Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The cases for the Harvard Business School’s (HBS) Advanced Management Programme (AMP) that I am participating in since the beginning of September have been as varied as the companies, markets, and industries from which they are derived. Yet, they all share important characteristics: they are real scenarios; they involve difficult challenges that defy easy answers; and they feature a main character (the protagonist) who must assess the situation, analyze the facts, and arrive at a solution.

To prepare for class, each participant assumes the role of the protagonist and must be ready to answer one key question: “What would you do?”

The cases are 15-25 page documents covering actual historical business situations from the perspective of the protagonist with a handful of tables and exhibits with additional detail. The professors often puts the participants in the role of the case protagonist and at times asks participants to role play critical moments in an improvised learning experience that I am experiencing as magical.

Sometimes, to get the class started, the Professors “cold call” or pick at random with no advanced warning one of the participants to “open” the case. This means that the participant must highlight the main issues in the case and share his/her proposed solution. At the beginning of AMP185, the HBS AMP currently running, I dreaded the cold call and felt that it was the professors’ ultimate public humiliation weapon for the less prepared participant. However, as time passed, I realized that if I was well prepared for the case, the cold call was, in fact, an opportunity to capture the hearts, minds and attention of my fellow participants with my take on the case.

The case protagonist for the case taught during that class can be a company founder, senior executive or a CEO. They typically sit in on class whilst the participants discuss the case and evaluate the protagonist’s performance.  In the last 30 minutes, the Professors give the protagonist the opportunity to comment on how the class handled the case and share his/her perspective on what happened as well as to take questions from participants. The genius of having the protagonist in class is the opportunity for participants to hear firsthand, from the case protagonist and ask questions! Examples of case protagonists in class during AMP185 include:

  1. Jim Rogers, the former CEO and current chairman of Duke Energy Corporation
  2. Stephen Kaufman, the retired chairman and CEO of Arrow Electronics Inc
  3. Raymond Gilmartin, the former chairman and CEO of Merck & Co
  4. Kasper Rorsted, the CEO of Henkel AG & Co
  5. Luca de Meo, Marketing Director at Volkswagen Group
  6. Bill King, Senior Vice President (Strategic Development) at Danaher Corporation
  7. Anne Mulcahy, the former chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation

I walk into class each day with a certain view of the case and what course of action I believe the protagonist should take. But in each class I am astonished by the views and opinions of my fellow participants. Our discussions, connected to the real world of practice due to our experience, are invigorating, and they create a learning environment unlike any I have ever known. The HBS classroom is truly  a vibrant, engaging arena for learning.