The World Wrestling Federation: Vince McMahon vs. Bret ‘the Hitman’ Hart

Professional wrestling has been popular in North American for over a century, though mostly limited to small arenas and controlled by local promoters. It was Vince McMahon, head of an East Coast operation, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), who made the sport a national enthusiasm in the 1980s.

This was all to change in 1988, when Ted Turner and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) arrived on the scene.

Thomas Mannarelli, Professor of Organizational Behavior, and Research Associate Christopher Baty, both of INSEAD, examine the changes in wrestling over the past twenty years, with a view towards understanding the ethical and managerial dilemmas faced by wrestling executives.

This three-part case focuses on the WWF-WCW rivalry and explains why the appearance of the WCW brought McMahon into conflict with his top wrestler, Bret Hart.

Part one traces the history of wrestling in North America, and discusses the phenomenal rise to success of the WWF in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the ever-increasing challenge posed by Ted Turner’s nascent WCW. Part two narrates the longstanding tensions between Hart and McMahon, and discloses the astonishing outcome of the 1997 Montreal match between Hart and Shawn Michaels, and its surprising impact on the WWF as whole. Finally, part three looks at what happened next, examining how McMahon manipulated the aftermath of the Hart-Michaels fight and Hart’s subsequent departure from the WWF to boost ratings. It also explores Hart’s brief career at WCW and the final conclusion of the decade-long WWF and WCW rivalry.

The authors ask you to consider the factors of charismatic and transformational leadership as well as management ethics and integrity. The cases also outline the importance of innovation in entrepreneurship, the role of motivation in privately owned family business, and the debate over whether it is management or talent that drives a company’s success.

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