Ivey Publishing

What does it take to write a best-selling case?

Starbucks strategy case tops charts 16 years running

Originally published in 1998, the Starbucks case, written by Mary Crossan and Ariff Kachra was created to help students understand the concept of competitive advantage in relation to the value chain, while evaluating successful and unsuccessful growth.

Since then, the case has been translated into three languages, sold over 100,000 copies in 68 countries and has appeared on the Ivey Publishing best-seller list for 16 years running.

We asked Mary Crossan, Professor of General Management at the Ivey Business School for tips on writing a best-selling case and to provide insight into what makes the Starbucks case so relevant for business students — even after all these years.

“Everyone can relate to the company, which is a great starting point to unpack the strategic issues,” says Crossan. “The fact that it is a case series over a period of time helps reveal the ups and downs of a high profile organization.”

The Starbucks case is written so the first thing students need to do is identify where Starbucks competencies lie along the value chain, and then assess how well those competencies can be leveraged across various alternatives.

It also provides an opportunity for students to assess what is driving growth in the company. In the case, Starbucks and its investors are betting that it will be able to continue its phenomenal growth, so it needs to walk a fine line between leveraging its brand to achieve growth and avoiding erosion of the brand in the process.

It is an exciting case that quickly captures students’ attention.

“We never anticipated the case would sell so well, for so long,” says Crossan. “I think instructors use the case as a springboard to take the story where they need it to go.”

So what tips does Crossan have for other authors looking to write a best-selling case? Interesting companies with interesting issues that allow professors to illuminate core concepts are a great starting point. However, the positioning and nature of the case may not fully appear until you teach it.

“With Starbucks, one of my senior colleagues questioned whether we had a case when he first saw the initial draft. Often it takes teaching the case to bring it, and the issues, to life — the case needs to undergo transformation based on the experience of using it.”

Crossan also says it is important for instructors not to be too worried about the date of a case as many issues are timeless. It is possible to provide ongoing updates like the two single page follow up Starbucks cases that support the original case: Starbucks: Crisis of Confidence and Starbucks: Regaining Focus.

“Sometimes we replace a case too quickly because we are worried students will criticize us for not being relevant. Innovation in teaching can occur without changing the case but rather with what you can do with the base material to enhance learning,” she says. “Both instructors and students want a profound learning experience that can transcend the date the case is written.”  

The Starbucks case is available from Ivey Publishing. If you would like to use this best-selling case, connect with the Ivey Publishing customer support team at cases@ivey.ca or 1-800-649-6355.