Business History

Business History is a featured research topic and an initiative at Harvard Business School.
 
Harvard Business School has a long tradition of investing in business history, and of asserting its central role in management education. In 1927, the School created the first endowed professorship in the field. It also founded the field’s first journal, the Business History Review. Since the work of Joseph Schumpeter at Harvard's Center for Entrepreneurial History in the 1940s, the School has taken an interdisciplinary and global approach to understanding business history. Today business historians at the School investigate a broad range of themes, including entrepreneurship, innovation, globalization, and environmental sustainability.
  1. Moshe Kahlon: Telecommunications Reform and Competition in Israel's Cellular Market (A)

    Joshua Margolis, Amram Migdal and Kerry Herman

    The case addresses reforms to regulations in Israel’s telecommunications industry initiated and implemented under the leadership of Minister of Communications Moshe Kahlon in 2009-2010. The case highlights the challenges faced by a politician attempting to institute regulatory and legislative reforms in the face of uncertainty and resistance from an incumbent oligopoly. When Kahlon entered office, three cellular companies, Pelephone, Cellcom, and Partner (the Big Three), dominated the market. Against Big Three opposition, Kahlon must decide whether to continue pushing changes to introduce new competitors in the industry, remove contract termination fees, and reduce the payment of inter-connection fees between cellular providers, which advantaged incumbent companies and drove up consumer prices. Kahlon applied a distinct political style that won him support from career civil servants within the ministry of communications and ministry of finance, from the press, and from the public.

    Keywords: market reform; political leadership; industry regulation; Regulatory Reforms; Economic Sectors; Private Sector; Public Sector; Ethics; Values and Beliefs; Geopolitical Units; Country; Geography; Government Administration; Government Legislation; Business History; Leadership Style; Leading Change; Market Design; Market Participation; Supply and Industry; Duopoly and Oligopoly; Industry Structures; Telecommunications Industry; Communications Industry; Public Administration Industry; Israel;

    Citation:

    Margolis, Joshua, Amram Migdal, and Kerry Herman. "Moshe Kahlon: Telecommunications Reform and Competition in Israel's Cellular Market (A)." Harvard Business School Case 417-017, October 2016. View Details
  2. The Quiet Ascension of LA Fitness

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    In 2016, LA Fitness was the largest chain of non-franchised fitness clubs in North America, operating 676 clubs, serving 4.9 million members, and generating revenues of over $1.9 billion. Founded by Chinyol Yi, Louis Welch, and Paul Norris in 1984, the privately held company revealed little about its future plans or its operations, leading one journalist to write of “the quiet ascension of LA Fitness.” However, it continued to expand aggressively, focusing on a full-service model, often including swimming pools and racquetball courts at moderate prices. Rumors of an IPO had circulated for over a decade, triggered by the fact that several private-equity houses had invested in the business and might be looking for an exit. In 2014, the company had arranged up to $1.6 billion in debt to fund expansion and buy out some investors. Whether this would be sufficient to appease its owners and support future growth was not clear. Nor was it clear how much more expansion LA Fitness could expect with its full-service model in the highly competitive fitness-club industry.

    Keywords: LA Fitness; health clubs; fitness; gyms; chain; exercise; personal training; retention; Bally Total Fitness; 24 Hour Fitness; Planet Fitness; Buildings and Facilities; Acquisition; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; For-Profit Firms; Customers; Customer Focus and Relationships; Customer Satisfaction; Demographics; Age; Gender; Income; Residency; Borrowing and Debt; Capital; Capital Structure; Cash; Cash Flow; Cost; Private Equity; Financial Condition; Financial Liquidity; Financing and Loans; Investment Return; Price; Profit; Revenue; Geographic Location; Geographic Scope; Multinational Firms and Management; Business History; Employees; Recruitment; Selection and Staffing; Human Capital; Contracts; Business or Company Management; Goals and Objectives; Growth and Development Strategy; Market Entry and Exit; Operations; Service Operations; Leasing; Private Ownership; Problems and Challenges; Sales; Salesforce Management; Situation or Environment; Opportunities; Sports; Strategy; Business Strategy; Competition; Competitive Strategy; Competitive Advantage; Corporate Strategy; Expansion; Segmentation; Information Technology; Mobile Technology; Technology Platform; Health Industry; United States; California; Los Angeles;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "The Quiet Ascension of LA Fitness." Harvard Business School Case 717-424, October 2016. View Details
  3. The Inexorable Rise of Walmart? 1988—2016

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    In October 2015, Walmart surprised investors by announcing that it expected flat sales growth for 2015 and growth of only 3% to 4% over the coming three years. Profits would also fall due to significant investments in people and technology. The company’s stock price dropped 10% on the news, the largest one-day decline since 1998. In February 2016, Walmart reported that revenues for 2015 had dropped 0.7% to $482.1 billion, the first decline in Walmart’s history. The company also downgraded its sales forecast for the coming year, suggesting sales would now be flat. Meanwhile, online retailer Amazon was growing rapidly and, despite being less than one-quarter of the size of Walmart, now boasted a higher market capitalization. Moreover, in April 2016, Alibaba of China announced that it had passed Walmart in global sales to become the biggest retail platform in the world. To add to Walmart’s woes, in the United States traditional dollar discount stores and convenience outlets were gaining ground, and wage rises were putting pressure on profits. Meanwhile, international markets continued to underperform. Indeed, some analysts had suggested that Walmart retreat to its U.S. home base to improve performance. Many feared that this was the end of the 50+ year inexorable rise of Walmart. However, CEO Doug McMillon remained determined to get the company back on track and vowed to eschew short-term profits and invest in the future. Investors were not impressed. They had waited a long time for improvements; in 2015, Walmart generated three times the sales and profits it had achieved in 1999, and yet the stock price had barely changed. Patience was running out.

    Keywords: Asda; Costco; David Glass; convenience stores; discount retailing; dollar stores; Doug McMillon; e-commerce; online retail; general merchandise; grocery; Lee Scott; Mike Duke; multichannel retailing; omnichannel; Neighborhood Market; Sam Walton; Sam's Club; store formats; Supercenter; supermarket; warehouse clubs; Merchandising; walmart; Wal-Mart; Globalized Firms and Management; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Growth and Development Strategy; Business Units; Business Divisions; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; Business Organization; For-Profit Firms; Film Entertainment; Television Entertainment; Banks and Banking; Price; Profit; Revenue; Food; Global Range; Cross-Cultural and Cross-Border Issues; Global Strategy; Business History; Compensation and Benefits; Employees; Human Capital; Labor Unions; Wages; Business or Company Management; Goals and Objectives; Management Succession; Brands and Branding; Product Positioning; Distribution; Supply Chain; Supply Chain Management; Public Ownership; Problems and Challenges; Labor and Management Relations; Strategy; Adaptation; Business Strategy; Competition; Competitive Advantage; Diversification; Expansion; Segmentation; Information Technology; Internet; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; Web; Web Sites; Retail Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; Distribution Industry; Banking Industry; United States; Arkansas; Bentonville;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "The Inexorable Rise of Walmart? 1988—2016." Harvard Business School Case 716-426, May 2016. View Details
  4. Reinventing Best Buy

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    On February 25, 2016, Best Buy announced a second year of comparable-store sales increases and a 13.5% increase in online sales. These results were in marked contrast to four years of declining comparable-store sales from 2010 to 2013. CEO Hubert Joly, appointed in August 2012, was now in his fourth year of reinventing Best Buy with his "Renew Blue" strategy. When he took over, Best Buy was losing share to Amazon.com, which was encouraging consumers to view products at Best Buy and other physical stores and then buy them for a lower price online, a practice known as "showrooming." Undaunted, Joly had encouraged the practice, convinced that it presented an opportunity to sell to customers as long as Best Buy's prices were competitive. Joly had committed the company to a multi-channel strategy in North America and exited struggling international operations. Operating margins had increased as a result, but growth was still proving elusive. Had Joly done enough to reinvent Best Buy?

    Keywords: Best Buy; Hubert Joly; Renew Blue; showrooming; webrooming; e-commerce; E-Commerce strategy; online retail; multichannel retailing; omnichannel; marketplaces; turnaround; consumer electronics; consumer electronics accessories; appliances; stores-within-stores; store experience; store size; store pickup; store management; Business Subsidiaries; Business Units; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; For-Profit Firms; Customer Focus and Relationships; Customer Satisfaction; Entertainment; Film Entertainment; Games, Gaming, and Gambling; Music Entertainment; Television Entertainment; Theater Entertainment; Price; Profit; Revenue; Geographic Scope; Multinational Firms and Management; Business History; Cost; Selection and Staffing; Reports; Technological Innovation; Job Cuts and Outsourcing; Human Capital; Leading Change; Business or Company Management; Goals and Objectives; Growth and Development; Growth and Development Strategy; Management Teams; Brands and Branding; Product Marketing; Consumer Behavior; Demand and Consumers; Media; Distribution; Order Taking and Fulfillment; Distribution Channels; Infrastructure; Product; Service Delivery; Service Operations; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Public Ownership; Problems and Challenges; Programs; Groups and Teams; Sales; Salesforce Management; Strategy; Adaptation; Business Strategy; Competition; Competitive Advantage; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Expansion; Technology; Hardware; Information Technology; Internet; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; Search Technology; Software; Web; Web Sites; Wireless Technology; Resource Allocation; Computer Industry; Electronics Industry; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Information Technology Industry; Retail Industry; Service Industry; Technology Industry; Telecommunications Industry; Video Game Industry; United States; Minnesota; Minneapolis; Saint Paul; St. Paul;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "Reinventing Best Buy." Harvard Business School Case 716-455, March 2016. (Revised May 2016.) View Details
  5. ASOS PLC

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    Launched in 2000, ASOS was one of the world's largest online fashion specialists in 2016. Focusing on young consumers aged 16–25 years, the company offered over 80,000 items on its websites, many times more than the largest fashion stores, and added several thousand new lines every week. Based in the United Kingdom, ASOS shipped products to 240 countries and territories, and international sales represented more than 50% of total revenues. But when new CEO Nick Beighton took over from founder Nick Robertson in September 2015, he faced some significant challenges. While ASOS was large by online standards, traditional fashion retailers were building their own online sales capabilities, and Amazon was expanding its apparel offering. Meanwhile, new online competitors were emerging at a rapid rate. After ASOS issued several profit warnings in 2014, its growth had slowed to 18% in 2015. Beighton was convinced that ASOS's strategy was right and that the company needed to improve its execution to recapture its historical success. Some analysts were not so sure, and the stock price still had not recovered from its 2014 fall. ASOS' goal was to be "the world's no. 1 fashion destination for 20-somethings." Did this lofty ambition make sense? And did ASOS have the right strategy to achieve it?

    Keywords: ASOS; AsSeenOnScreen; online fashion; online apparel; Nick Beighton; Nick Robertson; e-commerce; E-Commerce strategy; online retail; multichannel retailing; omnichannel; social media; marketplaces; shipping; Advertising; Online Advertising; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; Business Startups; For-Profit Firms; Customer Focus and Relationships; Age; Gender; Currency Exchange Rate; Profit; Revenue; Geography; Geographic Scope; Global Range; Global Strategy; Globalized Firms and Management; Globalized Markets and Industries; Business History; Selection and Staffing; Journals and Magazines; Human Capital; Business or Company Management; Crisis Management; Goals and Objectives; Growth and Development; Growth and Development Strategy; Growth Management; Management Succession; Brands and Branding; Marketing Channels; Marketing Communications; Marketing Strategy; Product Positioning; Social Marketing; Media; Distribution; Distribution Channels; Order Taking and Fulfillment; Infrastructure; Logistics; Public Ownership; Problems and Challenges; Strategy; Adaptation; Business Strategy; Competition; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Expansion; Vertical Integration; Segmentation; Internet; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; Search Technology; Web; Web Sites; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Fashion Industry; Retail Industry; United Kingdom; England; London;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "ASOS PLC." Harvard Business School Case 716-449, March 2016. View Details
  6. IC Group A/S

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    IC Group owned several of Scandinavia's leading premium fashion brands. How should it respond to the decline of its primary wholesale distribution channels (independent fashion boutiques and department stores)? Should it open more physical stores or focus on e-commerce? Where should the Group focus its international expansion? How could it best leverage its operating platform to drive the profitability of its brands? Should it acquire existing brands or build new ones itself? In short, what should its "omni-channel retailing" strategy be?

    Keywords: IC Group; IC Companys; Carli Gry; InWear; Mads Ryder; Niels Martinsen; premium fashion; fast fashion; Business Units; Business Divisions; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; Business Organization; For-Profit Firms; Profit; Revenue; Multinational Firms and Management; Business History; Business or Company Management; Acquisition; Growth and Development Strategy; Brands and Branding; Distribution Channels; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Problems and Challenges; Strategy; Product Positioning; Competition; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Vertical Integration; Segmentation; Web Sites; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Fashion Industry; Retail Industry; Scandinavia; Denmark; Sweden; Norway;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "IC Group A/S." Harvard Business School Case 716-446, March 2016. View Details
  7. George Washington and the Foundations of American Democracy

    Tom Nicholas and Matthew G. Preble

    George Washington is perhaps the most well-known of the U.S.'s founding fathers because of his political and military achievements. However, Washington also operated a number of successful business ventures out of his Mount Vernon estate, and he became a landowner on the American frontier. Washington's life and career serve as a lens for understanding the development of the early American economy. Washington was entrepreneurial both economically and politically. He played a central role in helping to structure the new country's national government and developed a number of precedents as the country's first executive.

    Keywords: government; history; leadership; entrepreneurship; George Washington; democracy; Decision Making; Entrepreneurship; Government and Politics; Business History; Leadership; United States;

    Citation:

    Nicholas, Tom, and Matthew G. Preble. "George Washington and the Foundations of American Democracy." Harvard Business School Case 816-019, August 2015. (Revised February 2016.) View Details
  8. Amazon.com, 2016

    John R. Wells, Galen Danskin and Gabriel Ellsworth

    On January 28, 2016, Amazon announced record 2015 operating profits of $2.2 billion on $107 billion of sales, and the markets responded with cautious optimism. For years, founder and CEO Jeffrey Bezos had prioritized growth and investment in new business areas over profits, but pressure from analysts was mounting as growth was slowing and profits were failing to materialize. In 2014, Amazon had recorded a net loss of $241 million on revenues of $89 billion, in stark contrast to China’s leading Internet player Alibaba, which reported $3.9 billion of net income on revenue of $12.3 billion. While Alibaba was a third-party marketplace with no distribution or inventory holding, Amazon’s business model was more diverse. Amazon was primarily an online retail department store, offering a wide range of product categories, but it also maintained a significant third-party marketplace where it offered shipping, customer service, payment processing, and return services to independent retailers. Amazon also offered software and cloud storage services, online video streaming, and its own line of electronic hardware (mobile, e-reader, and smart television products). In addition, Amazon published books, hosted its own app store, funded video content development, and operated Amazon Prime, an annual membership program with a wide range of benefits. Indeed, Amazon’s activities overlapped with those of Apple, Google, eBay, Alibaba, and many other companies. Amazon had proven itself to be aggressive and resilient during the dotcom crash and a revenue-focused, secretive corporation in the years after, providing little information on the profitability of its lines of business, many of which were believed to be unprofitable. Which businesses would drive Amazon’s future growth? Would the investments Amazon was making in market share eventually translate into profits? Or would another major competitor or business model replace Amazon? On a visit to the United States in June 2015, Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba, stated, “We’re not coming here to compete.” Could Amazon or its investors afford to believe him?

    Keywords: Strategic Analysis; retail; e-commerce; Amazon; internet; Amazon.com; AmazonFresh; Jeff Bezos; Cloud Computing; marketplaces; streaming; e-reader market; digital media; mobile app; online retail; shipping; database; Tablet; Kindle; Kindle Fire; smartphone; delivery; Market Platforms; Competition; Internet; Corporate Strategy; Online Advertising; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; Business Organization; For-Profit Firms; Film Entertainment; Games, Gaming, and Gambling; Music Entertainment; Television Entertainment; Profit; Revenue; Global Strategy; Multinational Firms and Management; Taxation; Business History; Human Resources; Resignation and Termination; Books; Human Capital; Working Conditions; Business or Company Management; Goals and Objectives; Growth and Development Strategy; Growth Management; Management Practices and Processes; Industry Growth; Industry Structures; Media; Distribution; Distribution Channels; Order Taking and Fulfillment; Infrastructure; Logistics; Product Development; Supply Chain; Supply Chain Management; Organizational Culture; Public Ownership; Work-Life Balance; Problems and Challenges; Labor and Management Relations; Strategy; Adaptation; Business Strategy; Competitive Strategy; Diversification; Expansion; Integration; Horizontal Integration; Vertical Integration; Hardware; Information Technology; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; Technology Networks; Technology Platform; Web; Web Sites; Price; Software; Retail Industry; Advertising Industry; Distribution Industry; Electronics Industry; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Information Technology Industry; Manufacturing Industry; Motion Pictures and Video Industry; Music Industry; Publishing Industry; Shipping Industry; Technology Industry; Video Game Industry; Web Services Industry; United States; Washington (state, US); Seattle;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., Galen Danskin, and Gabriel Ellsworth. "Amazon.com, 2016." Harvard Business School Case 716-402, August 2015. (Revised May 2016.) View Details
  9. Chris Argyris (1923–2013)

    Amy C. Edmondson

    Chris Argyris, a pioneer in the fields of organization development, organizational learning, and action science, passed away on November 16, 2013. Argyris was born in Newark, New Jersey, on July 16, 1923, to Greek immigrant parents, and grew up in Irvington, New Jersey. He served in the Signal Corps of the United States Army during the Second World War, rising to the rank of Second Lieutenant. After the war, Argyris received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Clark University (1947). Argyris went on to receive a master’s degree in psychology and economics from Kansas University (1949), and a doctorate in organizational behavior from Cornell University (1951). Argyris was a gifted teacher whose high standards conveyed immense respect for students—who were alternately inspired and scared by him. Legendary for providing overnight feedback on papers received from colleagues and students alike, Argyris conveyed how much he cared about others and about excellence with his actions, even more than his words. His legacy to those who had the privilege to be guided by him was one of penetrating intelligence, challenge, respect, and generosity.

    Keywords: Business History; Personal Development and Career;

    Citation:

    Edmondson, Amy C. "Chris Argyris (1923–2013)." American Psychologist 70, no. 5 (July–August 2015): 473. View Details
  10. Markets with Price Coherence

    Benjamin Edelman and Julian Wright

    In markets with price coherence, the purchase of a given good via an intermediary is constrained to occur at the same price as a purchase of that same good directly from the seller (or through another competing intermediary). We examine ten markets with price coherence, including their origin and outcomes as well as concerns and policy interventions.

    Keywords: intermediaries; platforms; Two-Sided Markets; vertical restraints; Price; Distribution Channels; Business History; Financial Services Industry; Travel Industry; Insurance Industry; Real Estate Industry; Advertising Industry;

    Citation:

    Edelman, Benjamin, and Julian Wright. "Markets with Price Coherence." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-061, January 2015. (Revised March 2015.) View Details
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