2021 EFMD Case Writing Competition winners interview series: Hidden Champions

hidden champions

EFMD encourages and rewards innovative and impactful cases in management development each year. This year again brought an exceptional variety of winning cases across various industries. We interviewed the winners to find out more about their motivation, inspiration and significant challenges.

The following interview is with Peggy Cunningham of Ivey Publishing, the winning author of the “Hidden Champions” category.

The 2022 edition of the EFMD Case Writing Competition is now open for submissions. Find out more on the webpage and submit your case.

Polycorp Ltd: A Pricing and Investment Dilemma

What was the inspiration for your case?

I was fortunate to be selected as a judge for an annual competition to name and honour Canada’s top-performing private companies. Up to this point, I had thought I was very knowledgeable about Canadian businesses (since I had written many editions of a popular marketing textbook with lots of examples of Canadian businesses), but being on the panel showed me that there were many exceptional companies that I had never heard of. Private firms, especially B2B private firms, don’t get a lot of press coverage, and they don’t file the same types of information that public firms do. Being on the panel (I was a member for five years) began my interest in studying high-performing private businesses. The subject of my case, Polycorp Inc., was one of the winners. I met the owner/founder at the dinner honouring the winners, and I was very impressed with his energy and knowledge. When I asked him if I could develop a case about his company, he agreed.

What were the major challenges in designing the case?

I experienced several challenges in researching and writing the case. First, I was relatively unfamiliar with the global industry in which the firm operated (it served the international mining community). Second, as is the case with any small to medium-sized company, people have little free time, so I did not want to burden the CEO by asking him for too much time to provide me with information about the challenges the company was facing and areas on which the case could focus. I had to do a lot of independent research to understand the sector as a result of these challenges. I researched the industry as a whole and spent considerable time working to uncover information about Polycorp’s main competitors. Several of the competitors were also private companies, and thus, it was somewhat difficult to find some information. The owner/founder of the firm was very familiar with cases and the need to be very focused in writing a case. He was very helpful in forming the case question and willing to tell the story of the company’s success.

In what ways do you believe the case could impact society and business in the future?

As noted above, developing this case and being on the judging panel, led me to research fast-growing, Canadian private firms. I not only developed other cases, I also conducted a project to understand the factors that differentiated successful, fast-growth companies from less successful peers. The research led to several publications, including one by Grant Thornton LLP, the sponsor of the award mentioned above. It was shared publicly and was designed to help other private Canadian SME’s understand the factors leading to success. One of the most unexpected findings of the study was that many of the successful private firms were values-led (ethical values, including the ethic of care). This finding shows that companies can be ethical and profitable. Being able to share the case and the results of the overall study with students has also had an impact, since, surprisingly, many business students (graduate and undergraduate students) perceive that they must be unethical at times in order to be successful

The Sponsor’s Commentary

The category “Hidden Champions” is kindly sponsored by Hidden Champions Institute (HCI), ESMT Berlin. EFMD greatly values the sponsorship, the expertise and the effort of the sponsor to contribute to the Case Writing Competition.

Bianca Schmitz from ESMT Berlin shares more information about sponsoring the category.

Why is case writing and teaching on Hidden Champions important?

Numerous cases concentrate on rather big corporates, like Apple, Amazon, Siemens, etc. We at ESMT Berlin work with many Hidden Champions, one of the key drivers of Germany’s economic success. We often hear that these companies wish for cases that also translate to their realities. Also, our students have an appetite to not only dig deeper into big corporates but also learn about these world market leaders and their niche markets.

Additionally, we assume that other business schools, instructors, trainers etc., are also working with SMEs and big mid-sized companies. To make classes and discussions more meaningful and easier to translate into daily working practice, we are looking for significant new cases on current topics related to this specific category of companies.

And what are the reasons the Hidden Champions Institute at ESMT Berlin encourages case writing on Hidden Champions by sponsoring this category?

We would like to encourage faculty to write cases about Hidden Champions and help to shed light on the success factors and challenges faced by this category of companies. HCs are often so special concerning many facets, ranging from their strong innovation power and emphasizing very high-quality standards to a unique culture. We love to see that these amazing companies get more “publicity”, and participants, faculty and companies are more aware of them. Additionally, we have the HCI and the BTM Center– all of these Institutes work closely with HCs.

Further comments on the winning case

The case is a great example of a Canadian B2B company that is a global leader in providing protective rubber liners for mining mills. It, therefore, fits very well into the category of hidden champions. Additionally, as most hidden champions come from Germany, it is great to showcase an international example in this category. Moreover, the case can be used for all levels of degree students, but also executive education. It illustrates the interdependences of strategy, growth, and pricing and margin decisions. Overall, the case is well structured, with slightly more than nine written pages also not too long, but still rich in details. Also, the Teaching Note gives a good teaching structure, additional teaching material recommendations as well as information on what really happened.

About sponsorship

EFMD Case Writing Competition is proud to have dedicated sponsors who drive management education towards impactful teaching and learning. Sponsoring a category allows you to showcase your institution’s expertise in the specific field of management education in the wide EFMD network. The choice of category, its exact definition and any specific conditions are the privileges of the sponsor. Sponsorships for the following categories are currently available – Bringing Technology to Market and Continuous Improvement: the Journey to Excellence. If you are interested in sponsoring the mentioned categories or launching a new category relevant to case writing and teaching, please check out our category sponsorship opportunities page or contact Hansol Park at .

More information about the 2021 EFMD Case Writing Competition can be found on the EFMD Case Writing Competition page. Please visit The Case Centre’s webpage to access the collection of the winning cases. See other interviews from this series.