Nov. 4, 2003
ISU professors research Clay
HAUTE, Ind. —
Indiana State University School of Business
professors continue to be drawn to a small business in Clay County
for the lessons in entrepreneurship it provides students, faculty
members and the community.
ISU business students have already done a marketing plan for The Swiss Connection, a small dairy farm just north of Clay City, which uses Holistic Resource Management (HRM) to produce healthier dairy products including milk and cheese.
Now professor Max Douglas and assistant professor Aruna Chandra are researching the business for a case study.
"The thrust of this case is that Alan [Yegerlehner, owner of The Swiss Connection,] is attempting to practice a philosophy called holistic resource management in which he wants to balance ecological stewardship and profit," Douglas said. "The HRM philosophy is maintaining a balance between family, the demands of the business and the demands of the environment. This is a nice marriage between the community and higher education because faculty are given the opportunity to conduct case research and students benefit from that knowledge."
The professors’ relationship with The Swiss Connection began when Chandra was teaching Douglas’ entrepreneurship class while he was on sabbatical. Students were charged with choosing a business and helping that business with a marketing plan. One group chose The Swiss Connection, a 250-acre farm that has been in the Yegerlehner family since their ancestors came to Clay County from Switzerland in the 1860s. Today it is owned and operated by Yegerlehner, his wife, Mary, and their daughter, Kate.
The Swiss Connection’s products are unique because the dairy operation is 100 percent pasture-based. Cows are only fed grass and are given "time off" from producing milk. They don’t use hormones, antibiotics, pesticides or artificial fertilizers.
The company was chosen for the case research, Douglas said, because it is facing a critical junction in the maturation of the business. On one hand, the Yegerlehners want to refine their marketing strategies, expand their channels of distribution, increase their line of products and possibly begin producing new products. On the other hand, they are committed to the HRM values that may limit their economic growth — namely, maintaining quality of family life, producing high-quality healthy products and sustaining a balance between profit and ecological stewardship.
"This business is very interesting," Douglas said. "It is going against the grain, trying to carve out a niche for itself in a time when mega farms are dominating the landscape of agriculture. [Yegerlehner’s] philosophy is serving as a foundation for his business and he is making a profit. It addresses the whole area of being responsible for all resources and still have a successful enterprise. It shows the correlation between corporate and social responsibility."
Douglas and Chandra presented the case study at the Society for Case Research Conference at the University of Southern Indiana in July. They continue to revise and refine the study and hope to have it published in journals and textbooks in the next year or two.
One of the exciting things about the research is that it is a living case, Douglas and Chandra said. For example, Alan and Mary Yegerlehner will speak with Douglas’ small business management class in November. In preparation for the Yegerlehner’s visit, students will read the case study and complete their analysis of the challenges facing The Swiss Connection. This "meeting of the minds" provides an opportunity for students to speak to and learn from real entrepreneurs and integrate theory and practice, Douglas said.
Yegerlehner can speak to classes about the challenges and rewards of owning a small business. Students can also visit the business and ask questions and apply theory and practice together.
"This project illustrates one way of bridging the gap with the business community, while enhancing teaching and research at the same time," Chandra said. "A project like this really illustrates the Scholarship of Teaching where you’re doing something in the classroom that spills into research and comes back in your teachings."