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Max Isaacman discovered the “thrill” of leadership when hit with a crisis.

As CEO of a food company, Isaacman was the face of his organization’s response to a series of customer deaths and hospitalizations thanks to contaminated goods from the company. He and his team of advisors were tasked with navigating the crisis and its impacts externally on customers and internally to the company’s board of directors.

The crisis and company were both fictional, but the pressure was real. It was all part of the Crisis Case exercise, a simulation that drops students into leadership roles amid a rapidly unfolding business and public relations crisis. In addition to CEOs like Isaacman, other roles include chief operating officer, chief financial officer, chief marketing officer, chief human resources officer and general counsel.

Max Isaacman
Max Isaacman

“One of my favorite parts of the case was preparing my opening statement to give to the board and defending the actions that my team and I took throughout the week,” said Isaacman, a finance and economics major. “Being questioned on the actions you take requires a high level of accountability that is tough to find outside of an action-based learning assignment.”

The exercise is a signature part of Ty Shepfer’s Business Environment and Skills course. Originally designed as an Honors Cohort offering, the Crisis Case has been scaled to include all undergraduate students. Approximately 5,000 students have now participated in it.

The program has also been recognized for the unique way it combines business education with hands-on leadership development. It was recently named one of LearnSpace’s top 10 Business Education Innovation Award recipients. The French organization is dedicated to creating and highlighting learning methods and opportunities that are engaging and relevant.

“Fisher College of Business continues to push the boundaries of teaching excellence by exposing our students to action-based learning opportunities,” Shepfer said. “These opportunities equip our students for what lies ahead in their careers.”

He was inspired to create the program while working in New Orleans for an oil company and having to answer difficult questions in his role.

“I realized that I was flying blind in a lot of ways, and I was figuring it out as I went,” he said. “And when I came to Fisher in 2016, I wanted to create an experience where we teach students how to handle a crisis. And so whenever they do face a crisis is in the real world, they will at least have some tools to lean on.”

Andrea Hefferan, a marketing major, participated in the program and valued the accountability that each member of a team had to provide.

Andrea Hefferan
Andrea Hefferan

“Each person had a different position within the company, a position of power, and so at the end of the day, you're in charge of making some sort of decision,” she said. “I learned to acknowledge that other people can be the expert in things. Sometimes I can get caught up and try to do everything myself but, at the end of the day, there’s usually someone on the team with the right knowledge, and it’s important to be able to rely on them.”

Participating in the exercise ultimately helps students learn about leadership and discover more about themselves before entering a full-time job, Isaacman said.

“These lessons will be applicable in any job I hold,” he said. “From learning how to deal with emails that are sent at 2 a.m. to debating with teammates on the best ways to conquer a challenge, the crisis case contained a large volume of applicable lessons.”