources and collect all relevant information. For example, in the years 2005 and thereafter, Business India and Business Today have published several articles on the strategy of Big Bazaar and the thinking of the Founder, Mr Kishore Biyani. At the same time, many of the strategies of Reliance group to enter organized retail in a big way, have also been published. It is but essential the MBA students should collect all such information.

Inter-link data with all functional areas of Management

In the aforesaid example, analysis of any data about the most important functional area, that is, finance is very essential. Did the organization borrow more money? Did they expand too much, when the growth in certain markets was not assured? Answers to these questions become vital indeed.

For example, the same Big Bazaar expanded so fastly at a scorching pace. Reliance Fresh is an organization with big pockets and the organization can afford the luxury of making losses for a couple of years, stay in the market and then eat up all the small players to grow big. For example, Reliance Fresh has recently acquired the complete business of a fairly large retail outlet called the Kannan Department Stores, which had a significant presence in the cities of Coimbatore, Erode, and Salem in Western Tamil Nadu. The owners perhaps thought that they cannot withstand the future competition from the Mukesh Ambani group and sold out. All such details need to be collected from published sources.

Collect current data about the organization

What is Reliance Fresh doing now? How does it fare when compared to the competitors? The MBA student needs to go to the field and even interview customers. They will clearly explain why to buy things from Reliance Fresh. Personal interaction with customers will always through up newer insights into the entire ecosystem of the market.

To explain the ecosystem in the current case, for example, it should be noted that in cities like Coimbatore, the first movers in the same market, like the superb Pazhamudhir Cholai, in the vegetables and fruits segment, is a big player and would offer the toughest competition to Reliance Fresh. Information on where the vegetables and fruits come from and why the customers prefer outlets like these to Reliance Fresh is as important as information about the case-study organization.

The current data is very important as it not only concerns present strategy but also other developments over several years. The present performance of the organization is always the cumulative effect of a solid business proposal that was effectively executed at some point in time. The organization has reached its present status at the moment through such effective business strategies.

Hence, the current data about the organization should concern every bit of information that also includes the data about specific competitors who can still make a vital difference in the survival and growth of the organization. Another aspect of such organizations is distance. If I have a good outlet near the place where I live, is it not wise to buy fresh farm produce at 6 AM when the shop will open, rather than wait for Reliance Fresh to open much later? These considerations may also weigh too much in the minds of customers. The MBA students should note that such data is always open-ended and very dynamic. The data keeps varying at any point in time.

Keep updating all data on a daily/weekly basis

This is very essential. In the case of Reliance Fresh, it is possible to collect all data, since it is a customer-centric organization and the balance sheet of the organization may be available in the public domain as well.

Interacting with real customers as already discussed will through up several fresh insights. Data about the unorganized competitors is also very important to understand what happens to the strategy of the particular organization in the same circumstances. For example, there are several smaller Kirana shops in several pockets of cities like Hyderabad, Chennai, and Bangalore, where the shop-keepers procure the best of red chilies and directly distribute the same to the end customers, through a common supplier who operates from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. This is deliberately done to lower costs and compete with the likes of Reliance Fresh. Such minute details should be collected. Only intimate knowledge of all relevant markets, the supply chain complexities involved, and so on, will enable the MBA student to understand the case-study better.

Conclusion

With a little bit of preparation and hard work, the University-affiliated college MBA student can and will equip himself or herself far better if the learning is through the case-study method. Some basic ideas of such learning have been explained above. The MBA students can also innovate in terms of learning from several small players in different markets, as such learning will also throw light on the strategies of the case-study organization like Reliance Fresh. The scope for learning is huge and the students need to understand this basic fact at any point in time.


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