Researchers from the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) have once again taken top honours in the CEEMAN & Emerald Case Writing Competition for a new teaching case on the challenges of remaining competitive and profitable without compromising on quality in the South African cardiac device industry.

The case study by Stephanie Barden and Professor Geoff Bick beat 62 cases from 15 countries (South Africa, Colombia, Egypt, France, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Ukraine and Uzbekistan).

This is the second year in a row that the UCT GSB has won this competition, which is in its 28th year.

The case, Biotronik: Bypassing the commodity trap of medical devices in South African healthcare, looked at the challenges experienced by Biotronik SA, an importer and distributor of cardiac devices. The challenges looked at included remaining competitive and profitable in the South African healthcare space, while maintaining their brand promise to deliver high quality, profitable and safe solutions with uncompromising service.


Barden, an MBA student at the time of working on the teaching case, said that she was honoured to win the award. “The prize was a ‘cherry on top’ of a fantastic experience writing this case on an industry that I am passionate about, with a supervisor that was as dedicated to the process as I was,” she said.

Her supervisor and co-author, Professor Bick, agreed: “It is a great honour to receive this award, particularly as the competition is becoming more intense. Despite the pandemic, teaching cases continue to play an important role in the business school learning experience – even in virtual classrooms.”


“It is part of our mission to drive African scholarship that helps African firms, managers and entrepreneurs understand what they are doing well – and how they can do it better.”


The UCT GSB’s new director, Dr Catherine Duggan, said that it was significant that the UCT GSB is developing world-class teaching cases about the African context of doing business.

“The UCT GSB is strongly positioned and well equipped to write cutting-edge cases about the innovations, challenges and choices that businesses make and face on the continent. It is part of our mission to drive African scholarship that helps African firms, managers and entrepreneurs understand what they are doing well – and how they can do it better – as well as to share that knowledge more widely.”

Biotronik SA

Behind this latest award-winning teaching case is the story of Biotronik SA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of a family-owned cardiac and endovascular medical device company. Biotronik, which was founded in Germany in 1963 and headquartered in Berlin, has a presence in more than 100 countries globally. Biotronik SA began operations in 2010 with 13 employees and now employs 42 people.

As a privately owned organisation with manufacturing sites in Germany and Switzerland, Biotronik SA could not create a sustainable advantage by competing on price alone. Rather, by taking a position of customer-centricity – the company’s purpose is to “perfectly match technology with the human body to save lives and enhance well-being” – Biotronik SA has been able to build strong relationships with South African specialist physicians, thereby building a valuable competitive advantage.

Unique South African context

Barden noted the unique South African context in which the cardiac device market operates as key to the challenges that surfaced in the case study: “In 2018 the market value of the cardiac device industry was estimated at R430 million. But the projected growth in South Africa was almost zero because only 16% of the South African population subscribed to private healthcare, which supported the majority of the cardiac device market’s sales. Challenges of under-resourced public healthcare, high unemployment rates, sluggish economic growth, and currency fluctuations contributed to this dismal outlook.”

The president of CEEMAN, Professor Danica Purg, said that the organisation was delighted to see strong cases coming from South Africa, strengthening case writing capabilities in the region and bringing local relevance to the classroom.

“Biotronik is truly a great case, with a strong teaching note and potential application beyond healthcare and beyond borders.”