Professor Ethan Bernstein

At home with Harvard Business School

Case study learning with top Harvard faculty

Written by Andrea Walters FAIM
3 minute read
Professor Ethan Bernstein

Professor Ethan S Bernstein - Co-facilitator Senior Executive Forum 2024

You go to Harvard. It doesn't come to you. Right? Usually, yes. And it means that for most executives, learning in person with the best minds in strategy and leadership from Harvard Business School is an unattainable aspiration.

We can’t justify the travel, escape our commitments at work and home, or stretch the budget. And with ongoing global uncertainty, it can appear even further out of reach.

All this makes the opportunity of in-person access to Harvard faculty rare indeed.

Unless, that is, you are one of the senior leaders who has attended the exclusive AIM WA Senior Executive Forum, held annually in Perth for over 30 years.  

The Senior Executive Forum

AIM WA is proud of this unique and enduring signature leadership event that takes place each year in beautiful Western Australia.

Nowhere else can you spend three days immersed in complex learning and scintillating dinner conversation with revered, big-picture thinkers from Harvard Business School.

And you share this remarkable experience with other C-suite executives from the region, developing a new network of peers.

What is the Harvard Case Study method? And what does it teach you?

A tried and tested method used for over a century at Harvard, case study teaching explores real-world business scenarios. It exposes students to diverse thinking and leverages the collective knowledge and experience of professors and peers.

In his 2021 article What the Case Study Method Really Teaches former Dean of Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria, describes how cases are carefully crafted. Much like real life, they often omit key details or contain extraneous information. They place students in the position of the protagonist, discerning important details, identifying personal biases and making and advocating decisions.

It makes for challenging and nuanced discussion.

“Cases teach you how to apply theory in practice and how to induce theory from practice,” Nohria's article explains.

Furthermore, case method develops "meta-skills" such as "critical analysis, judgement, decision-making and action." Mr Nohria says educators define these as, “long-lasting abilities that allow someone to learn new things quickly.”

In other words, the skills you develop via case study learning are transformational, with broader relevance and impact beyond the scenarios in focus.

When it comes to strategy, success or failure is determined retrospectively. It’s only with hindsight that we know whether we achieved our aims.

This makes the case study method a very powerful learning tool. It allows us to review scenarios and assess results that have already played out in the real world. We derive critical lessons for the future. All guided by expert Harvard Business School faculty.

Is the Senior Executive Forum for me?

Dr Shaun Ridley spearheaded the Forum for many years. He has seen first-hand the impact it's had on an impressive number of alums during this time.

Dr Ridley describes those who benefit the most from this experience as C-suite executives, or those with the potential to rise to this level.

He explains that the Senior Executive Forum is so different from any other leadership development in the region due to the quality of the people involved; the outstanding faculty and peer-to-peer interaction with other executive participants.

When it comes to impact and return on investment, the Forum helps attendees acquire judgement, unpack and make sense of complexity and apply this higher order thinking to challenges in their own organisations.

“Often people look at the case studies from other industries and question their relevance. It turns out that this is exactly the point. You have to think through issues without the benefit or hinderance of operational understanding of the industry," Dr. Ridley explains.

“I’ve had the privilege of seeing the Harvard faculty in action on many occasions. They never fail to leave me inspired and full of insights I can apply to my everyday work.”

Where to from here?

Join Professor Ethan Bernstein and Professor Tiona Zuzul to challenge and expand your thinking and unpack the complexities of the issues interrogated through Harvard Business School case studies. Book now