McDonough School of Business
News Story

Research Evolved

At age 60, Georgetown McDonough has a thriving business research enterprise. Faculty who helped shape that culture recall what it took to get here.
By Melanie D.G. Kaplan
Illustration by Dung Hoang

When Othmar Winkler received an offer from Georgetown School of Business Administration to teach statistics as an assistant professor in 1961, he learned all the particulars of joining the four-year-old school’s faculty. One thing never came up in that conversation: research.

“Can you start on Monday?” Winkler­ remembers being asked. At the time, the school was led by Director Raymond Pelissier and was located in the old university hospital, which had been converted to the Nevils building. According to ­Winkler, today an emeritus professor, the Jesuit community at the time questioned a school focused on the idea of making money.

To some faculty, simply teaching business courses felt revolutionary.

“In the early years, this school was seen as an experiment,” says ­Winkler. “It was a question of survival. Research was not on the table.” The message handed down to Winkler and his colleagues from leadership: First-rate teaching is all that counts. The students are intelligent, so don’t disappoint them.

Six decades later, the word “experiment” takes on a different meaning at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. The school still focuses on top-notch education, but today, it also is recognized as a knowledge-creator. Business leaders, practitioners, and policymakers come to Georgetown for the latest research and analysis, and the research thus impacts both practice and policy. Faculty authors disseminate information in a number of ways, such as publishing in top-tier journals, presenting at academic conferences, and writing textbooks, mainstream titles, and op-eds.

However, the transformation from an institution at which research was an afterthought to one at which it serves as a driving force came slowly. Interim Dean Rohan Williamson, who joined the faculty 20 years ago, says such a switch is often hard for schools to make.

Williamson says one key to making the change was being able to compete for and hire top-quality senior researchers, who then help attract and mentor freshly minted Ph.D. recipients. It was further critical for both faculty and administrators to understand the research process and create blocks of time — separate from classroom time — for faculty to do that work.

Efforts to concentrate on research yielded a changed school. “The quality and volume of research today is probably five to six times higher than when I got here in 1997,” he says.

Building a Research Culture

Having taught for 20 years before arriving at Georgetown, with published work dating back to 1948, Winkler was full of ideas — from the building blocks of statistics to measuring price levels. After teaching during the day, he would go home to a house full of seven children and work on his ideas at night. He presented papers at meetings of the American Statistical Association and the International Statistical Institute. Yet Georgetown, he says, was not yet an environment for sharing ideas and research.

The entire academic discipline has been transformed. Academics are more dedicated to come up with a body of work.”
—Michael Czinkota, Associate Professor of Marketing and International Business

Winkler saw a shift take place in 1984, when he became a full professor and was asked to join the Committee on Rank and Tenure. He had seen the critical role research played in other university departments. The idea that faculty hiring and promotion was directly linked to publication was novel to Winkler, and to the school.

“I brought the spirit to the business school that if you want to make tenure, you need research,” Winkler says.

In time, school leadership started encouraging faculty to conduct research. More important, the same leaders scheduled time for faculty to do so. Winkler was among the first faculty to take a sabbatical. He wrote a book on why statistical analysis in the social sciences is essentially different from that in the physical sciences.

Other faculty came to Georgetown largely as part of a push to increase the school’s research prestige. Michael Czinkota, associate professor of marketing and international business, and Ilkka Ronkainen, emeritus professor of marketing and international business, began teaching at Georgetown’s business school in 1979 and ’81. Originally from Germany and Finland, respectively, they were hired largely because of their strengths in international business and research.

“When we came on board, there was very little research culture and no international [business focus],” Czinkota says. At the time, leadership had begun rewarding research with salary increases — a welcome change for Czinkota, who jokingly remembers wondering whether he would have to pump gas in the summer to make money. When Czinkota secured his first grant in 1980, from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dean Ronald Smith raised his annual salary from $15,000 to $19,000.

Czinkota and Ronkainen taught some of the school’s first courses in international business, as well as government and business. They continued raising funds from NSF to investigate areas such as U.S. trade policy and the import proportion of U.S. corporate exports. For example, they explored how many parts of a U.S.-built Boeing plane were produced by foreign firms.

Through their teaching, Czinkota and Ronkainen found a lack of international business textbooks. Their research helped fill that void, most notably through their 700-page book, International Business and Marketing, first published in 1988 and now in its 10th edition.

By the late 1980s, Ronkainen says, research had become an integral part of the school’s culture. Faculty members were encouraged to submit papers, attend conferences, and sit on journal review panels.

Today the bar for research is high, Czinkota notes: “The entire academic discipline has been transformed. Academics are more dedicated to coming up with a body of work.”

Research Bolsters the Student Experience

Alan Andreasen, emeritus professor of marketing, has earned a reputation as one of the founding fathers of the field of social marketing, along with current Distinguished Professor of the Practice Bill Novelli. Andreasen was hired in 1993 to advance that field within the school. In the 22 years he taught at Georgetown, he says, the faculty conversations about research increased significantly. Colleagues held tactical discussions, including particulars such as what to do if a journal turns down a paper and which outlet to approach next.

There’s nothing like having to explain your own thinking to students to clarify some not very well-thought-out ideas.”
—Alan Andreasen, Emeritus Professor of Marketing

During that time, Andreasen was less focused on the traditional research of his colleagues — such as the psychology of consumer decision-making — and more on how one uses marketing technologies to advance personal welfare and social issues. He authored numerous books and published more than 120 articles and conference papers, many of which transformed business practice. For example, his 1991 book Cheap But Good Marketing Research encouraged nonprofit organizations to conduct research on customer behavior, and 1995’s Marketing Social Change first introduced many practitioners to the field of social marketing.

In 2007, Andreasen won the prestigious Richard W. Pollay Prize for Intellectual Excellence in Research on Marketing in the Public Interest and in 2015 won the American Marketing Association Foundation’s William L. Wilkie “Marketing for a Better World” Award, which honors marketing’s potential to improve people’s lives.

Increasingly, faculty members at Georgetown McDonough have come to understand the synergy between classroom instruction and research. Professors recognize that creating and teaching new, unique knowledge, rather than teaching what was created elsewhere, delivers a better product in the classroom. “That’s a value we can provide our students,” Williamson says. “This is what makes us a premier business school.”

Furthermore, students often help professors understand their own work. “There’s nothing like having to explain your own thinking to students to clarify some not very well-thought-out ideas,” Andreasen says.

Finance professor Pietra Rivoli, who joined the faculty in 1984, recalls gaining insight from one of her students who worked for a nongovernmental organization and advocated for environmental policies in government trade negotiations. Rivoli says these types of conversations stick with her today as she writes about trade agreements, offering a nuance that she may not have had otherwise.

“The best teaching is informed by research, and the best research is informed by teaching,” she says. “Ideally, we have a symbiotic relationship between them, especially as we teach a more diverse population of executives from around the world.”

Diverse outlets matter, too. Rivoli is widely recognized for her 2005 book, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, which traces the making of a T-shirt through the global supply chain.

The book was popular with both academics and mainstream readers. Today, it has become a go-to study on globalization. Rivoli spent years writing her book, but she has spent even more cumulative time speaking about it. Twelve years after publication, she is still responding to media queries and doing interviews.

The best teaching is informed by research, and the best research is informed by teaching.”
—Pietra Rivoli, Professor of Finance and International Business

For his part, Williamson, the Bolton Sullivan and Thomas A. Dean Chair of International Business, has been cited more times in scholarly papers than any other Georgetown McDonough professor, ranking No. 78 on Social Science Research Network’s list of “Top 12,000 Business Authors.” He agrees that the research mindset today is radically different from Winkler’s era, and even from when he joined the faculty.

“Today, teaching is sort of the cost of entry,” he explains. “Faculty realize you have to teach well, but part of the responsibility of an academic is to impact knowledge.”

With increased computing power and a mind-boggling amount of data, academic research will continue to become more complex, and the cycle of generating research will continue to shorten.

Williamson, whose most-cited research relates to firms’ cash holdings, says finance led the way in McDonough becoming a stronger research institution, largely because the school began making a significant investment in data. To conduct financial research, a university needs information, and some data sets can cost upward of $25,000 a year. A couple of decades ago the school had just a couple of corporate data sets; today, it has nearly 20.

The Vibrancy of Youth

Former Dean David A. Thomas described a faculty research trajectory shaped like a “T,” starting out specialized as a young Ph.D. and broadening scope in both research and other activities as a mature scholar, Rivoli says. She sees that attribute in young faculty doing today’s cutting-edge work and further evolving a vibrant culture of research at the school.

“If you’re just out of a Ph.D. program, you are generally working with some of the best people in the field,” she says. “You graduate with your Ph.D. having learned the latest in terms of theory and methods, and you are more immersed in research than you ever will have a chance to be again.”

Sixty years after its founding, Georgetown McDonough is among the country’s top business schools for research. Research is embedded in the school’s culture and fabric. It manifests itself at decision points about hiring, promotion, and tenure; factors significantly in business school rankings; and contributes heavily to Georgetown’s reputation in the United States and globally.

Looking back at a less complex world, Rivoli says, faculty research published in the 1980s looks simplistic. “This business of research gets harder and harder,” she said. “It’s a competitive world, and the standards for research are going up all the time.”

Published in Georgetown Business magazine, Spring 2017

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