Case study offers insight into minds of entrepreneurs

Stapleton-Walker-Hanlon

Left to right: Prof. Donna Stapleton,
Deborah Walker and Dr. Dennis Hanlon

Sept. 1, 2015

A collaboration between faculty members and a grad student at the Faculty of Business Administration has led to a unique case study that offers a glimpse into the struggle of entrepreneurs to balance personal lifestyle with a firm’s growth potential.

MBA student Deborah Walker, along with Dr. Dennis Hanlon and Prof. Donna Stapleton, undertook a case study of Beaufort Solutions Inc., a technology company based in St. John’s that operates in the rapidly-developing digital imaging and printing industry. The resulting case study has been published this past spring in Case Research Journal (CRJ), the leading academic journal for cases in business and related disciplines in North America.

Ms. Walker began the study as an independent research project supervised by professors Hanlon and Stapleton. She had worked on a part-time basis with the owners of Beaufort Solutions and felt that the company was a prime candidate for a case study offering a rare look at the behind-the-scenes processes, conversations and players during a pivotal time in a business’s growth.

Ms. Walker presented an early version of the case and placed third at an international entrepreneurship student case writing competition in New Orleans, La. Funding for Ms. Walker’s research was provided by the Faculty of Business Administration, Student Affairs and Services, the School of Graduate Studies and professors Stapleton and Hanlon.

“My main goal in writing the Beaufort case was to capture a real-life example of entrepreneurial struggle and opportunity,” she said. “My relationship with the owners and my knowledge of their business afforded a unique opportunity to document their history and the business opportunities and challenges they were facing at the time.”

Ms. Walker and her supervisors brought together their respective areas of expertise – accounting for Ms. Walker, entrepreneurship for Dr. Hanlon and marketing for Prof. Stapleton – to develop the case study and accompanying instructor’s manual, which may now be used in undergraduate and graduate courses in entrepreneurship and strategic management.

Prof. Stapleton says this case study is unique because of the emphasis it places on the entrepreneurs as individuals and on the ways in which their attitudes and values about lifestyle, money and growth influence the development of their businesses.

“Much of the value stems from the fact that it is not a traditional strategy decision-making case,” she said. “Instead, students [who examine this case study] must grapple with a much more fundamental choice about how much growth to pursue, taking into account the life situations, values and personal preferences of the owners along with the internal and external realities of the firm.”

“Unlike large, publicly-traded companies, the primary motivation of entrepreneurs is not necessarily wealth maximization. Yet, to our knowledge, no framework has been developed specifically to guide the analysis of these types of choices,” added Dr. Hanlon.

Cases published in CRJ are distributed directly to libraries and subscribers as well as through publishing partners, which makes them available to university professors around the world. Only 16 per cent of cases are accepted for publication.

This story appears in the fall 2015 edition of Research Matters.

Susan White