By H. Irving Grousbeck, Jim Ellis, Graham Weaver, Sara Rosenthal
2016 | Case No. E618 | Length 9 pgs.

The FreeMobility case describes the fictional story of Sara Chen and Michael Conroy, graduates of Stanford Graduate School of Business (who also happen to be in a romantic relationship).  The two take on the role of co-CEOs of a power wheelchair company after being offered the position by a mentor who is on the company’s board.  FreeMobility is facing stalled growth, and the board hopes to revive the company with new leadership.  Though hesitant at first, the couple decides to take on the challenge and soon face a series of interpersonal issues and conflicts that threaten to overwhelm them.  From their very first meeting with FreeMobility’s top three vice presidents, Chen and Conroy pick up on red flags that indicate the company operated with a “good enough” culture where six-hour workdays, a focus on the tactical rather than the strategic, and reluctance to change are all the norm.  In the second vignette, Conroy must deal with an HR manager reluctant to carry out Conroy’s request to investigate alternative employee benefit programs. 

In another FreeMobility employee dilemma, Donna Weathers believes it’s time to move to a different company.  A key employee who has consistently helped the company innovate and improve its products, Weathers believes several of the company’s executives don’t appreciate her contributions.  Chen and Conroy must determine how to convince Weathers to stay at FreeMobility while effectively integrating her into the executive team.  The co-CEOs are ambushed by an ultimatum from the controller— and forced to decide whether they can manage without her, or whether they must tolerate her sizeable demands until a suitable replacement is found.

Learning Objective

This case presents students with a series of complicated interpersonal and management issues that they must decide how to confront. Students are asked to put themselves in Chen and Conroy’s shoes, and think through the consequences of their decisions in the context of a turnaround situation where they are trying to establish their place in the wake of a beloved CEO’s departure. With both immediate and long-lasting impacts, the decisions and how they are handled will be critical to determining the company’s culture and Chen and Conroy’s success at its helm.

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