Summary: Cold Call distills Harvard Business School's legendary case studies into podcast form. Hosted by Brian Kenny, the podcast airs every two weeks and features Harvard Business School faculty discussing cases they've written and the lessons they impart.
Corruption is as old as humanity, with cases documented as far back as the Egyptian dynasties. While the World Bank estimates that international bribery exceeds $1.5 trillion annually, the larger and more subtle effects of corruption on economies and populations is incalculable. Harvard Business School professors Geoff Jones and Tarun Khanna explore how corruption uniquely affects business in emerging markets, and why it should be addressed by the public and private sectors.
THE YES, a shopping app for fashion brands, uses a sophisticated algorithm to create and deliver a personalized store for every shopper, based on her style preferences, size, and budget. After launching the app in 2020, the founders must decide whether to continue developing the algorithm to deliver on the company’s customer value proposition or to focus their resources on new customer acquisition, with the idea that more users on the app would improve the algorithm's performance.
Community Solutions is a nonprofit founded in 2011 by Rosanne Haggerty, with the ambitious goal of ending chronic homelessness in America. After they were awarded a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, Haggerty and her team had to decide how to prioritize projects and spending to maximize the grant’s impact.
From 1997 to 2012, Scott Tucker built a nationwide network of payday lending businesses, becoming a pioneer in online lending along the way. But in 2012 federal prosecutors indicted Tucker on several criminal charges that he violated disclosure requirements. Harvard Business School associate professor Aiyesha Dey discusses the role of individual leaders in the corporate governance system, as well as their responsibility for creating a positive corporate culture that embodies ethics, self-restraint, and a commitment to serve.
Pixel helps facilitate open talent and crowdsourcing for Deloitte Consulting client engagements. But while some of Deloitte’s principals are avid users of Pixel’s services, uptake across the organization has been slow, and in some pockets has met with deep resistance. Balaji Bondili, head of Pixel, must decide how best to grow Deloitte Consulting’s use of on-demand talent, as consulting companies and their clients face transformative change.
Etsy, the online seller of handmade goods, grew substantially but remained unprofitable in its first decade. But after it was almost bought out by private equity firms, a new CEO arrived with a mission to save the company financially and, in the process, save its soul. Harvard Business School professor Ranjay Gulati discusses CEO Josh Silverman’s purpose-driven turnaround at Etsy.
The France Telecom case series follows the evolution of the organization from a national telephone monopoly to a private company facing severe challenges. As increasing pressure mounted internally to make changes and 22,000 jobs were lost between 2006 and 2009, the culture at France Telecom shifted from one where employees were proud to work to one where the physical and mental wellbeing of some employees became increasingly fragile. Did corporate leaders push employees too far, creating unacceptable levels of stress and unhappiness? Editor’s note: This episode discusses suicide. If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please use this list of suicide crisis lines around the world to seek help.
AptDeco, a peer-to-peer marketplace for used furniture in the New York City area, was growing rapidly in the massive $120 billion furniture market, despite its complexity and high costs. Co-founders Reham Fagiri and Kalam Dennis were considering different options to scale the business, including converting sellers into buyers and vice versa, finding superusers to fuel the supply for their platform, expanding to new markets, and rebranding with a sustainability focus. What’s the best way for them to scale?
In May of 2021, Kevin D. Johnson had just graduated from a rigorous Executive MBA program, and he needed to decide on his next career move. Johnson was the founder and CEO of a successful media company, but his career goals had shifted during business school. He wanted to use his talents to help other Black entrepreneurs access capital and provide opportunities to create intergenerational wealth. Johnson evaluated his four options: work full-time at an online platform dedicated to connecting Black founders with funding, join a BIPOC-focused venture capital ("VC") firm, pursue a job at an established VC firm, or continue scaling his media company. Which should he choose?
After more than 20 years in the media industry in the UK and Nigeria, EbonyLife Media CEO Mo Abudu is considering several strategic changes for her media company’s future. Will her mission to tell authentic African stories to the world be advanced by distributing films and TV shows direct to customers? Or should EbonyLife instead distribute its content through third-party streaming services, like Netflix?
In 2018, Linda Oubré was selected as the president of Whittier College in Los Angeles County – the first Black woman to serve in that role. The student body had been slowly evolving to represent the growing diversity of the surrounding area, but the college’s leadership remained largely white and male. Harvard Business School professor Debora Spar and Oubré discuss how she galvanized support among the college’s constituents, while working to diversify the college’s staff, administration, and board of trustees.
In 2021, the footwear startup Allbirds was extending its product range into apparel and expanding beyond its online store to open more retail stores around the world. Harvard Business School professor Mike Toffel and Allbirds co-founder and co-CEO Joey Zwillinger discuss the growing environmental impact of the fashion industry and how the company managed the tension between advancing its mission to decarbonize fashion and staying ahead of competitors.
Harvard Business School professor Mitch Weiss and Brandon Tseng, Shield AI’s CGO and co-founder, discuss the challenges entrepreneurs face when working with the public sector, and how investing in new ideas can enable entrepreneurs and governments to join forces to solve big problems.
Recruit Holdings, an advertising media, staffing, and business support conglomerate was founded in Japan in 1960 by Hiromasa Ezoe. The company was built on the principle that the company should add value to society. But in 1988, Recruit hit rough waters when Ezoe sold 2.8 million shares in a subsidiary before it went public to 76 Japanese leaders in politics, business, and media. The "Recruit Scandal," as it was called, resulted in the resignation of Japan’s prime minister and his entire cabinet. Thirty years later, Recruit has become a global conglomerate, with $16 billion in sales in 2017. How did the company not only survive, but thrive after its insider trading scandal?
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, was launched in 2012 around the simple idea of helping users entertain themselves on their smartphones while on the Beijing Subway. By May 2020, TikTok operated in 155 countries and had roughly one billion monthly active users, placing it in the top ranks of digital platforms globally. But the app had drawn the attention of competitors, regulators, and politicians -- especially in the U.S., where commercial success was critical to its long-term enterprise value. Would TikTok become the first “Super App” with a global footprint, or did it run the risk of becoming a supernova that shone brightly only for a passing moment?