Will it ever end? The RC recently completed yet another case on Microsoft, bringing the grand total of first-year cases dealing with the PC market to an appalling sum. (To be honest, we’ve lost count, and it’s too late in the semester to be running the numbers anyway.) We don’t deny that the PC has become an integral machine in our daily lives, but one could make the same argument about the refrigerator, and we haven’t seen one single GE case yet – even though nearly every business writer in the country lauds them on a regular basis.
Why are we discussing so many cases on Microsoft and Dell that the mere mention of the term GUI sends half the section into violent convulsions? Was the rush to replace all the flailing internet company cases – which no doubt littered the course landscape just a few short years ago – with more “traditional” yet still technology-oriented ones so quick and haphazard that no one bothered to count how much repetition the RC would really receive? Or is everyone so sheepish about the rush to judgment on the internet boom that we are being forced to mindlessly repeat analysis on the last remaining operational and profitable dot com darlings, just to save face and emphasize the point that everyone wasn’t completely wrong about the late 1990s?
If the latter is true, what is really wrong with discussing companies that failed? If there is a continued emphasis in the curriculum on the New Economy, why aren’t we discussing why it ultimately blew up in everyone’s face? Far be it from us to ever request just one single case about a business that actually failed and didn’t ultimately make the owners, managers, and/or shareholders ridiculously rich. Does every single class need to close with the flourish of the “happy ending” slide? Is Erik Petersen the only case protagonist we will ever see go down in a ball of flames? Since the Harbus editorial staff apparently can never fail in their business endeavors, we’re off to complete an LBO of Ford Motor Company. We’ll let you know how that turns out.
Nevertheless, even if we concur in the continued emphasis on technology and in the complete aversion to unsuccessful ventures, the current case lineup is still missing the boat. If we are so desperate to discuss successful technology companies that we double up on both AOL and Yahoo! in the same week, then we have to ask: why aren’t we discussing the only internet companies that have consistently shown a profit? That’s right – we’re talking about the pornography industry.
Before abruptly dismissing the idea, try to ignore the ingrained Puritanical mindset and briefly consider what we might take out of such a case discussion. What in their strategy has made porn entertainment so profitable? With the advent of the internet, how have these companies evolved? In the face of widespread competition (not that the Harbus staff knows for sure), how do these companies attract and retain paying customers? Are there any methods or lessons that might be applicable or transferable to mainstream business? These are the questions we ask on a regular basis when analyzing a case, although this time, we might not reach the same repetitive answers and conclusions. (And don’t even get us started on the sheer entertainment value of the potential case exhibits.)
Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the ethical dilemmas posed by such cases warrant further examination. At HBS, we seemingly pay only marginal lip service to business ethics, relegating most of those types of discussions to Beech Nut in LVDM or to the last five minutes of BGIE. The porn industry is the ultimate example of the tradeoff between morality and profitability. We can discuss all we want in Social Enterprise about corporate responsibility, but a porn industry case would really contain the meat and potatoes of the entire ethics and morals in business issue. Imagine that case discussion!
We look forward to the Vivid Video (A) case.