SAGE Author Profile: Justin O'Brien, University of London

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Cases from Justin on SAGE Business Cases

About Justin

A passionately keen marketer, Justin O’Brien teaches marketing, entrepreneurship and management at Royal Holloway University of London, where he was the MBA Director from 2010 to 2016.

Justin's first grounded job after graduating with a good management degree from a top UK university was making Perfect Pizzas, but a serendipitous delivery one day to a travel company opened up an exciting international travel industry career, working initially as a resort representative in Italy before landing a coveted graduate traineeship with British Airways. With more than 16 years of rich industry experience in international sales and marketing Justin travelled the whole world with British Airways working at the UK global headquarters and in Germany, Russia, India and Japan for extended periods, gaining experience in front line sales, marketing, IT, business analysis, change management and outsourcing along the way.

After completing a Lancaster executive MBA whilst working at British Airways Justin followed his passion for learning and development by transitioning mid-career into university teaching, starting out on an inclusive and highly vocational foundation degree at a teaching focused new university. Justin has been a stand out teaching focused academic for more than a decade, he is renowned for delivering innovative and engaging learning experiences to diverse student cohorts, regularly winning peer and student voted teaching awards. His brand of experiential management teaching is richly grounded in industry practice in global airline marketing and extensive, ongoing business engagement which infuses his delivery with “inspiring, up-to-date topics with great examples.” Justin’s teaching “actively fosters student engagement,” “constantly innovates,” and harnesses the “value of practical problem solving”.

Justin has published a number of teaching case studies on diverse globalisation and marketing topics such as McDonald’s, UK fashion house Boden, and airline distribution.

Q & A with Justin

Q: How do you integrate cases into your classes?

A: We tend to use long-form case studies quite sparsely, perhaps using just one or two longer written case studies in a module, augmented with a range of shorter news related and video based case studies. Faced with significant preparation for in-class discussions and assignment deadlines the numbers often win out, thus timing of deep dive case preparation is critical. With postgraduates we often look to challenge students to prepare ahead of class earlier in the term and in informal groups invite them to present their answers to the set question or questions during a fairly structured workshop as part of a formative presentation skills feedback process. With undergraduates we tend to present the case studies (campaigning videos can be powerful here) and use set questions to stimulate in-class discussion as a way of integrating the module learning at the end of the term in a format that is encapsulated during the class itself.  

Q: How do students respond to the cases?

A: Students often indicate that they enjoy the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge in a more realistic context, with quirky business realities and problems providing serious food for thought. It tends to generate the most energy of any teaching interaction and bring out some of the quieter, more pensive students. 

Q: Do you have any tips for those who are new to cases and want to use them in courses?

A: We work with a large international student contingent, so shorter cases using global rather than regional companies and locations are often better. Using images and short video-based supporting materials (which are more easily found these days on social media) can bring the class really alive. Where feasible use case-based activities to evaluate student efforts.

Q: Do you have any case writing advice for those who’d like to get started?

(1) Pick a topic that you are really interested in; the passion will come through and help you finish.

(2) Be original. Avoid the big brands and obvious theories that everyone writes about; those cases are already out there.

(3) Don’t set questions that you would struggle to answer yourself. Often you are required to write model answers that can take longer than the ‘fun’ case itself.

(4) Be concise and use short sentences. Write for a global English audience and watch out for your own cultural biases.

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