Fable Friday:  Sully’s business case; you be the judge

In the spring of 1978 I traveled to Philadelphia to compete in the Penn Relays Marathon.  I had a friend named Sully from back home in Cornwall, NY who was working on his Masters at Wharton and he said I could bunk with him.  After an early dinner on Friday night, we went back to his apartment and I went to bed, hoping to get a good night’s sleep.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedBut before I could doze off there was a knock at the door and a friend of Sully’s came in and began asking him questions about some kind of computerized business case.  Sully rattled off a bunch of advice to the guy, along the lines of “Hose all your employees on the salary.  They’ll go on strike but they come back in two days so you save a bundle. And don’t buy any fire insurance.  There’s nothing in the program that allows the business to catch on fire.”  Stuff like that.  The grateful visitor thanked him profusely and left.

I asked Sully what that was all about, and here’s what he told me:

“Last semester I took a business simulation course.  You work in teams of six students running your own business, making financial decisions, business and marketing planning and investments.  I didn’t like the group I got assigned to.  They had no business sense, discussed everything to death and made decisions only by consensus.  We were soon at odds, so I went to the professor and asked to get off the team and be a team of my own.  He agreed, but warned me I would have no other resources but myself.  That was fine with me.

First thing I did was go to the library and research everything I could about the case study. I was sure the professor hadn’t written it himself. Sure enough, buried in the notes was the name of a grad student who I learned was still at Wharton.  So I called him up and asked if he had written the case, which he had. I told him I’d like to learn more about how cases like this are written and we agreed to meet for a beer.

Well, as luck would have it, I hardly had to ask him anything. I just bought the beers, while he shared with me every possible variable within the case.  I had hit pay dirt, and without taking a single note, I simply thanked him for sharing the process with me and left.

Of course I made the most money of anyone in the class on this case sailing through with no strikes, fires or other setbacks. I used the money I saved on expenses for new product development and marketing. I made a fortune.  I was a wizard.”

I smile every time I think of this story, and from time to time I bump into Sully.  He retired long ago from business and now manages properties and his money in the Bahamas.  Good for him!

And now back to you.  Think carefully about this case. I imagine some of you might think what Sully did was unethical or dishonest.  Others might think he was simply smarter than everyone else and achieved a higher level solution.

What do you think?  Did Sully do the right thing? Do you approve or disapprove?  Write to me with your own opinions and I’ll follow up on this topic next week.  I’ll even tell you how I did in the Relays!

Meanwhile, remember to…

Think Like Your Customer!