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A montage of images from Yale SOM case studies of 2019

Top 40 Most Popular Case Studies of 2019

In the 2019 top 40 list, cases centered around food dominated the top 10, with the 2016 Coffee case retaining the top spot.

According to the Yale School of Management Case Research and Development Team (SOM CRDT) 2019 top 40 list, cases centered around food dominated the top 10, with the 2016 Coffee case retaining the top spot, a case on Cadbury taking second, and a case about Shake Shack taking third. A 2018 case about the Volkswagen emissions scandal made the Top 40 this year, shooting up to number four. Cases about Aadhaar, India’s universal ID project, the Nathan Cummings Foundation’s move to all-impact investing, business efforts to bridge the divide between Israel and Palestine, and New Haven’s own 360 State Street development all joined the list this year. Other popular topics in the top 10 include the marketing of financial services, organizational structure, and entrepreneurship.

SOM CRDT compiled its third annual Top 40 list by combining data from publishers, Google Analytics, direct sales, and other measures of interest and adoption. Other year-end data for 2019 showed:

  • Over 30K users from 161 countries viewed 133 “raw” cases online.
  • Just over a third of raw case users were from the U.S.
  • Customers purchased 127 different case titles from the online store.
  • Twenty-five percent of this year’s cases in the top 40 featured women protagonists.
  • Traffic to the SOM CRDT case directory increased by 30% over 2018, with almost 150K page views.
  • Sixty percent of those who perused the SOM case directory were from outside the U.S.
  • The top 40 cases were supervised by 33 different Yale SOM faculty members.

All cases listed here are available for purchase through our online store

The top 10 cases of 2019 included:

#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, while coffee farmers barely eke out an existence. 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 - 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?

#3 - 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.

#4 - Volkswagen: Engineering a Disaster

Faculty Supervision: David Bach

In September 2015, Volkswagen admitted to installing defeat switches in their diesel cars to fool environmental regulators. The fraud could cost the company billions in fines and lost revenues, leaving all to wonder, "How could this have happened?" The case considers the company’s history and culture, as well as looking at how regulatory environments in Europe and the U.S. differed. What combination of these factors led to this wide-spread ethical disaster?

#5 - Netflix

Faculty Supervision: Arthur Swersey

The case describes how Netflix optimized the rental of DVDs by mail to become a major media company. In 2007, the company faced two challenges. The first was increased competition in the DVD-by-mail business. The second was challenges from various streaming services. For all its operational savvy, had Netflix’s time passed?

#6 - 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 creditworthiness 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? What are the social costs of introducing credit scoring to China?

#7 - Mastercard

Faculty Supervision: Ravi Dhar, Vineet Kumar, and Amy Wrzesniewski

When Raja Rajamannar became Mastercard's CMO in 2013, the company had already created one of the most successful brand-building campaigns in history. Yet he decided to substantially change the marketing strategy – and transform his department. The case examines the premises behind “experience marketing” and considers the dynamics of a department where traditional marketers must work with new internet marketers who bring new skills and sensibilities.

#8 - Golden Agri Resources and Sustainability

Faculty Supervision: David Bach

Golden Agri, a major Indonesian palm oil producer and exporter, and Greenpeace reached an unprecedented agreement to limit deforestation in Indonesia in 2012. But would the agreement survive and increase sustainability standards in the palm oil industry?

#9 - AgBiome

Faculty Supervision: James Baron

Can a company grow while eschewing hierarchy in favor of commitment? From its founding, AgBiome has adopted a flat structure, where committees of employees make the key decisions. The case describes the structures and principles that make this agricultural R&D firm run. With a few successful innovations under its belt, can the company grow while maintaining its commitment model?

#10 - Bovard and Majid

Faculty Supervision: AJ Wasserstein

Lia Majid had spent nearly a year and a half searching for a business to acquire and thought she’d finally found a deal worth pursuing. She spent months negotiating with the firm’s sellers and believed she was on the verge of a purchase. However, at the last minute, her backers and mentors at the Search Fund Accelerator (SFA) wanted her to completely restructure the deal. Faced with their concerns, Majid had to decide whether to re-engage the target firm or move on to investigate other prospects.

Complete list of the 40 Most Popular Case Studies of 2019


Case Study

Faculty Supervision



Coffee 2016

Todd Cort

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



Ira Millstein

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


Shake Shack IPO

Jacob Thomas, Geert Rouwenhorst

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



David Bach

Business History, Competitor/Strategy, Ethics & Religion, Leadership & Teamwork, State & Society, Sustainability



Arthur Swersey

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


Ant Financial W

K. Sudhir

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



Ravi Dhar, Vineet Kumar, Amy Wrzesniewski

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


Golden Agri Resources and Sustainability

David Bach

Competitor/Strategy, Sustainability, Palm Oil, Indonesia


AgBiome W

James Baron

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


Bovard and Majid W

AJ Wasserstein

Entrepreneurship, Investor/Finance


Business Leadership in South Africa's 1994 Reforms

Ian Shapiro

Business History, Leadership & Teamwork, State & Society


Kalil Diaz

AJ Wasserstein

Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship through Acquisition


Design at Mayo W

Rodrigo Canales, William Drentell

Healthcare, Innovation & Design, Leadership & Teamwork


City Hospital Emergency Room

Arthur Swersey

Healthcare, Metrics & Data, Operations


Mike Erwin: An Accidental Social Entrepreneur

AJ Wasserstein

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


AXA: Creating New CR Metrics W 

Todd Cort, David Bach

Corporate Responsibility, Sustainability, Metrics & Data


360 State Street: Real Options

Mathew Spiegel

Asset Management, Investor/Finance, Metrics & Data, Sourcing/Managing Funds


Canary Wharf: Financing and Placemaking

William Goetzmann

Asset Management, Business History, Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Design, Investor/Finance, Sourcing/Managing Funds, State & Society


Netflix & Qwikster

Sharon Oster, Keith Chen

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


Herman Miller

James Baron

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


Marina Bay Sands

Kosuke Uetake

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


Palm Oil 2016 W

David Bach

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


Children's Premier

Edi Pinker

Competitor/Strategy, Healthcare, Practice Management



Richard N. Foster

Competitor/Strategy, Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Design, Operations


Connecticut Green Bank 2018: Finance and Marketing After the Raid

Todd Cort, Daniel Esty

Customer/Marketing, Innovation & Design, Investor/Finance, Social Enterprise, Sourcing/Managing Funds, State & Society, Sustainability



Tony Sheldon

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


IBM Corporate Service Corps W

David Bach

Competitor/Strategy, State & Society, Innovation & Design


American Greetings

Arthur Swersey

Metrics & Data, Operations


First Book Marketplace W

Sharon Oster

Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Social Enterprise


Toyota 2010

Arthur Swersey

Customer/Marketing, Operations


Air Canada

Jacob Thomas

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



Shyam Sunder, K. Sudhir

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Innovation & Design, Metrics & Data, Operations, State & Society



Olav Sorenson

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


Mercy Corps

Jonathan Feinstein

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


Team Detroit

Arun Sinha, Ravi Dhar

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


The Battle for Endesa

David Bach

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


Prodigy Finance W

Florian Ederer

Competitor/Strategy, Customer/Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Investor/Finance, Social Enterprise


Kmart Bankruptcy

Heather Tookes

Asset Management, Financial Regulation, Investor/Finance


Nathan Cummings Foundation W 

William Goetzmann

Asset Management, Investor/Finance, Leadership & Teamwork, Social Enterprise, Sourcing/Managing Funds



Ian Shapiro

Ethics & Religion, Law & Contracts, Social Enterprise, State & Society, Sustainability

     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.