Case Studies

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The Stigler Center recognizes that one of the biggest impediments to the teaching of issues related to regulatory capture, lobbying, and the subversion of competition by special interest groups is the absence of good business cases written on these topics. As a result, the Stigler Center has promoted and financed the writing of multiple business cases.


Theme: How the collapse of the Genoa Bridge in August 2018 ignited a media crisis and political storm

During a torrential rainstorm on August 14, 2018, a 210-metre (690 ft) section of the Ponte Morandi bridge collapsed. The Ponte Morandi, also known as the Genoa Bridge, forms a critical artery of European route E80 linking Italy and France. In the collapse, between 30 to 35 cars and three trucks were reported to have fallen from the bridge. The disaster caused a major political controversy about the poor state of infrastructure in Italy and the privatization of Italy’s highways. The Genoa Bridge was part of a motorway system operated by Autostrade, a subsidiary of the Atlantia holding company controlled by the Benetton Family, one of the most powerful family business dynasties in Italy. The media crisis and political storm that followed threatened the concession under which Autostrade operated the motorways in Italy.

Suitable Courses: Regulation, public policy, privatization, political economy of regulation, the media, media crisis communication.

Bigger picture: The Atlantia case study addresses the political economy of regulation and the media in a democratic market economy. The case highlights a media crisis faced by a large Italian company that happens to be controlled by one of the wealthiest and most famous families in the country. A media crisis presents a rare opportunity to understand the dynamics between big businesses, politicians, regulatory agencies and the news media. The Italian media and politicians intensely scrutinized the collapse of a bridge on an Italian highway operated by Autostrade, ultimately shedding light on the concession terms through which the company operated a large part of the highway network in the country.

Format: PDF

Publication Date: June 2020

Length: 50 pages; English PDF

Teaching Note: A Teaching Note is a comprehensive guide to how to teach a case. You must be affiliated with a qualified institution to receive a Teaching Note. Submit your request now.


Hewlett Packard and e-Waste Regulation

Theme: How can firms be effective in lobbying for progressive policy changes while benefiting their own bottom lines?

Early on, Hewlett Packard (HP) embraced several costly environmental initiatives around reducing the harmful impact of electronic waste (e-waste) resulting from their products at the end of their lives. Despite these well-intentioned efforts at environmental sustainability, through internalizing negative externalities, they were not financially sustainable for HP vis-à-vis competitors who did nothing to offset their harm. Policymakers in California attempted to address the broader problem of e-waste through legislation proposing to tax all manufacturers of products that resulted in toxic e-waste. This left HP in a challenging position of whether or not to support the tax of manufacturers or to oppose it in favor of alternative legislation around electronic waste.

Suitable Courses: Non-market Strategy, Corporate Political Strategy, Business and Public Policy, Business and Society, Corporate Social Responsibility, Applied Political Economy, Regulation

Bigger picture: This case illustrates how firms can use lobbying strategies to complement socially responsible activities that are cost centers and turn them into a competitive advantage by aligning business activities with public policies they craft which are more pro-market than some policymakers’ best efforts to create policy that reduces firms’ negative externalities—and allows politicians to claim a win with constituents.

Format: PDF, Part A and Part B

Publication Date: September 2019

Length: Part A - 12 pages; Part B - 4 pages; English PDF

Teaching Note: A Teaching Note is a comprehensive guide to how to teach a case. You must be affiliated with a qualified institution to receive a Teaching Note. Submit your request now.

Download (PDF Part A)

Download (PDF Part B)

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board: Success after 20 Years?

Theme: What should the Entertainment Software Ratings Board do in the face of new proposed legislation that may impact various parties in the video game industry?

In the video game industry, the discussion of self-regulation tends to be centered around the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), a legal requirement that prohibits manufacturers from selling games with certain ratings to minors. The case delves the contemporary political environment, particularly the string of mass shootings and school shootings which might explain the timing of the regulation, as well as more recent controversies regarding sexual and violent content in video games.

Suitable Courses: The case appeals to courses on regulation and political economy, the relation between business and politics and corporate social responsibility. The case works well in a non-market environment module where the discussion centers in decentralized self-regulation vis-à-vis centralized regulations by the government.

Bigger picture: The natural debate that emerges from the case is which is the entity that is most suitable to regulate: the government though public policy, firms themselves or industry group themselves?

Format: PDF

Publication Date: January 2019

Length: 19 p, English PDF

Teaching Note: A Teaching Note is a comprehensive guide to how to teach a case. You must be affiliated with a qualified institution to receive a Teaching Note. Submit your request now.

Download (PDF)

Disney’s Fight to Keep Mickey

Theme: How much of the Disney Company’s business model is riding on its ability to change US copyright laws?

When MBA students discuss Disney, it is usually within contexts such as vertical integration, creativity, and the like. But a large part of Disney’s revenues depend on constantly extending the copyright protections it enjoys. This is why every time that the copyright over Mickey Mouse is about to expire, Disney lobbies heavily–and successfully–to change federal laws and extend (retroactively!) the protection it enjoys. The Mickey Mouse case illustrates how policies meant to incentivize innovation can be co-opted to stifle it.

Suitable Courses: The case appeals to courses on business strategy, entertainment industry, and intellectual property, as well as regulation and political economy.

Bigger picture: Raises issues of intellectual property protection–how much is too much from a societal perspective? And who gets to dictate the answers?

Format: PDF

Publication Date: November 14, 2017

Length: 15 p, English PDF

Teaching Note: A Teaching Note is a comprehensive guide to how to teach a case. You must be affiliated with a qualified institution to receive a Teaching Note. Submit your request now.

Download (PDF)


Theme: How regulation is used to prevent entry, especially in developing countries.

Cumplo is a peer-to-peer lender that broke into the oligopolistic world of consumer-financing in Chile. The incumbents pressured the regulator to criminally indict Cumplo for violation of the banking law. The founders were able to fend off this attack by promoting their image in the local and international press. Cumplo is now poised to become the main peer-to-peer lending platform in Latin America.

Suitable Courses: Entrepreneurship, strategy, media, political economy.

Bigger picture: Case illustrates how new business models, which challenge powerful incumbent industries, need to adopt a media strategy parallel to their business strategy.

Format: PDF

Publication Date: June 16, 2017

Length: 26 p, English PDF; 25 p, Spanish PDF

Teaching Note: A Teaching Note is a comprehensive guide to how to teach a case. You must be affiliated with a qualified institution to receive a Teaching Note. Submit your request now.

Download EN (PDF)

Download SP (PDF)

Mediapart: a viable model?

Theme: Bucking the trend in the media industry

Most notably, it manages to break even and make profits solely on subscribers’ revenues; it gets the French people to pay for online content; and it produces long-form investigative journalism and not just click-bait. What are the drivers of this seeming success story?

Suitable Courses: Entrepreneurship, strategy, media.

Bigger picture: It is both an example of successful entrepreneurship in a very difficult industry and an alternative business model for investigative journalism.

Format: PDF

Publication Date: April 13, 2017

Length: 27 p, English PDF; 29 p, French PDF

Teaching Note: A Teaching Note is a comprehensive guide to how to teach a case. You must be affiliated with a qualified institution to receive a Teaching Note. Submit your request now.

Download EN (PDF)

Download FR (PDF)

Tally: How to Choose the Right Growth Path? (Coming soon)

Theme: Less than a year since launching Tally, a fintech app that helps users manage and pay down their credit card debt, its founders had to make important decisions regarding financing and regulation.

In late 2015, Tally’s founders faced their most important decision: how best to finance the lines of credit Tally would extend to customers. Doing so profitably meant finding credit at a reasonable cost; but unlike banks, Tally had no deposits and – given its lack of history – would be subject to hard-to-predict payment streams. Unfortunately, financing was not the only problem for Tally. As this young California startup was poised to expand its offering nationwide, its founders had to decide how to navigate the treacherous waters of U.S. interstate banking regulation.

Suitable Courses: Entrepreneurial Finance, Fintech, Banking

Bigger picture: Financing and regulation were key for the growth of Tally. If successful, Tally would have disrupted one of established banks’ more profitable markets, meaning that incumbent players would not be shy about pushing regulators to come after the startup. This, in turn, would increase Tally's financing costs

Petrobras (Coming soon)

Theme: Corporate fraud and institutionalized corruption

In September 2014, testimonials from Federal Police’s Operation “Car-Wash” brought to surface a massive corruption scandal involving politicians, company’s executives, and major engineering companies in Brazil. The Car Wash operation began in March of that year and shook Brazil’s politics like never before. The largest corruption investigation in the world revealed the functioning, in the period between 2004 and 2014, of a new criminal organization, involving companies, contractors, shipyards and other service providers, inside Petrobras, Brazil’s oil company. Among the crimes practiced: a cartel among the largest contractors that participate in the state events, avoiding competitiveness. What started as a small targeted investigation led to the discovery of what was believed to be the biggest corruption scandal in the country’s history. The case is set in October 2014, when PwC, Petrobras’ external auditor, refused to sign off on the company’s quarterly audited results. Statements of directors inside the company made PwC question its decision for this refusal. PwC had been the auditor of Petrobras since 2012, but the investigation was getting too big and, the external auditors alleged they had no means to properly assess asset values of certain refineries.

Suitable Courses: Corporate Strategy with emphasis on Global Strategy, Business Ethics, General Management, and Strategic Challenges in Emerging Markets. In an Accounting course, the case fits well in a module of impairment of long-lived assets and the key differences in fair values between US. GAAP and IFRS.

Bigger picture:The case illustrates the role of external auditors in detecting corporate fraud as well as their degree of involvement in detecting malfeasance of public officials. The case questions the role of external auditors in terms of the changing accounting interpretations vis-à-vis rules. The refusal to sign-off on the audited financial statements prompted a set of negative events for Petrobras: triggering of bond covenants and cross-default clauses, and lack of access to capital markets. These set of events impacted the Brazilian economy. The case highlights how institutional voids, in this case lack of infrastructure, intensifies to reveal systemic institutionalized corruption.

Piraeus (Coming soon)

Theme: How banking regulators benefit banks

In the middle of the Cyprus solvency crisis the Greek bank of Piraeus received a large windfall in the form of Greek branches of a Cypriot bank. A tour behind the scenes reveals just how much thought and resources were invested in assuring that the public would finance this gift to Piraeus: advertising, charitable contributions, and personal connections.

Suitable Courses: Finance/banking, macroeconomics, media.

Bigger picture: Fleshes out EU politics, and general “soft capture” dynamics: advertising as lobbying, corporate philanthropy as co-optation, and so forth.

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