E-Newsletter from
Back to Newsletter Vol 2, Issue 03, Aug 2020
Associate Professor of Practice, SDA Bocconi and Affiliate Program Director, ESMT Berlin

Urs’ focus in research and teaching is business ethics. He truly enjoys the opportunity and privilege to regularly discuss with executives the real dilemmas that they face in their daily life and therefore also teaches change management and strategy.

Since April 2019, Urs serves as associate professor of practice at SDA Bocconi (Milan/Italy) and visiting lecturer/affiliate program director at ESMT Berlin (Germany). Before that Urs worked as Lecturer and Head of the Practice Group “Consumer Goods, Retail and Media” and Program Director at ESMT Berlin since September 2005.

During and after working on his PhD at the Georg-August-Universität, Urs worked as management consultant for A.T. Kearney. During this time, he advised different international clients on a broad variety of strategic issues.

Urs directed and taught in numerous open and customized executive education programs for customers such as Aditya Birla, Airbus, Axel Springer, British American Tobacco, Coca-Cola, Commerzbank, Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Bank, EnBW, Johnson&Johnson, Lufthansa, McDonald's, METRO, and Symrise. Since more than a decade, Urs directs ESMT’s flagship program “Executive Transition Program”. Additionally, he regularly teaches in degree programs at various international business schools including Alba Graduate Business School (Greece), Antai/Jiao Tong (China), ESCP (Berlin Campus), Porto Business School (Portugal), Saint Paul (Brazil), and SEED School of Executive Education and Development (Hungary).

Urs is a best-selling and award-winning case author and serves as visiting tutor on writing and teaching with case studies for “The Case Centre”. In 2020, he was honored as Outstanding Case Teacher.

Urs’ work has frequently been featured or quoted in several leading media such as BBC, BILD, Deutsche Welle, Financial Times, Handelsblatt, Spiegel Online, Süddeutsche Zeitung and The Times.

JIC: Why, according to you, is the case method of teaching so popular in Management education?

Dr. Urs Müller: Case teaching – when done well – allows participants in management courses (from degree students to senior executives) to relate academic tools, concepts, theories and framework to specific managerial challenges. It allows to bring reality into the classroom and makes any session just more exciting and fun. I particularly enjoy facilitating controversial debates amongst my participants. I teach mostly business ethics and for this discipline it is of paramount importance that my participants realize that others can easily come to very different ethical evaluations, because no matter how firmly you believe in your opinion and standpoint: managers need to take into account how various stakeholders look at ethical issues. And cases are just the ideal vehicle to initiate such a debate or controversy.

JIC: You have years of experience in writing cases, teaching with cases, and mentoring other teachers on the case method. Please share with us your experience.

Dr. Urs Müller: One of the many things that I like about writing and teaching with cases is that I need to take my participants seriously! I have written quite a few cases; I have used many of these own cases very often; I have made extensive experience with any one of them – but still: I regularly get surprised by comments or observations that were never raised before. And for every of my own cases, I had at least once (usually not only once, but typically a few times) a participant in the room who knew more (or something different) about my own case. I had bosses, colleagues, subordinates, friends, suppliers, customers etc. of my case protagonists etc. in the room – and despite the research that I had done for my case, they were able to shed a new light to the case. Having such an expert in the room could make you nervous, as it threatens the authority of the educator. But I actually enjoy such situations, as it allows me to learn myself – but much more importantly: any surprising response, any additional information, any (hopefully only small) correction to the description of the situation in my case allows me to put the focus of the educational process back to my participants so that I treat them as equals, as smart human beings and not only as an empty vessel that needs cognitive filling.

JIC: You recently won the very prestigious Outstanding Case Teacher award at the Case Centre Awards & Competitions. What advice would be give to fellow educators who want to be effective case teachers?

Dr. Urs Müller: In line with my previous comment:  educators should pick cases for which they do not believe to know the right “solution”, to have all the wisdom. Whenever possible, pick cases that are truly tricky and for which there is no obviously right answer. Then focus on facilitating the debate and process and on making links to theories, concepts, tools and frameworks that might help to deal with the issues of the case, but do so without preaching. Take your participants seriously.

JIC: How important is case writing to effective teaching of Management subjects?

Dr. Urs Müller: You can do brilliant case teaching without ever writing a case. There are many excellent cases for almost any possible topic. But case writing can occasionally be necessary: despite the countless number of cases on the large case distributor platforms, you might end up having a content or a context need. Content needs are concepts, theories or very recent trends etc. that are not yet covered by existing cases. Context needs rather result from a specific setting in which you want to teach, and e.g. relate to the gender of the case protagonist, the country, the shareholder structure of the organization, the industry etc. So if there really is no case that perfectly fits to your educational need, then write your own. And as soon as you write your own case there will be added benefits: it will feel great to use your own case in class, you will learn about a certain company/industry in depth, and students will be unable to google the case outcome/not make use of existing student essays etc. And then there is one more – much more important benefit: while writing the case you will focus on the educational context and thus improve your own teaching beyond this one particular case.

JIC: You are in the Editorial board of Case Folio – The IUP Journal of Management Case Studies which is now in its 20th year. What role does Journals such as the Case Folio play in management education?

Dr. Urs Müller: Most cases are “published” and shared via the large case distributors. But specialized case journals can play an important role for management education for multiple reasons. They are usually much more recognized e.g. when it comes to academic promotion and tenure decisions. At the same time they increase visibility of cases to larger audiences and allow for the improvement of cases during the review and publication process.

JIC: In addition to tutoring others, you are a prolific case writer yourself? Tell us about your favourite case and why it works so well.

Dr. Urs Müller: I particularly love cases with non-obvious conclusions and surprising twists. A case study that I love a lot is for example “IKEA’s Global Sourcing Challenge: Indian Rugs and Child Labor” by Christopher A. Bartlett, Vincent Dessain and Anders Sjöman (Harvard Case Study 9-906-414). Without spoiling: the immediate issues of the case are just the starting point of an exploration and discovery in the class-room about a variety of complex issues. And as your question started with my own case writing: I guess that I’m personally most passionate about my case “Magellan versus Quesada: To mutiny or not to mutiny?” (ESMT Case Study ESMT–719–0184–1). The case deals with a mutiny against the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan about 500 years ago. Despite its historical setting the case allows the exploration of questions around ethical leadership and usually triggers many deep conversations.

Unsubscribe | Visit icmrindia.org
Case Research Center, IBS Hyderabad
Reach us at: casehelpdesk@ibsindia.org

© Case Research Center IBS Hyderabad, 2020