Field Course: Running Small and Medium Size Enterprises - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Field Course: Running Small and Medium Size Enterprises

Course Number 6670

Senior Lecturer Jim Sharpe
Winter, Q3, Q4 3 Credits
16 Sessions
Exam at end of Q3 and Paper at end of Q4

Career Focus

This course is intended for students who plan to be involved in a small to medium sized enterprise(SME) at some point in their career as a general manager. The course will address entrepreneurial challenges related to SME's that include managers who have invested in or own an existing business, who have been hired to run an existing business, are transitioning a business beyond the start-up phase, running a family business, or as executive director in a non-profit organization.

It focuses on the myriad of operational decisions and actions that a leader must make each day to create competitive advantage and grow profitability. Students will come to understand the role of personal development in their own career plans and the opportunity for having a positive impact as they aspire to become competent general managers. Enterprises from 25 to 500 employees and with sales from $3 million to $100 million will be examined in a cross section of industries and geographic locations.

Students who envision themselves in Investment Banking, Private Equity or Venture Capital investing in SME's will find the case discussions valuable. This course is a complement to other courses that focus on financing, searching for, turning around or advising SME's.

Educational Objectives

This course focuses on key decisions and actions the general manager can take to create value in a SME. RSME will present a range of challenging and opportunistic situations for students to analyze and create action plans to address with an emphasis on execution. A variety of guests and case protagonists will supplement the learning from case discussions.

The course will provide background readings and practical tools for assessing situations and taking actions that lead to long term value creation. The optional Field component in the 2nd half of the Term will allow students to broaden skill development with research and observations at a specific company.

Course Content and Organization

Cases will focus on the role a general manager plays in actively running a business faced with the challenges of developing a value creation strategy, developing an organization, running the business day to day and assembling the resources to pursue opportunities for growth.

The first module will explore operation issues with specific emphasis on hiring, firing and personnel issues. Product pricing and positioning, customer pruning and targeting along with sales force management activities will be addressed. Resource allocation and appropriate control systems, metrics and information flow and how it is disseminated to the organization are examined. Integration of acquisitions with their new customers and management team will be reviewed.

Growth and Expansion will be covered in the second module including preparation for expanding the business including process improvements, partner management, outsourcing and capacity evaluation within the constraints of limited resources. Assessing the management team and capabilities of the general manager to lead this phase business cycle and their willingness to delegate and staff to fill their own personal gaps.

The final module will explore the ways general managers view their own future and the organization. Examples of leaders who address culture and organizational structure to achieve the value added objectives will be discussed.

Throughout the modules, there will be an emphasis on the leadership characteristics and styles of general managers as they make personal choices around scaling their businesses, market focus, finding peers and mentors and coping with external pressures. This will be reinforced by visits of the case protagonists in many of the classes.

This course will be 14 class sessions that will be case oriented with additional supplemental readings. A field component of the course will be offered during the second half of the Term and provide for a deeper investigation and reporting on specific issues faced by general managers, their assessment and resolution with a written paper summarizing the findings of each team or individual. Companies will be selected from local business settings provided by the instructor or by student individual sources.

The grade in the course will be based on class participation and final exam.


This course complements Financial Management of Smaller Firms, Entrepreneurship through Acquisition, Entrepreneurial Finance, Entrepreneurial Manager in the Turnaround Environment and the Family Business course. This course will not cover the subject matter of these other courses, including the financial aspects of acquiring or exiting a business or challenging turnaround situations.