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Montage of images from the Top 40 cases of 2018

Top 40 Most Popular Case Studies of 2018

Cases about food and agriculture took center stage in 2018. A case on the coffee supply chain remained the top case and cases on burgers, chocolate, and palm oil all made the top ten.

Cases about food and agriculture took center stage in 2018. A case on the coffee supply chain remained the top case and cases on burgers, chocolate, and palm oil all made the top ten, according to data compiled by Yale School of Management Case Research and Development Team (SOM CRDT).

Other topics in the top ten included corporate social responsibility, healthcare, solar energy, and financial inclusion.

The annual ranking of the 40 most popular Yale School of Management case studies combines data from publishers, Google analytics, SOM class syllabi, and other measures of interest and adoption. This is the second year that SOM CRDT has published its Top 40 list.

Cases published in 2018 on the top 40 list included Marina Bay Sands Hotel (#13), AgBiome (#18), Canary Wharf (#20), Mastercard (#21), and Peabody Museum (#35). Both the Marina Bay Sands and Peabody cases were featured in major student competitions in 2018.

The cases on the Top 40 list represent a variety of different business disciplines, as Yale SOM cases tend to combine a variety of perspectives. For example, the top coffee case can be taught in marketing, operations, and strategy classes. The number two case on Shake Shack covers finance, strategy, and even innovation and design. The list features a number of cases related to the interplay of state and commerce and social enterprise, traditional strengths of the Yale SOM curriculum.

While there are many US-based cases among the top 40, a range of locales are highlighted among the top 40 entries. Cases set in France (AXA), Great Britain (Cadbury, Canary Wharf, George Hudson), Indonesia (Palm Oil, Golden Agri), China (Ant Financial, Alibaba), India (SELCO, Project Sammaan), Singapore (Marina Bay Sands), Canada (Air Canada, Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan), and South Africa (Project Masiluleke) made the top 40 list.

SOM CRDT has been working to increase the number of women featured as case protagonists. The 2018 list boasts 13 cases where women play prominent roles in the narrative.

The top 40 list also demonstrates a wide range of SOM faculty involvement. Thirty different faculty members worked as case supervisors on the top 40 cases.

Read on to learn more about the top 10 most popular cases followed by a complete list of the top 40 cases of 2018. A selection of the top 40 cases are available for purchase through our online store



#1 - Coffee 2016

Faculty Supervision: Todd Cort

Coffee 2016 asks students to consider the coffee supply chain and generate ideas for what can be done to equalize returns across various stakeholders. The case draws a parallel between coffee and wine. Both beverages encourage connoisseurship, but only wine growers reap a premium for their efforts to ensure quality.  The case describes the history of coffee production across the world, the rise of the “third wave” of coffee consumption in the developed world, the efforts of the Illy Company to help coffee growers, and the differences between “fair” trade and direct trade. Faculty have found the case provides a wide canvas to discuss supply chain issues, examine marketing practices, and encourage creative solutions to business problems. 

#2 - Shake Shack IPO

Faculty Supervision: Jake Thomas and Geert Rouwenhorst

From an art project in a New York City park, Shake Shack developed a devoted fan base that greeted new Shake Shack locations with cheers and long lines. When Shake Shack went public on January 30, 2015, investors displayed a similar enthusiasm. Opening day investors bid up the $21 per share offering price by 118% to reach $45.90 at closing bell. By the end of May, investors were paying $92.86 per share. Students are asked if this price represented a realistic valuation of the enterprise and if not, what was Shake Shack truly worth? The case provides extensive information on Shake Shack’s marketing, competitors, operations and financials, allowing instructors to weave a wide variety of factors into a valuation of the company.

#3 - IBM Corporate Service Corps

Faculty Supervision: David Bach in cooperation with University of Ghana Business School and EGADE

The case considers IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC), a program that had become the largest pro bono consulting program in the world. The case describes the program’s triple-benefit: leadership training to the brightest young IBMers, brand recognition for IBM in emerging markets, and community improvement in the areas served by IBM’s host organizations. As the program entered its second decade in 2016, students are asked to consider how the program can be improved. The case allows faculty to lead a discussion about training, marketing in emerging economies, and various ways of providing social benefit. The case highlights the synergies as well as trade-offs between pursuing these triple benefits.

#4 - Children’s Premier

Faculty Supervision: Edieal Pinker


The case describes Children’s Premier, a popular group practice in Greenwich, Connecticut which, due to a change in the state’s vaccination law, decides to dramatically change its business model. Did the group make the right adjustments in order to stay competitive and cover their increasing costs? Should the new practices cause a newcomer to the practice to look elsewhere for his children?

#5 - Design at Mayo

Faculty Supervision: Rodrigo Canales and William Drentell

The case describes how the Mayo Clinic, one of the most prominent hospitals in the world, engaged designers and built a research institute, the Center for Innovation (CFI), to study the processes of healthcare provision. The case documents the many incremental innovations the designers were able to implement and the way designers learned to interact with physicians and vice-versa.

In 2010 there were questions about how the CFI would achieve its stated aspiration of “transformational change” in the healthcare field. Students are asked what would a major change in health care delivery look like? How should the CFI's impact be measured? Were the center's structure and processes appropriate for transformational change? Faculty have found this a great case to discuss institutional obstacles to innovation, the importance of culture in organizational change efforts, and the differences in types of innovation.

This case is freely available to the public.

#6 - AXA: Creating New Corporate Responsibility Metrics

Faculty Supervision: Todd Cort and David Bach

The case describes AXA’s corporate responsibility (CR) function. The company, a global leader in insurance and asset management, had distinguished itself in CR since formally establishing a CR unit in 2008. As the case opens, AXA’s CR unit is being moved from the marketing function to the strategy group occasioning a thorough review as to how CR should fit into AXA’s operations and strategy. Students are asked to identify CR issues of particular concern to the company, examine how addressing these issues would add value to the company, and then create metrics that would capture a business unit’s success or failure in addressing the concerns.

#7 - Cadbury: An Ethical Company Struggles to Insure the Integrity of Its Supply Chain

Faculty Supervision: Ira Millstein

The case describes revelations that the production of cocoa in the Côte d’Ivoire involved child slave labor. These stories hit Cadbury especially hard. Cadbury's culture had been deeply rooted in the religious traditions of the company's founders, and the organization had paid close attention to the welfare of its workers and its sourcing practices. The US Congress was considering legislation that would allow chocolate grown on certified plantations to be labeled “slave labor free,” painting the rest of the industry in a bad light. Chocolate producers had asked for time to rectify the situation, but the extension they negotiated was running out. Students are asked whether Cadbury should join with the industry to lobby for more time?  What else could Cadbury do to ensure its supply chain was ethically managed?

#8 - Palm Oil 2016

Faculty Supervision: Kenneth Richards in cooperation with National University of Singapore Business School and David Bach

The case looks at the palm oil industry in Indonesia and how the industry effects deforestation and native rights. The case focuses on a proposal forwarded by leading palm oil traders and environmental NGOs that would ban the sale of palm oil from deforested land. The proposal is opposed by elements of the government, and smaller palm oil companies. Some voices in the Indonesian government are suggesting an agreement to end deforestation needs to be scrapped. What should companies and NGOs do?

#9 - Ant Financial

Faculty Supervision: K. Sudhir in cooperation with Renmin University of China School of Business

In 2015, Ant Financial’s MYbank (an offshoot of Jack Ma’s Alibaba company) was looking to extend services to rural areas in China by providing small loans to farmers. Microloans have always been costly for financial institutions to offer to the unbanked (though important in development) but MYbank believed that fintech innovations such as using the internet to communicate with loan applicants and judge their credit worthiness would make the program sustainable. Students are asked whether MYbank could operate the program at scale? Would its big data and technical analysis provide an accurate measure of credit risk for loans to small customers? Could MYbank rely on its new credit-scoring system to reduce operating costs to make the program sustainable?

#10 - SELCO

Faculty Supervision: Tony Sheldon


The case looks at SELCO, an Indian company that specialized in bringing solar electric products to the poor. In 2009, the company needed a new growth strategy. As students consider the company’s dilemma, the raw case allows them to view video interviews with company leaders and customers, inspect maps of SELCO’s service areas, see videos describing how SELCO’s products were being used, consider articles on India’s electricity grid and socio-economic conditions, read about the company’s founding, consult the company’s organization charts, income statements and balance sheets, inspect the company’s innovative products, review the company’s business models, read news articles about the company’s success, etc.

SELCO, India's innovative solar electric company, was at a strategic crossroads. Should it go “deeper” and serve even poorer people or go “wider” and expand beyond its current geographical areas?

This case is freely available to the public.


40 Most Popular Case Studies of 2018




Case Study

Faculty Supervision



Coffee 2016

Todd Cort

Customer/Marketing, Competitor/Strategy, Supply Chain, Sustainability


Shake Shack IPO

Jake Thomas, Geert Rouwenhorst

Competitor/Strategy, Innovation & Design, Investor/Finance, Sourcing/Managing Funds, Supercharged IPO


IBM Corporate Service Corps W

David Bach

Competitor/Strategy, State & Society, Innovation & Design


Children's Premier

Edi Pinker

Competitor/Strategy, Healthcare, Practice Management


Design at Mayo Wlock in open position

Rodrigo Canales, William Drentell

Healthcare, Innovation & Design, Leadership & Teamwork


AXA: Creating New CR Metrics W

Todd Cort, David Bach

Corporate Responsibility, Sustainability, Metrics & Data



Ira Millstein

Ethics & Religion, Supply Chain, Operations, State & Society


Palm Oil 2016 W

David Bach

Competitor/Strategy, Law & Contracts, Macroeconomics, Operations, Social Enterprise, State & Society, Sustainability, Deforestation


Ant Financial W

K. Sudhir

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Investor/Finance, State & Society, Fintech, Credit Scoring


SELCO lock in open position

Tony Sheldon

Customer/Marketing, Innovation & Design, Social Enterprise, State & Society, Sustainability


Golden Agri Resources and Sustainability

David Bach

Competitor/Strategy, Sustainability, Palm Oil, Indonesia


Project Masiluleke lock in open position

Rodrigo Canales

Entrepreneurship, Healthcare, Innovation & Design, Social Enterprise


Marina Bay Sands

Kosuke Uetake

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Operations, State & Society, Sustainability


American Greetings

Arthur Swersey

Metrics & Data, Operations


TIAA 2016 W

Ahmed Khwaja, Vineet Kumar, K. Sudhir

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Employee/HR, Investor/Finance, Millennials


Netflix & Qwikster

Sharon Oster, Keith Chen

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Innovation & Design, Operations, Streaming Services


Kmart Bankruptcy

Heather Tookes

Asset Management, Financial Regulation, Investor/Finance



James Baron

Employee/HR, Entrepreneurship, Ethics & Religion, Leadership & Teamwork



Arthur Swersey

Customer/Marketing, Innovation & Design, Operations, Process Optimization


Canary Wharf: Financing and Placemaking

William Goetzmann

Asset Management, Business History, Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Design, Investor/Finance, Sourcing/Managing Funds, State & Society, Real Estate, Placemaking, Fintech, Brexit



Ravi Dhar, Vineet Kumar, Amy Wrzesniewski

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Employee/HR, Innovation & Design, Leadership & Teamwork, Metrics & Data


GE Ecomagination W

Constance Bagley, Ravi Dhar, Fiona M. Scott Morton

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Investor/Finance, State & Society, Sustainability


The Alibaba Group W

Zhiwu Chen

Competitor/Strategy, Entrepreneurship, Investor/Finance, Law & Contracts


Mike Erwin: An Accidental Social Entrepreneur

AJ Wasserstein

Entrepreneurship, Ethics & Religion, Leadership & Teamwork, Social Enterprise


Herman Miller

Jim Baron

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Employee/HR, Ethics & Religion, Innovation & Design, Leadership & Teamwork


Achievement First W

Sharon Oster

Social Enterprise, State & Society, Education


Toyota 2010

Arthur Swersey

Customer/Marketing, Operations


Air Canada

Jacob Thomas

Competitor/Strategy, Employee/HR, Financial Regulation, Investor/Finance


Project Sammaan W

Rodrigo Canales

Entrepreneurship, Healthcare, Innovation & Design, Social Enterprise, State & Society, Sustainability


First Book Marketplace W

Sharon Oster

Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Social Enterprise


George Hudson and the 1840s Railway Mania

James Chanos

Business History, Financial Regulation, Investor/Finance, Metrics & Data



Richard Foster

Competitor/Strategy, Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Design, Operations


The Battle for Endesa

David Bach

Competitor/Strategy, Law & Contracts, State & Society, Energy, Mergers


Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan

Judith Chevalier

Competitor/Strategy, Investor/Finance, State & Society


Peabody Museum

Jessica Helfand

Arts Management, Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Innovation & Design, Social Enterprise



Olav Sorenson

Asset Management, Employee/HR, Investor/Finance, Leadership & Teamwork



Heather Tookes

Business History, Competitor/Strategy, Investor/Finance, Leadership & Teamwork, Asset Valuation, Publishing


Low-Carbon Investing W

William Goetzmann, K. Geert Rouwenhorst

Asset Management, Ethics & Religion, Investor/Finance, Social Enterprise, State & Society, Sustainability


Kalil Diaz

AJ Wasserstein

Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship through Acquisition


Commonfund ESG W

William Goetzmann

Asset Management, Investor/Finance, Metrics & Data, Social Enterprise

     Case is freely available to the public
W     Case features a woman in a major leadership role


Click on the case title to learn more about the dilemma. A selection of our most popular cases are available for purchase via our online store.