May 6, 2016Brown University

Turning the Business School Case Study on its Head: Lenny Kessler-Vaschetti ’15

At IE Brown, we make the audacious claim to redefine business management education for a 21st century economy. One way we’re doing that is by reimagining the traditional business school case study method to better prepare professionals to impact business. In the interview below Lenny Kessler-Vaschetti explains how he worked with cohort members to meet the challenges posed by this new methodological approach and how it energized his career.

Turning the Case Method on Its Head
Like other Executive MBA programs, IE Brown uses the traditional case study method which provides students an excellent opportunity to debate the merits of a business case from multiple disciplinary perspectives. But, according to Lenny, “My cohort members and I learned the most from IE Brown’s less traditional case studies which forced us to think beyond the confines of conventional business wisdom.”

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American Slavery as a Business Case Study
Lenny explained how IE Brown draws on the humanities to broaden and strengthen business leadership. As an example, he shared how his cohort learned about lobbying in the context of the rise and fall of American slavery. “The power of lobbying as a business tactic pops when you think of how it was used to create favorable conditions for trading unfree people in a free market. Going forward, we’ll all think of lobbying as a means to build businesses but we’ll do it with an awareness that our actions have consequences that impact the health and well-being of people and our planet. These actions will be judged not just by history but by consumers who can easily abandon tainted brands in today’s competitive global markets.”

Creating Case Studies in South Africa
South Africa presented an opportunity to convert case studies into something you do rather than debate. “In South Africa, we didn’t just read marketing cases and write three pages on how to tackle a problem.” Instead Lenny and his cohort had to come up with business plans working with local businesses in Khayelitsha, one of the largest and fastest growing townships in Cape Town South Africa. “We literally stumbled onto a library of case studies: each one of the great entrepreneurs we met taught us something.”

According to Lenny, this experience forced him to apply the skills they learned throughout the program. “Since townships were a new experience for most of us, we were hyper-aware of the uniqueness this market posed. Utilizing the skills we acquired in our Ethnography course, we had to drop our preconceived notions and start with a blank slate. We sought input from residents to grasp how they felt, what motivated them and how they viewed their needs and desires. We came up with our own business plans, debated them within our cohort with multiple disciplinary and geographical perspectives, and then went back to the field to correct them.”

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Nothing is Impossible
Lenny explained how unshackling the case method experience built his business acuity by giving him a framework and business network to understand and tap into opportunities in complex markets. "When I started IE Brown, I was a pure financial guy ready for a life change. I viewed the world through a strategy and finance lens though my work was varied and cross-cultural. Now when I look at any business opportunity, I take a much broader perspective and consider issues like social impact, marketing and more. It's the big bang effect of focusing a diverse group of people on the same project."

To learn more about IE Brown, contact the program team at iebrown@ie.edu.

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