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 Vanina Farber of IMD and María Helena Jaén of Universidad de los Andes, the winning authors from the “Responsible Leadership” category.
NIA Impact Capital: Active Ownership for Social Justice
What was the inspiration for your case?
One of the case authors, Vanina Farber, read in a newspaper that a woman investor was presenting a shareholder resolution to Tesla’s Board on the forced arbitration clause. Vanina felt it would make a great case since Tesla was perceived as the most innovative and green company. So the nuance of showing that Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) was not only about the Environment (E) called our attention. At that time, we had written a case about ESG integration and Tesla and wanted to write another case with a gender lens and investor activism emphasis. Concurrently, we were looking for a case to teach about active ownership strategy in sustainable finance and wanted the main character that was not male and white. When we read more about Kristin’s personal story, we thought it would make a perfect case because it also had an interesting responsible leadership angle. We like to write cases that professors from different fields, such as sustainability, sustainable finance, leadership, and business ethics, can use in their classrooms. The rest is history. Vanina contacted Kristin through LinkedIn and invited her for a webinar/fire chat to get to know her better. After talking to her, it was clear that we would have a provocative feminist sustainable finance case.
What were the major challenges in designing the case?
One of the challenges in preparing the case was to write an engaging narrative and present the information about the protagonist without our bias and positions. The amount of information available about Nia Impact Capital, Kristin Hull, Tesla, and Elon Musk was enormous and with very diverse angles. How to be impartial, detailed, and comprehensive in selecting the critical data and quotes students need to discuss the case in class from different perspectives? We challenged ourselves to present the facts, considering the controversies and all sides of the dilemma. It helped to have two authors with distinct backgrounds and perspectives.
Another critical challenge was to align the case narrative with the learning goals and the teaching plan. Defining specific, clear, and measurable learning objectives and selecting the two or three articles the students need to prepare to have a productive, complex, and rich discussion in the classroom session were also stimulating tasks. Envisioning what would happen in the classroom and developing a learning tool that allows collective learning in the classroom discussion and debate was time-consuming and thought-provoking. Once again, we learned that our case and its teaching note were ready only after we tested them more than twice in our classroom sessions and with different types of students. Listening to our students debating about Nia Impact Capital, Kristin Hull, Tesla, and Elon Musk, was an essential step for its final preparation. We are grateful to our students!
In what ways do you believe the case could impact society and business in the future?
We strongly believe in the role of responsible leadership in business to achieve equality and social justice. Our case recognises the leadership of a female protagonist, Kristin Hull, in the traditional male-dominated financial industry. It also acknowledges the role of Tesla as a pioneering American electric vehicle and clean energy company that has disrupted the automobile industry. It also shows that Tesla and its leader have been involved in governance, labor, and human rights controversies. The case purposely has an equity, inclusion, and diversity focus and is connected to three Sustainable Development Goals, Gender Equality (5), Decent Work and Economic Growth (8), and Reduced Inequality (10). We are confident that our case will encourage professors from different disciplines, strategy, finance, sustainability, and leadership, to embed women’s leadership, diversity, inclusion, and social justice in their class debates. We will be looking for students and executives to learn about sustainable financial strategies and critically reflect on a businesswoman’s challenges and achievements in exercising responsible leadership.
The Sponsor’s Commentary
The category “Responsible Leadership” is kindly sponsored by The Knauss School of Business, University of San Diego. EFMD greatly values the sponsorship, the expertise and the effort of the sponsor to contribute to the Case Writing Competition.
Eileen Daspro from The Knauss School of Bussiness shares more information about sponsoring the category.
Why is case writing and teaching on Responsible Leadership important?
Case writing and teaching are incredibly valuable for responsible leadership education and are critical now more than ever. They force learners to address complex real-world challenges that leaders of both profit and not-for-profit organisations face every day. Most importantly, they allow them to put themselves into the shoes of the case protagonist, who is faced with tough decisions on how to create economic and societal value while balancing the diverse interests of multiple and often competing stakeholder groups across the globe. The pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the rise in political polarisation and societal tensions worldwide have made the call for a more responsible leadership all the more urgent.
And what are the reasons that The Knauss School of Business encourages case writing on Responsible Leadership by sponsoring this category?
The University of San Diego sets the standard for engaged, contemporary Catholic higher education where innovative changemakers confront humanity’s greatest challenges. As a designated Changemaker Campus, USD is part of Ashoka U, a worldwide network of universities focused on social change and innovation. We encourage our community to commit to addressing social issues that matter to them and exploring new ways to make a positive social impact.
At the Knauss School of Business, we embrace a vision of business stewardship. We believe in business as a force for good and that businesses have a responsibility to care for and protect societies in which they operate. On our campus, rigorous academics converge with experiential learning so that graduates are equipped to tackle real-worth problems and are empowered to protect and care for society while embracing a stewardship approach to business.
Further comments on the winning case
We chose this as the winning case because it explored multiple themes related to responsible leadership: including ethical decision-making, impact investing and the role of activist investors in promoting social change. The persistence and courage the protagonist showed in the case is an illustrative example of what responsible leadership requires in the modern-day business environment. The ethical dilemma faced by the female protagonist was very clear yet nuanced, and in a way unexpected, as it dealt with Tesla, a company often hailed as a sustainability leader.
The case itself is very user-friendly. It is clearly written and easy to follow. The teaching notes are nicely laid out and with well-developed suggested responses and activities to support the professor using the case for the first time. For these reasons, the judges felt this case would be very appealing to our students and also easy to adopt and implement in a business school setting. We can see it provoking a rich, spirited dialogue in the classroom where learners reflect on the role of both managers and investors as social responsibility leaders.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.