What Knowledge is Useful? > Companies and Functions
Walter Salmon on cases
I became chair of the first-year Marketing course around 1960—late 1950s. No, it couldn’t be late 1950s. ’63, I think. . . . .
I wasn’t even a full professor. I was an associate professor. And as chair of the course, your responsibility is to improve the materials of the course, and to help train young faculty. And I said to our faculty group that, you know, what we really had to do was to synthesize materials that both were applicable to business, and were disciplinary, and covered thoroughly the matrix I described to you before.
So by then the first-year Marketing course was only sixty sessions, and was taught from September to, let’s say, January. And there was the spring. So in about this—after going through the course the first time, I decided what we really needed to do was to evaluate our materials in the light of the matrix I just described to you, and in the light of the—their quality as good decision-making exercises. . . . . .
We met all spring going through the materials, and identifying the types of cases we need to strengthen that matrix.
That, I think, infatuated me with the idea that, you know, there was a way of synthesizing theory and practice in the classroom. And it was the obligation of the faculty to develop materials that covered the bases, synthesized theory and practice, and encouraged good decision-making. And I used to say that our job is to train people who are neither promiscuous decision makers, nor victims of analysis paralysis, but something in between. . . . .
And an article came out of that, which we taught at, which we gave at the American Marketing Association, called Cases and Concepts: the Twain Will Meet, or something like that, authored by the first-year Marketing group. And I think that’s what started me on the path of writing good cases.
And to answer your question, if I had to remember three of them, one was a case called Sheraton Corporation, and was a case on pricing at the San Francisco Palace. And it led to my discovery that price wasn’t so important, but relative price was damn important. And the case illustrated that, and I thought it was a wonderful teaching vehicle.
The second case was the [Craig Roche?] case on [Lifeserian?], which was a very good case, and we planned to use it in the midyear exam, but it turned out to be 52 double-spaced pages in length. And it was too late to edit the case, so we lengthened the exam period from four to five hours. After which some people felt I may need an armed guard on campus.
And the third case was the flower case of Calyx & Corolla, because that was a case in which you could figure out that it was a great idea, but the proprietor of the idea was directing it at the wrong consumer. She was directing it at the gift-giving consumer, when it should have been directed at the flower-loving consumer. And then you could figure out the numbers, rather carefully, and see that if you pursued the right market, the right target customer, you could also make the numbers work. So it was a wonderful example of a short case. And I was known for long cases. That really did a super job of synthesizing qualitative and quantitative decision-making. And it was on the edge of the time of direct marketing.