A Scientist’s Perspective on Teaching Business Strategy
Every so often I come across a management educator with an intriguing back ground and fascinating take on teaching. My colleague Ann Dulhanty fits this description. She has earned a Ph.D. in medical biophysics, and is founder and CEO of The Spiders Edge. She is a scientist who became a business person through a variety of career experiences, including those in investment banking, business strategy and technology commercialization. She was also a biotechnology analyst at Dundee Securities. Over the past decade, she has focused on advising inventors on all aspects of early stage technology commercialization. She is also an avid blogger.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
My favourite quote is 'I believe in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.' I'm particularly interested in situations where science, business and society collide. Despite the wide variety of professional roles have held, I use my scientific training, constantly verifying, quantifying and analyzing.
Early in my pursuit of scientific truth, a truth of another sort was thrust upon me: realizing the full value of science and technology requires business savvy. Off I went into the business world where I have enjoyed many years in a variety of organizations: investment banks, a health charity, various sole proprietorships, and universities, where I'm either in the business school, or doing university business. The unifying theme is building businesses from emerging technology and the societal consequences of doing so.
How did you come to teach business courses?
Business theory is hopelessly logical, and often based on numerical models, except marketing and organizational behaviour, which are dictated by human behaviour. So, as a scientist from a biological discipline, business was easy to understand, and I took to it 'like a dog to water', as my first boss in the business world said. As an academic discipline, business is no different than any other, relying on observation to generate theory, and rigorous study to prove or disprove it. Unlike other academic pursuits I have encountered, the folks in the business school tend to like to get on with things. I feel at home in a business school, in the perfect balance of intellectualism and evidence-based practicality.
How did end up teaching business strategy and business ethics?
Business management rests heavily on constantly observing the outside world and adapting your corporate strategy. Anticipating change. Seizing opportunities. And reflecting change through to every individual in an organization to effect strategy. That's the fundamental interconnectedness of business strategy. Business ethics adds the impacts to a broader audience of those same decisions. That's the fundamental interconnectedness of modern life. What better topics could I choose to consider the big picture and engage the people (i.e. my students) who will carry the business, technology and society through the next century?
Why do you use business cases in your teaching?
For me, a great class involves plenty of student participation. Over the years, I've adopted and shaped a business case analysis method and with the full class' help, work through a case. This involves getting everyone to read the case and then dissecting it, with a stop along the way to obtain additional relevant information. I collect and organize all the information at the front of the room on blackboard, white board or whatever, and as a group the class works through various potential solutions to the case issue. The process of starting with a lump of information about a business, organizing it so useful connections can be made and resolving the situation is, well, fun. Or the most fun you can have in a business class.
It does feel like a bit of magic when a rational approach emerges from a morass of information.
Cases present a relevant, realistic situation, with all the dead ends and messiness of modern business. The realness engages the students. The process involves them in realistic business decisions and reflects the diligence required to resolve issues. I mentioned fun already, right?
What is your favourite Casenet case?
Henry Demone of High Liner Foods. It is a great ethics case, although it could easily be used for strategic management too. [spoiler alert] It touches on several relevant issues: responsibility of companies for the actions of their suppliers, downstream environmental impacts, and responding to demands of third party, citizen groups. The company is one that most people will be familiar with, as they are Canadian, their product is seafood and available at local grocery stores. And it is a real life story about an issue that garnered serious media attention (Save the Whales!) a number of years ago.
Conor Vibert PhD. is an innovative user and researcher of new educational technologies, a practitioner of flipped classroom teaching methods, a developer of evidence-based instructional techniques, and a creator of streaming video multimedia cases available through Casenet.ca. He trains individuals to use online information sources to understand company behavior and has published a number of books on the topic. Conducting over 600 video interviews with entrepreneurs, managers and executives around the world has invested him with unique knowledge of business behavior.
 the fictional character Dirk Gently, in Douglas Adam's Long Dark Teatime of the Soul