First Look

February 7, 2017

Among the highlights included in new research papers, case studies, articles, and books released this week by Harvard Business School faculty:

Crisis at La-Z-Boy

In a new case study, iconic furniture maker La-Z-Boy is about to launch a top-to-bottom overhaul when the 2008 catastrophic downturn hits. Should CEO Kurt Darrow pursure the aggressive makeover or preserve cash? The case, written by Joseph Fuller and Natalie Kindred, is titled La-Z-Boy.

The future of innovation in Israel

A new case study by Elie Ofek and Margot Eiran follows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he considers ways to advance the country's reputation for innovation. According to the authors, "Despite the economic miracle the county had wrought since its founding, he knew he could not be complacent." The case is entitled From Start-Up to Grown-Up Nation: The Future of the Israeli Innovation Ecosystem.

Why early challenges create better managers

In a study of manager development at the Indian Administrative Services, researchers Shinjinee Chattopadhyay and Prithwiraj Choudhury find that managers facing challenges early in their career advance more quickly. "Sink or Swim: The Role of Workplace Context in Shaping Career Advancement and Human-Capital Development" will appear in a forthcoming issue of Organization Science.

A complete list of new research and publications from Harvard Business School faculty follows.

— Sean Silverthorne
  • 2017
  • New York: Oxford University Press

Managing Risk in Reinsurance: From City Fires to Global Warming

By: Hauter, Niels Viggo, and Geoffrey Jones, eds.

Abstract—This is the first book to provide a comprehensive history of the reinsurance industry from the nineteenth century to the present day. Reinsurance developed at the fringe of financial services and, for most of its existence, was largely unnoticed outside the expert community. However more recently public and professional sensitivity towards managing risks has increased. This book traces the global development of reinsurance and explores how the nature of risk itself has changed over time. It highlights key aspects that have shaped the evolving industry, including shifts in risk engineering and risk management, the development of actuarial science, and the impact of changes in political and regulatory contexts. The authors point to the special role reinsurers have played in the capitalist system. As the industry developed, it had a vested interest in preventing excessive risks, while also providing complex societies with a mechanism to limit the damage that natural and other catastrophes inflicted. This has led reinsurers, once a very secretive industry, to take increasingly public stances on the risk of human-induced climate change and the need to take urgent action to contain it.

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  • November 2016
  • Management Science

Spatial Organization of Firms and Location Choices Through the Value Chain

By: Alcácer, Juan, and Mercedes Delgado

Abstract—We explore the impact of geographically bounded, intra-firm linkages (internal agglomerations) and geographically bounded, inter-firm linkages (external agglomerations) on firms' location strategies. Using data from the Census Bureau's Longitudinal Business Database, we analyze the locations of new establishments of biopharmaceutical firms in the U.S. in 1993–2005. We consider all activities in the value chain and allow location choices to vary by R&D, manufacturing, and sales. Our findings suggest that internal agglomerations have a positive impact on location. The effects of internal agglomerations vary by activity, and they arise both within an activity (e.g., among plants) and across activities (e.g., between sales and manufacturing). Our results also suggest that previous estimates of the effect of external agglomerations may be overestimated because the existing literature abstracted from internal agglomerations.

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  • forthcoming
  • Organization Science

Sink or Swim: The Role of Workplace Context in Shaping Career Advancement and Human-Capital Development

By: Chattopadhyay, Shinjinee, and Prithwiraj Choudhury

Abstract—We develop and test predictions on how early-career challenges arising from the workplace context affect short- and long-term career advancement of individuals. Typically an organization’s decision to deploy a manager to one of several possible contexts is endogenous to unobservable factors, and selection makes it challenging to disentangle the effect of workplace context on individual career advancement. We work around this problem by studying an organization, the Indian Administrative Services, which deploys entry-level managers quasi-randomly across India. We find that managers deployed to more challenging contexts early in their careers experience faster career advancement in the short term. We present suggestive evidence that this is because challenging contexts provide managers more opportunities to develop skills (“crucible experiences”) and a greater motivation to relocate out of the challenging context. We also find that managers deployed to a challenging context early in their careers continue to experience faster advancement in the long term, suggesting that initial deployment to a challenging context is associated with human capital development. Managers initially deployed to more challenging contexts were not, however, more likely to break into the upper echelons of the organization.

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Abstract—Prior research has established a relation between intra-firm mobility and innovation outcomes at distributed organizations. The literature has also uniformly agreed on the mechanism underlying this relationship: the sharing of tacit knowledge and recombination of ideas that occurs because of intra-firm mobility. But a second mechanism may also be at work: intra-firm mobility might help distant employees secure access to resources for their innovative projects. Using unique data on travel, employment, and patenting for 1,315 inventors at the Indian R&D center of a Fortune 50 multinational, I find that intra-firm mobility in the form of short-duration business trips from a distant R&D location to headquarters is positively related to higher subsequent patenting at the individual level. I also find mobility immediately prior to meetings at which R&D funds are most likely to be disbursed to be related to higher subsequent patenting. This study sheds new light on how intra-firm mobility and possible face-to-face interactions with those who allocate resources might affect innovation outcomes and the matching of resources to individuals within a distributed organization.

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Abstract—Creating sustainability transitions will require more than companies taking proactive measures in their own operations and supply chains. Fostering significant change will also require business leaders to harness their power to call for public policy solutions, a challenging proposition in a politically polarized environment. This paper focuses on how CEOs engage in the political process to encourage government policies that will foster sustainability transitions and address other social problems. Distinct from nonmarket strategy and traditional corporate social responsibility, the recent wave of CEO activism focuses on social issues unrelated to their core business, ranging from environmental issues to LGBT rights and race relations. Using two field experiments we provide evidence on how CEO activism can influence public opinions about government policies and consumer attitudes about the CEO’s company. We conclude by providing a roadmap for future research on this emerging phenomenon.

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Contextual Knowledge and Ethnic Migrant Inventors

By: Choudhury, Prithwiraj, and Do Yoon Kim

Abstract—We study the role of ethnic Chinese/Indian migrant inventors in transferring contextual knowledge across borders and the role of ethnic networks in further disseminating such knowledge. Using a unique dataset of herbal patents filed in the United States by western firms and universities, we test whether contextual knowledge is codified in the west by ethnic migrant inventors and spread by their ethnic networks. Our identification comes from an exogenous shock to the quota of H1B visas, and a list of institutions that were exempted from the shock. We generate a control group of non-herbal patents that have similar medicinal purposes as our herbal patents through textual matching. Using this framework, we estimate a triple differences equation and find that herbal patents are likely to be filed by Chinese/Indian migrant inventors and are likely to be initially cited by other Chinese/Indian inventors. We also find that Chinese/Indian migrant inventors are likely to engage in arbitraging their prior knowledge, while inventors from other ethnic backgrounds are likely to engage in knowledge recombination

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  • Harvard Business School Case 317-034

La-Z-Boy (A)

Kurt Darrow, CEO of La-Z-Boy furniture, must decide whether to continue an overhaul of the company's strategy in the face of a collapse in demand during the great recession. Having pared back La-Z-Boy's portfolio of brands and manufacturing network, he intends to reposition the company as a branded retailer of furniture and home fashions. Just as management is poised to implement a new strategy that involves a heavy investment in brand advertising, a complete overhaul of the retail organization, and a fundamentally new manufacturing system, the industry experiences a catastrophic downturn. Should he continue to invest in a highly speculative strategy or rein in investment and preserve cash?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 117-007

Misaki Capital and Sangetsu Corporation

Japan’s corporate culture has traditionally prioritized the interests of stakeholders such as employees and suppliers over those of shareholders. After a decades-long economic slump, Japan’s government has begun efforts to improve corporate governance and firms' incentives to engage with shareholders. Misaki Capital was founded in 2013 with a strategy of constructively engaging with portfolio firms, providing operational and financial advice to management in order to improve shareholder value. This case asks students to consider the attractiveness of Japanese equities given recent reforms and to evaluate the investment approach of Misaki Capital.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 417-049

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in Motion

Evan Siddall, newly appointed CEO of Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, a governmental organization focused on the residential housing market, is charged with leading change at the organization. The case follows this process of change step by step and looks at the challenges Siddall faces. After two years of leading change Siddall asked himself these questions: Should he continue to push forward with a change agenda? Or should the organization pause and catch its breath?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 417-045

Jollibee Foods Corporation

When Tony Tan Caktiong stepped down as president and CEO of Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) in mid-2014, Ernesto Tanmantiong, his younger brother, succeeded him. In 2016, the brothers were working together to realize the company’s vision of making JFC a truly international organization with a significant global presence. As they positioned the company for expansion, they thought perhaps the company’s eight values should become more succinct, memorable, and aligned with the company’s vision. Tan Caktiong was aware, however, that some company executives would view pausing to contemplate values a waste of time; they would argue that values are essentially identical at every company and irrelevant to performance. Others would assert that values should not change. Was it the right time to reassess the company's values? How could Tan Caktiong persuade skeptics that values make a difference? And as the company grew, should values be articulated at the corporate level, or should they vary among JFC’s brands?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 814-096

Don Valentine and Sequoia Capital

Don Valentine participated in the beginnings of two significant milestones: the birth of the silicon chip and the development of the venture capital industry. From humble beginnings, Valentine became a legendary salesman at Fairchild Semiconductor and National Semiconductor before founding Sequoia Capital in 1972. Valentine was comfortable making high-risk bets on unknown entrepreneurs in markets where he saw great potential. Unlike other venture capitalists of the time that focused on finding outstanding entrepreneurs or groundbreaking technology, Valentine took a different approach. He focused predominantly on the size of the potential market.

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The case describes this health and wellness service company and poses the question: should RedBrick stay on the path of building out its product platform, or should the RedBrick platform be launched directly to health insurers, ACOs, or directly to customers?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 817-052


Supercell is a young Finnish smartphone game company with an unusual team structure and company philosophy. It is already one of Finland’s most valuable companies, and despite being only six years old, it has put up some impressive numbers: as of 2016, it has released only four games for global audiences, but each one has made it to the top (or almost to the top) of the most-downloaded and most-revenue-generated app charts; it has recorded multi-million daily revenues and around a hundred million daily users; it has nearly 200 employees in its Helsinki headquarters and support offices around the world; and now, thanks to an acquisition by Chinese Internet/entertainment company Tencent, Supercell has a valuation of $10.2 billion, making it Europe’s first “decacorn” (a start-up with a $10 billion or greater value). Supercell’s success is due in part to its unconventional company structure and attitudes towards game development and management in general. The development unit at Supercell revolves around the concept of a “cell,” a small team consisting of anywhere from two to a dozen (or more) people who work together to make a game. Cells are highly independent and control all the decision-making for their game, including when/whether a game should be cancelled. The case allows discussion of important concepts like what conditions aid an effective team dynamic, how an entrepreneurial company can scale in size while retaining the “power of small,” how companies can create value through focus and being willing to terminate underperforming projects, and the implications of global markets and extreme valuations for what a company must achieve.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 617-025

Bayern Munich in China

In 2015, German football club Bayern Munich is considering how to enter the Chinese market. Should it build its own infrastructure or rely on third-party partnerships to reach this massive football fan base?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 817-019

Western Technology Investment

Based in Portola Valley, California, Western Technology Investment (WTI) specialized in a hybrid form of debt and equity financing for early-stage companies. Like traditional venture capital and private equity firms, WTI raised funds from institutional investors and evaluated deals. However, instead of making initial investments in the form of equity, WTI focused primarily on lending money to start-ups, charging them interest and receiving warrants that could later be converted to stock in the case of a liquidity event. Most initial investments—usually in the range of $3–$5 million—were made in tandem with or following a company’s early rounds of venture capital equity financing. In addition, like more traditional venture capital investors, WTI hoped to participate in follow-on debt and equity investments in its successful portfolio companies.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 815-082

Silicon Fen

The region around Cambridge, England (known colloquially as Silicon Fen), is home to a cluster of high-tech startups and established businesses. It has a deep history stretching back to the foundation of the city's elite university in 1284. Silicon Fen shares many characteristics with Silicon Valley (a leading research university, a large pool of skilled workers, a robust startup environment, and the presence of leading high technology firms), but it also has a distinctly different entrepreneurial environment. What factors account for these differences? This case is most effective when paired with "The Origins and Development of Silicon Valley," HBS Case 813-098.

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In June 2016, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, wrestled with how to sustain Israel’s strong innovation track record and the country’s reputation as the “startup nation.” Despite the economic miracle the county had wrought since its founding, he knew he could not be complacent.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 517-025

KaBOOM!: Play at Scale (A)

No abstract available.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 517-026

KaBOOM!: Play at Scale (B)

Supplements the (A) case.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 517-027

KaBOOM!: Play at Scale (Abridged)

A case on scaling social impact for nonprofits. Founded in 1995, KaBOOM! quickly became a nationally recognized nonprofit in building playgrounds with strong corporate partnerships and volunteer-organizing capabilities. Over the years, KaBOOM! developed new programs, including a new web platform to enable individuals and communities to do build-it-yourself playgrounds, which increased KaBOOM!’s total annual number of playgrounds built by as much as a factor of 10. The case explores how KaBOOM! evaluated its goals and determined a strategy to achieve the scale required to meet its social mission and vision of every child having a place to play.

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The leader of a pioneering biotech company in the siRNA space weighs his options for scaling production capacity in advance of an anticipated commercial launch. Operational complexity and relative merits of in-house manufacturing versus a contractor model are discussed.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 114-050

'When I look back…' Reflections of Bernard Madoff

This background note for instructors provides details of Bernard Madoff's career and the classroom recording.

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