By Thomas Layton, Sara Rosenthal
2016 | Case No. E584 | Length 19 pgs.

The UltraCase case tells the story of a company founded in the 1970s by an avid scuba diver who decided to build a business around products that would maximize his diving experience.  Among his first products included a waterproof flashlight and case, both of which proved to be among the highest performing products of their kind on the market.  Over the next two decades, UltraCase became the market leader in flashlights and cases, growing to over $30 million in revenue by the late 1990s.  In 2004, the founder sold the company to a private equity firm, Bull Capital, which, in 2006, brought in a new CEO.  Dylan Barnes came to UltraCase with several priorities in mind, all of which were designed to allow the company to scale.  However, by 2011 the company faced a crisis—with the removal of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, combined with the impacts of the 2008 recession and sequestration, UltraCase stood to lose up to $100 million of its $300 million in revenue attributed to military spending.  As Barnes faced an uncertain future, he had to decide whether the company should just hunker down and ride out the storm, or whether it could innovate its way out of the crisis and emerge as a stronger company.

Learning Objective

This case presents students with a series of complicated interpersonal issues which they must decide how to confront. Students are asked to put themselves in Ahn and McKinnon’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 Ahn and McKinnon’s success at its helm.

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