By WSJ Noted. 

Many students in M.B.A. programs will find themselves analyzing management decisions made during the pandemic when they return to their business classes this spring semester. But students in some programs have already begun to study corporate pandemic challenges and crisis management.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

1. Professors at top M.B.A. programs will focus on teaching lessons learned from the pandemic during the upcoming semester.

Case studies at Harvard Business School will include how companies like Zoom Video Communications Inc. and Airbnb Inc. shifted their marketing strategies to appeal to consumers during the pandemic. All M.B.A.s and executive M.B.A.s at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School will have access to a new online class called "Leadership in Challenging Times" featuring guest speakers that include the chief executives of Johnson & Johnson, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Vail Resorts Inc. and Progressive Corp., on how they navigated through 2020, said Michael Useem, a professor of management at Wharton. William Lauder, executive chairman of Estée Lauder Cos., is a co-teacher of the course with Useem and another professor. "How do we think through and make sure we're making the right decisions to sustain the organization into the future" is the fundamental premise of the course, he said. "How do you think through these challenges and come to what appears to be the right solution when there is no perfect answer?"

2. One example exposed students to the inner workings of the life-sciences industry during a pandemic.

Harvard Business School professor Willy Shih introduced a pharmaceutical case study to his technology and operations-management class in the fall. In the scenario, students had to decide whether a pharmaceutical company should you accept government money -- and the strings attached with it -- to find a vaccine and try to catch up with rivals it was seen to be trailing. After more than an hour of debate, most students agreed that the drugmaker should forgo government funding, Mr. Shih said. Many advocated the company stick to private development, saying it was better for the long-term health of its vaccine business to not rely on government help. The case study was based on the real-life example of Merck & Co., which didn't accept funding from Operation Warp Speed to develop a vaccine but got $38 million in May from a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services to help with development. The company began human testing of its first vaccine in September and has said it hopes to produce a single-dose shot.

3. Students at Columbia Business School debated whether Covid-19 was the right motivation for a factory modernization.

Kathryn Harrigan, a strategy professor at Columbia Business School, wrote a case study of Smithfield Foods Inc., the largest pork producer in the U.S. In the scenario, students were hypothetically asked whether the company should invest more in technology to automate its meatpacking plants. The industry employs thousands of workers across North America, a percentage of whom got sick with Covid-19 last year. "There was a heated debate in class about whether Covid was the right motivation for a factory modernization," Ms. Harrigan said. The beauty of such a current case, Ms. Harrigan said, is that it has no concrete answers yet. Smithfield has invested more than $700 million in protective measures for its employees, including on-site Covid-19 prescreening, air purification systems, physical barriers at work stations and employee protective equipment, said Keira Lombardo, the company's chief administrative officer. Smithfield has also already invested tens of millions of dollars in robotics and other processes to automate production at its facilities; the efforts are ongoing, the company said.

Read the original article by Patrick Thomas here.

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 11, 2021 18:32 ET (23:32 GMT)

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