Writing your first business case study can be a daunting challenge. Whether a doctoral student, a corporate veteran entering academia or a seasoned academic, each case author encounters a unique set of circumstances that they must navigate in order to give students material that will prepare them to be better leaders.
We spoke with Michele Mastfano, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Maryland University College, about her experience with writing her first case. Case writing was a chance for Michele to apply her expertise from a career that has spanned multiple functional areas of business at large companies such as AT&T to her own consulting work. With a background in both engineering and business, Michele has had the chance to work with entrepreneurs in a variety of fields, and for over ten years has taught students in the areas of marketing, entrepreneurship and strategy.
Ivey Publishing: Why did you initially decide to write your first case, and did that purpose change?
Michele Masterfano: Drexel Lebow College of Business had a push for case writing, and I saw that as something I would prefer to do over research. I had been working with some start-ups, and thought that might be a good place to look for a possible case.
IP: What was the hardest part about getting started with your case idea?
MM: Finding something that had good problems that were “evergreen,” meaning they could be used for years and hopefully also in several different kinds of classes. Also, as all writers face, is writing that first sentence. It’s scary!
IP: How did your consulting and industry experience inform how you approached case method, especially from a writing standpoint?
MM: This is a great question, because I really want my students to grapple with real-world problems. So I wanted to focus on something that, as future entrepreneurs, they would most likely face. I also wanted my writing to reflect business writing for the students, but needed a more academic focus for the teaching notes.
IP: Do you focus on anything specific in your writing process?
MM: I really want things to have a logical flow. I generally teach that no matter what you write, you are presenting an argument, and that by the time the reader gets to the end of your argument, they should be on your side. That might seem a little off-base for a case, and it might be, but you still want to develop a logical flow to predominate in the way you present your facts.
IP: If you've used your case in your own teaching, do you find it useful or rewarding to present your own case compared to using materials from other writers?
MM: It certainly is easier since you know the material intimately! Yes, it is rewarding, but to be perfectly honest, it is more rewarding when your colleagues find out that you got a case published.
IP: Is there anything you might do differently the next time around?
MM: It’s hard to say. I did start out with a different problem in mind, which meant I had to change ideas mid-way through. So I guess I would say that if I were to pick a company to follow again, I would not start with a pre-conceived notion of what the problem to solve would be.
IP: What's one piece of advice you'd give a new author?
MM: Following up with what I just said, don’t go into it thinking you know what the problem is going to be, unless, of course, the company comes to you with a problem to solve. Be open. Look around. See what is going on, and don’t just focus on your one area of expertise. Let this be a learning opportunity for you as well as for the company and your students.
IP: What do you love most about case writing?
MM: It stretches you beyond what you think you can do. As I just said, it is a learning opportunity for you as well. You also get to really know the people involved, which is always fun. Well, probably almost always. But you also get to know a whole lot about a business, so you aren’t stuck in a single silo. In that way, you become much more valuable in the classroom.
IP: How did you find the publishing experience at Ivey?
MM: Well, I had thought of myself as a really good writer, but I learned even more about writing in going through the editing process. Everyone was great to work with, and since I happened to go through the process when I was in the middle of a 5,000 mile relocation, they helped me stay calm through it all.
To review or purchase Michele's case, view the abstract at the link below:
Campus FundSource: An Accelerator-Assisted Start-Up (9B16M178)
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