In a collection of my case studies that was published by Darden Business Publishing (DBP), my former student, Byrne Murphy (MBA 1986) wrote that “each case’s key lessons involved asking not only “What?” and “How?” but most importantly “Why?”  …There can be no more fitting symbol of Bob’s decades of teaching than a collection of the best cases he wrote and taught.”  To see the bound collection is humbling. I am grateful for the kind sentiments of Byrne Murphy and so many others. Yet, years from now, what is a student or instructor to make of this? What is the “so what?” embedded in a case writer’s accumulated work?

A collection of cases like mine suggests some attributes of what the oracle of the market values.  DBP has sold over a million copies of my case studies.  And a book of case studies published by McGraw-Hill (later co-authored with Ken Eades and Michael Schill) ran to eight editions and is still in print today.  Thus, the market must find something useful in these materials.  Experience has taught me that students like relevance, brevity, and celebrity. Instructors are inclined to adopt materials that will resonate with students, but more than anything, they want teachable cases that carry genuine insight and substance. The instructor wants to promote learning and offer class sessions that sparkle—I leave it for the reader to judge whether my case studies fulfill those aims.

Perhaps my cases suggest the kind of substance and practical insight a case should deliver. In my field, finance, “substance” consists of models, concepts, and an economic way of thinking. But “practical insight” connotes something more: a grasp of how the models, concepts, and thinking can be used. Students will push an instructor about the practicality of ideas in finance. The world of practice really matters to students. Influences such as heuristics, rules of thumb, professional norms, institutional practices, market imperfections, cognitive biases, and externalities will sway decision-makers in profound ways that models based on the assumption of economic rationality won’t grasp. A good case should exercise student mastery of the models, concepts, and economic thinking in the messy context of business. We want to shape graduates who are not only book smart but also street smart.

Perhaps my cases suggest how case writing has changed (or not) over the years. The literature of teaching materials is a child of its times. Financial markets and institutions change relentlessly, which materials need to reflect. Cases should adapt to changes in the economy (e.g., globalization), technology (e.g., personal computers, the internet, artificial intelligence), culture (e.g., more protagonist diversity, more focus on ethics) and so on. The complexity of financial dilemmas has grown. The topics that seize students’ attention also morph (e.g., climate change, healthy food, leisure wear, and top employers). And those business celebrities, who make appealing case subjects, tend to come and go. Yet some things remain the same, such as the high impact of student-centered teaching, the demands of business competition, the humanity of leadership, and a focus on actionable recommendations.

Perhaps my cases will inspire scholars to consider the intimate relationship between research and teaching. Instructors can try out ideas, data, empirical findings, and frameworks in the classroom before writing them up as journal articles. The best students don’t tolerate much baloney, the discovery of which can save the researcher from dreaded rejections. More importantly, classroom discussion can reveal new insights that then result in a better research paper. Some of my case studies grew into successful articles in leading journals. And as for legacy, several cases in the Darden collection continue to be taught decades after their publication, which suggests an impact worthy of a scholar’s time.

Over the years, students have asked me to identify my favorite cases.  They are like my children: I love them all and see different attributes in each one. Each slaked my curiosity, met a teaching need, was fun to write, and ultimately served students.

Perhaps the reader will assume that my cases are a tribute to the writer’s solo genius. Actually, no. I loved working with students and research assistants in developing new cases—I have listed many of these unsung helpers below. Coauthors and colleagues brought new ideas and frameworks. Students had a big impact: I never published a case until it had been classroom tested. That meant that it benefited from the questions, confusions, and editorial suggestions of many students. The able editors at Darden Business Publishing invariably enhanced the professionalism of the cases. Colleagues at Darden and teachers at other schools piled on with more advice. At the end of it all, good case writing seems to have been more like a team sport than a solo performance. I give my deep thanks to all who helped.

My advice to any aspiring case writer is to innovate fearlessly, test the materials actively, and edit relentlessly. Use case studies to exercise models, concepts, and intellectual reflection, but stay rooted in real people, their contexts, and the practicalities of making actionable decisions.

My advice to students in the case method is to (a) stop and define the problem thoughtfully (sometimes what the protagonist says is the problem is not the real problem); (b) analyze it parsimoniously (don’t get too wrapped up in elegant analysis; it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong); and (c) make a recommendation for action (many students avoid this, but it is the part of the work that they are really hired to do). More advice is contained in my “Note to the Student: How to Study and Discuss Cases” (UVA-G-0561).

Darden’s success as a leading publisher of case studies did not emerge by happenstance. It took a great deal of planning, effort, institutional investment, training—and yes, culture—over many years. Darden has been intentional about leading the world in case-method instruction. This has meant serious investment in the development of successive generations of case teachers and writers. Such work is more art than science and is best perfected in community with experienced practitioners.  If you care about the impact of case studies, I urge you to sustain and perfect the “team sport” of case writing.

Bob Bruner’s Casewriters and Research Assistants
Donald Benson

Darren Berry

Chris Blankenship

Michael Bojanski

Justin Brenner

Allison Bridges

Anna Buchanan

Derick Bulkley

Anne Campbell

Sean Carr

Mari Capestany

Kent Carstater

Jessica Chan

Drew Chambers

Kathryn Coffey

Sarah Costa

Jenny Craddock

Chris De Notto

Lucas Doe

Jake Dubois

Brett Durick

Ty Eggemeyer

David Eichler

Louis Elson

Ali Erarac

Solomon Eskinazi

Shachar Eyal

Michael Del Giudice

Greg Gaines

Rick Green

Daniel Hake

Dennis Hall

Jerry Halpin

Kevin Hare

Rob Hengelbrok

Peter Hennessey

Sean Hogan

Michael Innes

Pierre Jacquet

Brian Kannry

Dot Kelly

Vladimir Kolcin

Asif Mehedi

Nili Mehta

Andrew Meiman

Reed Menefee

Fadi Micaelian

Mark Miles

Scott Miller

John McNicholas

Casey Opitz

Katarina Paddack

Miguel Palacios

Suprajj Papireddy

Sebastien Page

William Passer

Thien T. Pham

Ed Rimland

Chad Rynbrandt

Michael Schill

Will Shepherdson

John Sherwood

Christine Shim

Elizabeth Shumadine

Janelle Sirleaf

Jane Sommers-Kelly

Don Stevenson

Carla Stiassni

Scott Stiegler

Sanjay Vakharia

Larry Weatherford

Steve Wilus

Baocheng Yang

Gerry Yemen