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Mitsui and CIB Fellows

One Project=Campuswide Learning

November 2011



What does it take for a 135-year-old company, steeped in both cultural and corporate traditions, to adjust, or even outright change, its principles and values? This question was explored, researched, picked apart, and extensively discussed by a small group of MBA Fellows with the Center for International Business at Tuck during the 2010-2011 academic year. This case writing project, spearheaded by Tuck’s CIB, had campuswide returns: it provided a platform for in-depth student research and learning; it contributed to the CIB’s knowledge of doing business in Japan; and it enriched the Tuck’s core curriculum with examples of international business practices.


Four T’11 students, Anne Carrihill, Sewon Cho, Jeremy Grossas, and Sarah Austrin-Willis, worked with Professor Paul Argenti and CIB Executive Director Lisa Miller on the case with executives from Mitsui & Company, an enormous, multinational, vastly diversified Japanese corporation (one of only a few Japanese trading companies, called sogo shosha), with numerous global subsidiaries and products. The case centers on a corporate scandal at Mitsui discovered in 2004. Part A of the case describes the corporate history and current environment when news of the scandal broke, and includes a cliff hanger,calling for studentsto consider the appropriatesubsequent actions. Part B follows the story through theresponse of Shoei Utsuda, the president and CEO of Mitsui from 2002-2009.


Both parts A and B were used during fall term 2011. Professor Argenti, who specializes in corporate communications, used part A in the required course for first-year students called “Analysis for General Managers” or AGM. Part B was used by Professor of Strategy and Organizational Theory William Joyce in the required first-year course that follows AGM called “Leading Organizations.”


The case was used as the exam in AGM since it required students to utilize many different concepts from the course. “The 2004 incident had company-wide implications, which was key,” said Professor Argenti. “The response from Mr. Utsuda could either restore Mitsui’s reputation, or it could sink the corporation. Plus, it exposed students to a different corporate culture. It was the perfect case to test the students in AGM.”


“The case had to expose students both to universal general management approaches and to the idea that in certain cultural contexts, management techniques are different and need to be adapted,” said Jeremy Grossas T’11. “I think this is especially important when virtually all Tuck graduates will be exposed to international business through business trips, overseas assignments, or jobs at subsidiaries of foreign companies.”


The A case, featuring a corporate scandal in 2004, explored both the history of the corporation and the evolution of Japanese corporate communications in a modern era of whistle blowers and transparency. The scandal involved employees at a Mitsui subsidiary called PUREarth that manufactured filters for diesel engines who were falsifying test results on the filters, asserting their superior quality, when in fact the filters did not meet government regulations. The case asks students to consider the response of Mitsui’s president and CEO at the time, Shoei Utsuda, who had assumed that role in the wake of previous scandal, a bid-rigging incident in 2002. Utsuda was in the midst of a corporation-wide effort to restore pride and respect among the employees and public trust when he learned of the PUREarth incident. The B case followed Mr. Utsuda’s response over the next several months.


“The case showed how many aspects of cultural change are universal, and transcend the specific culture at Mitsui and in Japan at the time,” said Anne Carrihill T’11. It is also internationally based, providing different aspects to learn about and consider in discussion.”


Contributing international content to the curriculum was one of the CIB’s goals in helping create this case. The process of researching and writing the case, in and of itself, was also instructive. “Of course we learned a great deal about Mitsui, sogo-shosha (trading companies), and Japan’s economy,” said the CIB’s Executive Director Lisa Miller. “We also learned each time we interacted with our counterparts at Mitsui, as the methods of communication and decision-making in Japanese and American organizations can be quite different. We discovered that we both had pre-conceived notions about business culture in each other’s countries – not inaccurate notions, per se, but notions that were perhaps a bit less nuanced than they could have been.” The CIB is working with Fellows and faculty members on three more case writing projects with international themes during the 2011-2012 academic year.


The Mitsui project also turned out to have immediate real-life applications for one of the CIB Fellows, Sewon “Angie” Cho T’11. She said, “In my current job, I am working on a project to establish new, long-term vision and renovate corporate culture. The lessons from working on the Mitsui case are helping me a lot! I guess it's the most valuable and readily applicable knowledge I gained from Tuck, by far.”


Read the cases here. Read more about Mitsui and Tuck here.


(Pictured above: Professor Argenti (left) and Mr. Utsuda just prior to the discussion with the T'13s about the case (credit: Mark Washburn); CIB MBA Fellow Jeremy Grossas with Mr. Utsuda in the fall 2010 (credit: Joseph Mehling D'69).

-written by Susan Knapp