2022 EFMD Case Writing Competition Winners Interview Series: Women in Business

Women in Business

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 Jean Lee, Xin Zheng and Liman Zhao of China Europe International Business School, the winners of the “Women in Business” category.

‘Aspiration, Action, Determination: Zhu Jing, Founder of Sunkwan Group’

What was the inspiration for your case?

The greatest inspiration for this case stemmed from our broader research interest in women’s leadership. Specifically, we decided to develop this case for three reasons.

Firstly, Zhu Jing, the Founder and CEO of Sunkwan Group, has some unique female traits and has encountered multiple challenges since she decided to start her own business, many of which are related to her being an entrepreneur and leader of the company.

Secondly, the context of China’s real estate industry creates complexity and peculiar problems. Resource acquisition is one of the enormous challenges for female entrepreneurs in this sector, which is typically resource-driven and male-dominated. On top of that, Sunkwan Group started to face the challenges of the downturn in China’s real estate industry in the second half of 2020. Sunkwan Group’s 2021 performance fell short of expectations, and Zhu hesitated on whether she should strictly execute the rules of performance management (i.e., reward and punishment based on business results) or she should consider waiver of such penalty due to the industry downturn. The decision reflects Zhu’s traits and leadership style as a female entrepreneur.

Thirdly, this case can fill a gap by showing that empathy is a double-sided sword and that the female management style has pros and cons. With this case, we expect to remind entrepreneurs and managers that they should “be ideal but not being too idealistic” and “care for employees without excessive empathy” so that the excellent qualities of female entrepreneurs can be better tapped to help run businesses and fulfil aspirations.

What were the major challenges in designing the case?

The major challenge was to decide the key decision point. In our first draft, the decision point was set on how Zhu handled the dollar bond, one of the key financial decisions the company faced during the uncertain time, which can reflect Zhu’s long-term goal orientation mindset in making business decisions.  But the draft was rejected by the company due to the sensitivity of the issue as a publicly listed company. We then had to discuss with Zhu an alternative major decision point which was less sensitive to the share market. She counter-proposed to address the performance management, reward and punishment system of the top management team during the difficult time, which was another pain point for her.

The second challenge was to find evidence regarding Zhu’s disadvantage as a female entrepreneur in resource acquisition. As China’s real estate is very much male-dominated, we need to carefully tell Zhu’s story and make the macro background understandable to both Chinese and international students.

It is also a challenge to design the discussion questions to be broad enough for general discussion but also to keep gender differences as a focus of discussion.

What would you like to highlight from your case?

Empathy is an essential trait for being a good leader. However, a highly empathic CEO on management decisions has both positive and negative impacts. We expect to remind entrepreneurs and managers to “care for employees without excessive empathy” so that the excellent qualities of female entrepreneurs can be better tapped to help run businesses and fulfil aspirations.

Besides, we expect to help women entrepreneurs build confidence by analyzing Zhu’s story. Women are “mild, delicate, but firm to move forward.” Even in a male-dominated industry, women entrepreneurs can make a difference with their professionalism and business acumen. Passion, action and perseverance are essential for women entrepreneurs to be successful.

How do you believe your findings could impact society and business in the future?

We hope this case will help students better understand women’s difficulty in starting a business, especially in the male-dominated real estate industry, women’s advantages and disadvantages in resource acquisition, and the pros and cons of the female management style. It also brings awareness to entrepreneurs and managers in a broader sense that women still are shut out of the “boys’ club.” We try to contribute to voicing up for female entrepreneurs and creating a fairer and more inclusive environment. We hope that Zhu can be a good role model for students who inspire to be entrepreneurs.

Delve into a wealth of valuable insights within the remaining Case Writing Competition interviews.

The “Women in Business” Sponsor’s Commentary

The category “Women in Business” is kindly sponsored by The Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO). EFMD greatly values the sponsorship, the expertise and the effort of the sponsor to contribute to the Case Writing Competition.

Prof. Hanneke Takkenberg, Executive Director, Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO), shares more information about sponsoring the category.

In the current global context, why is case writing and teaching on Women in Business important?

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2023, at the current rate of progress it will take 131 years to reach full gender parity. Therefore now, more than ever, it is important to illustrate the challenges that women face, and case writing about women in business is among the ways of doing that.

What are the reasons The Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO) encourages case writing on Women in Business by sponsoring this category?

There is an under-representation of women in teaching materials. For example, research undertaken by economist Henriëtte Prast – the keynote speaker at the ECWO conference in 2022 – found that in the Dutch VWO final economics exams (2016-2018) the number of women used to illustrate occupations was 6 and the number of men was 26. The nature of these occupations was also telling – men were economists, and women were economic teachers and welfare recipients, for example  This extends into case writing as well – not just in terms of gender balance in representing males and females in cases but also in the topics that are addressed within them. You can’t be what you can’t see, and cases highlighting the successes and challenges of women in business are really essential for business schools and organisations.

What would you like to highlight from the winning case?

The case of Zhu Jing, the Founder and CEO of Sunkwan Group, shows that what is most important for both men and women is not having a particular leadership style but in being able to use different feminine and masculine leadership styles at the right time, in order to be truly effective. It is about complementarity and agility in using leadership styles.

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, Continuous Improvement: the Journey to Excellence, Corporate Social Responsibility, Responsible Business, MENA Business Cases, Responsible Leadership, and Women in Business. 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 2022 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.