2014 Research Report

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Lawrence’s work is featured in textbooks worldwide, and he soon will take over editorship of Case Research Journal, a top resource for such studies.


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University of Idaho, College of Business Professor John Lawrence

Preparing Future Business Leaders

Professor Writes Real Corporate Cases to Test Students’ Decision-making Skills


By Tara Roberts
Photo by UI Photo Services


The world of business is unpredictable – so how do business students prepare for the twists and turns of real-life careers?

John Lawrence, a professor in the University of Idaho College of Business and Economics, specializes in creating field-researched teaching cases, which use actual situations to help students learn the art of decision-making.

“Instead of just standing up and giving a lecture, we give the students a case to read, then we say, ‘Now you’re the director of operations, you’re the CEO, how do you go about taking advantage of this opportunity, address this threat, make this decision?’ ” Lawrence said.

Lawrence has published 16 case research studies in journals, and his work is featured in textbooks worldwide. In June he will take over editorship of Case Research Journal, one of the world’s top resources for such studies.

When Lawrence learns of a business that has experienced an interesting scenario, he approaches its leaders about collaborating on a case study. With a team of his UI colleagues, he conducts interviews, tours facilities and gathers background information to begin writing a report on the company.

The final product is twofold: First, Lawrence writes a narrative of the case designed to capture students’ attention and imagination.

“You’ve got to tell a story and get them to engage in the story,” he says.

Then, Lawrence puts together an instructor’s manual to guide professors as they introduce critical business concepts and theories through the study. In addition to helping professors guide their students, the manual also can help the company in the case study.

For example, Lawrence conducted a study on Moscow-based Cowgirl Chocolates, examining owner Marilyn Lysohir’s marketing tactics as she launched her growing company out of her garage into the international marketplace.

The study hooks students with an adventuresome ad the company placed in magazines — featuring a cowgirl bathing in a trough of chocolates – then uses the example to help them develop a more systematic marketing plan for the fledgling company.

When Lawrence conducted the study 10 years ago, his analysis paid off for Lysohir.

“The instructor’s manual became a helpful tool to her in terms of thinking about how to do the marketing of Cowgirl Chocolates,” Lawrence says.

And, the study continues being useful to students and the business alike.

“The owner still gets emails from students around the country, around the world,” Lawrence says.

Like the Cowgirl Chocolates study, many of Lawrence’s cases focus on Idaho and Northwest companies and nonprofits – such as Litehouse Foods, Backyard Harvest and Telect, Inc. – giving students insight into small-town business life.

“A lot of students come from smaller towns and envision working in smaller towns,” he says. “It really broadens their view of what their careers could look like.”