Mark Jenkins, Cranfield University School of Management, talks about his best-selling case, The Formula One Constructors: Combined Case, and its new accompanying interview with Williams F1 CEO, Alex Burns.
The Formula One Constructors combined case outlines the competitive nature of Formula 1 and the fact that this is an industry of sophisticated multi-million pound organisations competing at the highest international level. It focuses on a constructor who achieved sustained competitive advantage in a particular period. The accompanying video clip, provided for instructors on CD-ROM as teaching note supplement software, features an interview that Mark conducted with Williams F1 CEO Alex Burns.
The case was written in order to help students understand the basic concepts of the resource-based view of strategy - that competitive advantage can be built from the distinctive and hard-to-imitate competences that organisations have. We started teaching it on our MBA in 1999 and still use it today, so in that sense it’s definitely a success. It’s a fantastic way to illustrate the point that each organisation creates competitive advantage in a unique way, often drawn from their culture and history.
Factors for success
The main strength of the case is that students can relate to the context of F1, particularly if they come from a range of international backgrounds. It also seems to work well even if the students know nothing about F1. From my experience an average class is made up of 33% who know nothing and have no interest; 33% with some knowledge and 33% who are real F1 fanatics. What is interesting is that often the fanatics don’t do so well as they lose sight of the really critical issues and get caught up in irrelevant detail.
Another factor is that even though the case is historic, F1 is continually moving and changing. In class you can relate the historic examples to what is happening today, meaning that the discussion is very current and the case always feels up to date.
Interviewing Alex Burns
I was the tutor for Alex’s learning team when he was on our Executive MBA a number of years ago and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. I approached him about filming the interview and luckily he said yes.
Before filming it was important that we were both clear about the way the discussion was going to go. To achieve this, and to make sure that the interview would cover the key learning points, we exchanged e-mails to establish the type of questions that would be covered and the kind of answers that Alex felt comfortable providing. Having said that, the interview wasn’t read from a script, I had some questions I wanted to ask and Alex had some answers, so we kept it very much in the style of a fairly informal conversation.
Using the interview in class
The interview footage is an excellent way to help students see that an F1 team is a business with it’s own strategic priorities and constraints, Alex did a great job of conveying this. In class it is a good closure to the case discussion, but if you have the luxury of a longer session it can also be used to develop another line of discussion around making strategic decisions and how the resources needed to create advantage could change over time.
In my view it is important to check up on current issues before you teach the case. There are some excellent websites that you can use to see what’s going on in F1 such as www.autosport.com; www.formula1.com; www.bbc.co.uk/f1 and of course there’s also my blog: http://f1professor.wordpress.com.