The case method in Mexico

There is widespread agreement that the teaching case method is as ever the centre of teaching and learning in an mba.84 Its attractiveness has been that of introducing "real life" situations into the classroom. This method became synonymous with the MBA after it was honed at Harvard University (imported from the Law School into the Business School) in the 1920s, from where it spread widely, reaching Europe during the 1950s. The case method is one of the pedagogical tools or indeed institutions by which US-style management education is delivered. Hence, its use in Mexico or around Mexican companies is revealing.

According to Rossell, in Mexico in the early 1960s the case method was "unknown".85 The same source claims that at the time only two outlets offered regular training programmes for top executives in Mexico City: the independent American Management Association and the Institute of Scientific Business Administration (Instituto de Administración Cientifica de las Empresas) which had the support of the leading trade associations for business (Confederación Patronal de la República Mexicana, Copar-MEx). Neither of these, says Rossell, used teaching case studies.

The apparent dearth of indigenous expertise led to the myth that IPADE had introducing the case method as an innovation in Mexico and even Latin America. But there is substantial historical evidence to contest Ros-sell's claims.86 There were other groups working in relative isolation and looking to introduce US-style management education, who were either aware of or actually using teaching case studies. For instance, there is evidence of professors from US business schools (e. g. Russell L. Ackoff from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania) visiting Mexico as early as August 1964 to teach top Mexican executives (e. g. Bernardo Quintana Arrioja and his group at Asociación de Ingenieros Civiles, iça).87 Ackoff did not use the case method but "fables" in their training, suggesting that although the idea of introducing "real life" was known in the USA and Europe it was not necessarily embodied by the Harvard-style case study (that is, the reading of an already prepared draft followed by some form of debate). The case method approach was in the process of diffusing itself. At ITESM in Monterrey it was incorporated in undergraduate programmes during the 1950s and first used in postgraduate courses in 1964.88 Therefore, given the relative isolation and the scattered nature of alternative efforts to introduce US-style education to Mexican graduate studies in business and management, while it is not altogether clear who was the first Mexican or training programme in Mexico to use the teaching case study, it was certainly well before 1967 (e. g. the date that IPADE was established).

Other signs of awareness of US-style education in Mexican graduate courses can be found at the Universidad Iberoamericana (run by Jesuits), where Isaac Guzmán Valdivia was actively writing on business and man-agement.89 Moreover, some of the staff had even achieved higher degrees in the area by research, for instance, José Antonio Fernández Arenas. He was a graduate of the dual accounting and management programme from unam in 1964, received a doctorate in management from Northwestern University, taught at Kansas and Stanford in the USA and became external advisor to the School of Management and Industrial Relations (Escuela de Administración y Relaciones Industriales) at uia, as well as the head of the enca at unam.90

But people with the background of Fernández Arenas were extremely scarce. Instead, local expertise largely developed through teacher training courses. These aimed to help academic staff familiarise themselves with some of the content of US-style management education. This was key for courses in "planning" and "organization", for which there was no firmly established theoretical framework and this was where the use of teaching case studies sought to develop students' analytical skills.91 Starting in 1956, the Mexican Institute of Business Management (Instituto Mexicano de Administración de Negocios, here forth iman) offered executive training courses using US-style teaching case studies.92 In 1959, Donald B. Campbell, director of iman, teamed up with the enca to offer a 20 week (two hours per week) teacher training course, to 20 participants, who would also develop teaching cases based on Mexican enterprises.93

Contextualising US management programmes and content was a common aspiration of the Mexicans involved in management education. Moreover, it was often cited as part of the school's and teachers' duties and responsibilities.94 This is understandable from the need to adapt students to their labour market, when most international exchanges took place through arms-length trading, the nationalist sentiment that characterised Mexico in the aftermath of the Revolution and frequent calls for Latin American integration.95

No record has been found regarding iman after 1960, while none of the interviewees had any recollection of IMAN nor of any indigenous case clearing house. However, IMAN was listed as one of the contributors to the bibliography of teaching material in business and management in Latin America compiled by Towl and Hetherson.96 The appeal for cases to list asked for both cases originating in one country and the teaching material used there and although the material was not translated, it was requested that information about the case should be given only in English.97 As a result, in 1966, an initial contribution of teaching material was deposited at what was then called the Intercollegiate Case Clearing House (icch), comprising 603 cases specified for Latin America, of which 76 had a setting in Mexico or dealt with Mexican companies. Of these, 60 entries had been contributed by IMAN (eight in English and 52 in Spanish).

The aim in setting up an international collection at the icch was to have for original listings of cases augmented by subsequent indigenous production, as well as the productions of international scholars. Table 1 summarises an examination of the archival records comprising teaching case studies with a setting in Mexico or focusing on Mexican companies. This has been available since 1966 through the Intercollegiate Case Clearing House (in 1981 renamed the Harvard Business School Case Services) and since 1973 through the Case Clearing House of Britain and Ireland (which amalgamated other European collections and in 1991 was renamed the European Case Clearing House, ECCh).

Table 1 shows that archival research identified 254 teaching cases with a setting in Mexico or focusing on a Mexican company. These teaching cases were first printed between 1947 and 2005. Two titles had an historical setting and were excluded from further analysis.98 Most entries were printed within two years of their setting (229 entries, 91%), while all but one of the revisions took place were made to teaching cases first printed before 1992. Of the 252 entries, 103, 41%, were set before 196, 32 teaching cases, 13%, between 1968 and 1991, and 117 cases, 46%, between 1992 and 2005.

The distribution of teaching cases shows the very important contribution of indigenous authors (chiefly from iman) in the early years and the pre-eminence of Harvard-based authors in recent years. Indeed, there were 53 teaching cases in Spanish (51 from iman and one from Stanford) and thus, 200 entries, 79%, in English. Over half of these English-only teaching cases (102 entries) were first printed between 1995 and 2005. The main source of material was field studies (136 entries, 41%) while 44 cases, 17%, used published sources and 69 entries failed to specify, 27 per cent.

Yet IMAn's 60 entries, 24%, and ITESM two entries, 1%, were the only two sources of contributions by indigenous authors to the clearing-house database. There is a dearth of contributions by other leading graduate outlets, such as IPADE and ITAM. Still, authors from 32 universities have written case studies with a setting in Mexico or looking at Mexican companies. The main contributing institution was Harvard University, with 93 entries, 37%; followed by the Richard Ivey School of Business, Western Ontario, with 26 entries, 10%; Stanford University and the ICfAI Business School, each contributed eleven teaching cases, 4% each. Authors based in 29 other European and US universities contributed 49 teaching cases altogether, 19 per cent.

If the teaching case study is germane to the modern conception of the MBA, contributions from European and Asian (e. g. ICFAI) authors are particularly important. They suggest there are interesting developments in Mexico and the Mexican enterprise which illustrate developments in global business. Yet the scarcity of indigenous contributions compared with the overwhelming US production would suggest that Mexican teachers and administrators of local mba programmes are happy to accept a US-based view of the business world.

Further examination of the database suggests that the large and diverse distribution of authors had produced teaching case studies which primarily dealt with multinational companies in Mexico rather than focusing on Mexican companies (see table 2).99 103 entries, 41%, dealt with a multinational company in Mexico, 89 entries, 35%, with Mexican companies and ten entries, 4%, with joint ventures. Teaching cases dealing with Mexican companies were contributed mainly in the opening years by authors based at iman; there were 62 entries between 1947 and 1966, but only six entries between 1968 and 1991, and 21 entries between 1992 and 2005.


50 entries, 20%, dealt with the macro environment, which reflected the preoccupation of international authors to understand the policies of the Mexican government. Table 2 also shows that 71 entries dealt with market growth, 28%. This made it the most popular theme within the teaching case studies. There was no other main dominant theme although most could be categorised as part of an "international business" course syllabus.



84 Ellet, Case, 2007; Llano, Enseñanza, 1996; Mintzberg, Managers, 2004, and Starkey and Tiratsoo, Business, 2007.

85 Unless otherwise stated, this paragraph borrows freely from Rossell, Vivencias, 2007.

86 A similar claim to that in Rossell Alvares' Vivencias is found in Llano, Enseñanza, 1996.

87 Personal correspondence with Bernardo Bátiz Echavarria, "Ackoff en México", December 9, 2008.

88 Personal correspondence with Germán Otalora Bay, "El método de caso en el ITESM", November 11, 2008.

89 These included Guzmán, Reflexiones, 1961, and Sociología, 1963.

90 Wadia and Fernández, "Administración", 1964.

91 Mancera, "Seminario", 1959, and Marchini, "Primera", 1958.

92 Arreola, "Método", 1959.

93 Mancera, "Seminario", 1959.

94 Anonymous, "Encuesta", 1959, p. 58, "Escuela", 1965, p. 61, "Estudios", 1965, p. 37, and "Facultad", 1979, p. 67; Fernández, "Historia", 1964, p. 64; Mancera, "Seminario", 1959, p. 35; Pallares, "Cómo", 1956, p. 7, and "Nuevo", 1957, p. 93, and Sisto, "Administración", 1960, p. 11.

95 The chief aim was to transform and accelerate the development of Latin American countries through gradual and pacific reform. However, the lack of interest among entrepreneurial elites resulted in the failure of such initiatives (including those dealing with technology transfer). See Flores, Dentro, 1973, p. 221.

96 Towl and Hetherson, Case, 1966, p. 276.

97 Linfords, Gebhard and Towl, Case, 1969, p. XIII.

98 These were "The Case of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753-1811) and ofJosé Maria Morelos y Pavón [sic] (1765-1815)" by S. M. Garrett, ref. 9 475 655, and "Weetman Pearson and the Mexican Oil Industry" by G. Jones and L. Bud-Freirman, L, ref. 9 804 085.

99 Although the teaching case method is primarily a pedagogical tool, others have used it to explore corporate strategy. For instance Whittington, Mayer and Curto, "Chandlerism", 1999, p. 531.