Case studies

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Our case studies explore  the impact of social evaluations – legitimacy, status, stigma, celebrity, reputation and trust – on particular challenges faced by organisations. While cases are grouped under one primary social evaluation, each case will often encompass a number of different ones. All are available free on request, some with teaching notes. 

 

Legitimacy

Moelis – the making of an investment bank 

How Ken Moelis built the legitimacy of his start-up to compete with bulge bracket firms like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Barclays and his own former employer, UBS.

Building the reputation of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts 

How the DIFC established confidence among different stakeholders from its inception to make the Emirate a more appealing venue for international businesses to set up offices. 

People's Energy - a crowdfunded utility

When David Pike and Karin Sode decided to launch an energy utility, they decided on a unique model: set-up costs would come from crowdfunding, power would be from sustainable sources, and they promised to return 75% of the profits to their customers. This is a story of legitimisation within start-ups.  

Intesa Sanpaolo and the circular economy

Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy's largest bank, has long had a reputation for sustainable investment. However, in its 2018-2021 business plan, it made a core commitment to investing in the circular economy. How did the bank avoid damaging its legitimacy as an establishment banking business in the pursuit of such a pioneering new initiative?  

British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL)

Case B: breakup

In July 2003, the UK government began a strategic review of BNFL. The new CEO became aware that there was a fundamental tension between the government and BNFL’s board. This case explores how questions as to the legitimacy of BNFL led to the eventual decision to deprioritise nuclear as a UK source of energy and the sale of the business.  
(See Case A under 'Trust')

Eni - a 'guest' oil business in the Republic of Congo

The integrated energy company Eni has the largest presence in Africa of any company in its sector, and specifically in the Republic of Congo. This case examines how Eni’s corporate values built its legitimacy through its sustainability programmes in the Republic of Congo and elsewhere, and opportunities and risks inherent in such activities.

Status

The history of Berry Bros. & Rudd wine merchants

This case study charts the story of the oldest wine and spirit merchants in Britain into the 20th century, focusing on how it established its status as a leading merchant in the sector. Download from the Global History of Capitalism project. Download from the Global History of Capitalism project.

QMM/Rio Tinto in Madagascar

Case B: engaging with local communities
Bringing a capital-intensive mining project to an impoverished country like Madagascar had significant reputational implications. This case explores how QMM responded to the locals' escalating expectations. This case highlights ‘tall poppy’ syndrome - the downside of high status.  

The 'A1' reputation of the Lloyd’s Register of Shipping

Lloyd's Register laid the foundation for the whole classification industry. The rating system encouraged higher standards and provided reassurance to insurers. How did the Register become established as a high-status actor, and win a reputation for reliability? Download from the Global History of Capitalism project.

 

Stigma

Eni vs Report: a live social media campaign against a TV investigation

When Report, Italy's leading investigative current affairs programme, invited energy company Eni to participate in a programme that was going to be critical about its operations and lead to renewed stigmatisation within an industry that was already becoming stigmatised, Eni decided instead to launch its own social media counter-offensive live during the broadcast. 

Volkswagen since World War Two

Needing to put distance between itself and its Nazi origins, Volkswagen focused its efforts on the Beetle: a cheap, reliable product that it hoped would appeal to domestic and export markets alike. This case explores how VW de-stigmatised itself through a multi-year strategy. Download from the Global History of Capitalism project.

Mabey & Johnson – the UK's first overseas bribery prosecution

Mabey & Johnson (M&J) was an entrepreneurial British engineering company with widely admired bridging solutions used all over the world. Things changed with the introduction of new anti-corruption legislation. When the M&J board attempted to put in the controls to prevent bad practice, the move backfired dramatically, leading to a stigma with major consequences for the firm.

Nestlé and the history of infant formula

This case examines the ebb and flow of Nestlé’s reputation in infant health and nutrition from the early days of infant formula, through the difficult boycott years which led to stigmatisation, to the present-day challenges Nestlé faces as it expands into the vast infant formula market in China. Download from the Global History of Capitalism project..

Celebrity

Arcandor – doomed to fail?

At the end of 2004, the German retail conglomerate Arcandor, then known as KarstadtQuelle, was on the verge of bankruptcy. Thomas Middelhoff, the charismatic and controversial ex-CEO of the media firm Bertelsmann, was brought in to turn the company around. By 2007, Arcandor’s share price had shown signs of recovery and the company appeared on the way to better times. But in the summer of 2009, Arcandor filed for bankruptcy. What went wrong? This case explores how a celebrity CEO clashed with  a conservative stakeholder environment, leading to his dismissal and (eventual) incarceration.

Reputation

Intesa Sanpaolo and the Progetto Cultura  

The 2018 business plan of Italian banking group Intesa Sanpaolo included a new commitment to 'set up a specialised unit focused on enhancement and proactive management of art, culture and historical heritage'. What were the motivations for and implications of putting such an intensified focus on its current and future commitment to supporting cultural initiatives?

adidas – rediscovering the source of its success

After decades as the world's leading sports shoe brand, adidas had lost its way. The secret to its renaissance lay in the now-neglected principles laid down by its founder . What was it in the past of adidas that provided it with such strong reputational capital?  

Parmalat –  Europe's biggest corporate bankruptcy

The Italian dairy and food conglomerate was declared bankrupt in 2003 after a multi-billion-euro hole was discovered in its accounts. Its founder, Calisto Tanzi had orchestrated a vast global fraud. We examine why the threat of losing reputation was not enough to prevent a disastrous series of decisions, and how key indicators revealed the true picture.  

Gossip, corporate reputation, and the 1905 life insurance scandal in New York

In 1905, James Hazen Hyde was set to assume the presidency of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, until a lavish ball he hosted on his 30th birthday changed everything, including public attitudes to the insurance  industry. Download from the Global History of Capitalism project.

Trust

The transformation of the Vatican Museums

In 2007 the Vatican Museums identified a number of urgent priorities, including improving the visitor experience, reducing unauthorised access, halting the deterioration of artworks, and addressing employee dissatisfaction. How could staff be persuaded that change was possible and then be mobilised to drive it forward? How could those outside the organisation be persuaded to engage in new partnerships that could change perceptions and drive progress? This case explores the role of trust in transformation.

The Market Basket boycott

When the board of New England supermarket chain Market Basket sacked its CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, it triggered an extraordinary boycott on his behalf - by suppliers, employees and customers - that became a national news story. This case study, by two authors who observed the boycott first hand, captures how the network of relationships fostered by the business and its CEO created a force powerful enough to overcome the will of the majority shareholders. This case explores how trust in leadership from a wider stakeholder network countered shareholder disquiet.. 

QMM/Rio Tinto in Madagascar

Case A: protecting the island's biodiversity

QMM, a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto, began construction of an ilmenite mine in Madagascar in 2006. The location made it one of the most sensitive projects that Rio Tinto had ever attempted. The case outlines how QMM's environmental and conservation team demonstrated to sceptical outside observers that the company's actions would contribute economic benefits while leaving no lasting environmental and social harm, and how it worked to create and maintain trust among a varied group of local and international stakeholders.

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL)

Case A: containing a crisis 

In September 1999, after it became clear employees had falsified data concerning BNFL’s mixed oxide (MOX) fuel pellets, a new group CEO was appointed to deal with the crisis. How could he reassure the company’s international customers, the media, regulators, employees and  the British government that the management was able to contain the crisis? And how would the crisis affect the government’s long-term goal of privatising BNFL?
(See Case B under 'Legitimacy')