2 Sep 2015

My academic identity: A self-reflective exercise

I have recently finished the second course of the postgraduate of teaching in higher education. One of the required exercises in this course is to write a short self-reflective essay on academic identity. I have decided to publish a summary of this exercise below.

Academic identity is a complex concept and differs from every individual academic’s experience. The reason for this is that it constantly evolves as a continual reflective journey, as does one’s perception of what an academic life means. As it has been acknowledged, academic identity can be influenced by relations and experiences with peers, students, and family. Thus, the rapid development of the higher education sector has further highlighted the interrelationship between teaching and research and has encouraged further enquiry by universities and its faculty members.

From a personal perspective, I was attracted to academia because of its core values of scholar inquiry, intellectual challenge, and professional autonomy. However, my academic identity has been highly influenced and shaped by the opinions of peers, senior academic faculty advice, including my PhD supervisor, during my early years when I was conducting pre-doctoral research ten years ago. As with most PhD students, I was encouraged to explore current debates within my discipline from a theoretical and empirical viewpoint and based on my research training, I am able to contribute to debates in relation to my own, or other people’s research, and to provide comments on existing knowledge to a future generation of professionals and academics. Moreover, what became apparent during this process, was how the organisational culture in the faculty influenced me, as an emerging academic, to prioritize research activities over teaching commitments. During my doctoral studies I was required to teach thirty hours per term, mostly in the form of small group seminars. During this early period of my academic career, I was very motivated and committed to develop a balanced academic career, both in terms of research and teaching. I was truly committed to further develop, not only my research but also my teaching skills in order to be able to effectively transmit knowledge on to students. However, during the initial stages of my academic career in 2005, my supervisor as well as other senior faculty members strongly advised me to put all my efforts into research activities. They repeatedly said “…to develop a successful and sustainable academic career you need to devote all your efforts into research; teaching is irrelevant”. After the completion of my doctorate studies in November 2008, I did a two year postdoctoral research programme. During this period, and as a result of my focus on research, I increasingly began to disengage with teaching activities, realising over time that reengaging with teaching would not be an easy step. Some scholars have suggested that this as a common occurrence among young academics, especially during their pre (or early post) doctoral years, because their teaching responsibilities do not always match their requirements for a full academic career.

Upon reflection, and ten years after joining academia, I am now beginning to realise that the advice that I received during the early stages of my career had generated a highly biased research orientation in me, and this idea that teaching was a marginal value adding activity to my academic development. In line with the view of several scholars, I can now understand the detrimental effects that such a dichotomic view can have on academics.

Despite such preconceptions and limiting experience, my appreciation for the teaching practice started to change when I was appointed to a relevant teaching position in Spain in February 2011. Without any formal training, I started to teach mid to large student groups and supervise Master’s and PhD dissertations. During that period, I started to construct a broader academic identity by combining teaching with my research. Through this experience, I was able to recognise the benefits of combining my research and teaching activities, and as a result, I was able to integrate some of my research findings into my teaching. This synthesis, in turn, influenced my research approach in the sense that it started to take a more applied research perspective, inclusively working in close collaboration with industry partners. This has been an important pillar for the development of my current academic profile, and this link to industry has influenced my teaching pedagogy, which visibly has a grounded theoretical research-led focus. This has allowed me the opportunity to bring world-renowned research into seminars and lectures and explore such studies in the context of strategic and economic thinking. Moreover, in 2012 I also invited practitioners to run guest lectures and bring to the classroom a ‘real-word’ perspective and entrepreneurial spirit.

Further to this, on many occasions the research presented to students has come directly from my own research findings. On such occasions, I have noted more interest and engagement from the students, perhaps resulting from the fact that such sessions have had a first person narrative. For example, I have been doing research on how Amazon influences the entire publishing industry, and one of my lectures discuss on the economic assumption that companies are profit maximisers. Based on the findings of my research I demonstrate that Amazon maximises revenues instead. In the last twenty years the company hardly has achieved profits, whilst its revenues have increased exponentially. I can perceive and enhanced interest of the students when I explain this example. Interestingly, I have shared such research/teaching resources with other colleagues in the Business School, who have used them in their own classroom activities.

On other occasions, I have also presented related research from other authors, which I usually complement with current affairs in the media or from case studies. Economics has sophisticated processes and methods, and undergraduate students cannot be expected to know (all of) them. This combined with the fact that I also teach large groups makes it more challenging to develop interactive teaching resources based on research-based or research-oriented contexts that cater for individual learning needs.

My research has also benefited from teaching. Through revising the basics of Economic theories, I reinforced the fundamental principles of Economics which strengthens my academic writing. In a recent project, the construction of estimated demand functions was informed and enhanced through the revision of materials that I used when preparing my lectures. One of my senior colleagues who has extensive experience teaching and researching in economics, was impressed by the analysis and said “your analysis is one of the most elegant economic models I have seen in the last decade”. The article that contains this analysis has recently revised and resubmitted to Industrial Marketing Management.

Another important aspect of the teaching activity is the engagement in academic debate with students. My approach follows positivist pedagogy and hence my comfort zone resides in absolution as opposed to grey areas of interpretation. I have noticed that I have a preference for more mathematical discussions as opposed to dialogue on qualitative and theoretical debate. In that respect, coming to teach in a UK HE institution in 2013 signified a paradigm shift in my teaching approach, since the UK system is traditionally more based on the understanding of qualitative concepts, with further reinforcement with diagrams and case studies when necessary. In addition, the learning environment in the UK is different as group sizes are larger in comparison to Spain, with cohorts between 100 and 200 sat in large lecture theatres. For me, it has been difficult to engage students in large groups. One of the reasons may be the fact that students start losing their attention after 20 minutes, unless I can continuously surprise and engage them with the content.

My academic identity is highly influenced by the transition from research to teaching. As a learner in the college I was a pragmatic student, whereas participating in research during the last ten years allowed me to develop a more reflector side and have revelled in the fact that I could diversify as a learner and adapt to different learning contexts. This stance should be helpful in supporting students become adaptive in their own learning journeys, and move from being dependent and less confident learners to become more independent autonomous learners. This process has enriched my pastoral and academic support to students, increasing my respect to individual learners. Whilst it is true that these higher faculty expectations increase my level of stress, it is also a motivation and an opportunity to continuously improve as an academic. Consequently, my academic identity is in constant evolution, and is influenced and nurtured by students, colleagues and other external and internal factors.

8 Apr 2015

Call for papers for IJPE: Special Issue on Service Implementation In Manufacturing Firms, Strategy, Economics And Practic

I am co-guest editor of a Special issue in the International Journal of Production Economics with Prof. Tim Baines (Aston University) and Dr. Oscar Bustinza (University of Granada). This is a peer reviewed academic outlet, well considered in the categories of operations management and economics. 

The call for papers looks at the integration of services into manufacturing settings from different angles. Submissions looking at the implementation paths of servitization inside organisations and the relationship with performance are highly encouraged. Deadline for submissions is 31st October. All the relevant information related to this special issue can be found at the official webpage of the journal: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/international-journal-of-production-economics/call-for-papers/special-issue-on-service-implementation-in-manufacturing/

3 Sep 2014

Growth Vs Profitability: How can different business orientation distort a supply chain?

The construction of total revenues function is relatively easy. Revenues are the multiplication of price and quantity; and total revenues will depend on the consumer’s sensibility or elasticity to changes on price, what is generally described as demand function. Depending on the degree of market power firms ‘make’ or ‘take’ the price, which determines the quantity. Total revenues have an inverse U-shaped, and they are maximized when the demand is unit elastic. The level of complexity increases when we bring the cost function into the analysis; which is the missing ingredient to profit determination. The optimal price that maximizes profits is more challenging to find, but a standard rule says that price that maximizes profits are (significantly) larger than prices that maximize revenues.

Standard economic theory assumes that all firms are profit maximizers. With the exception of governmental and not for profit organizations, this assumption is probably true in the long run. At some point all companies pursue to produce profits, and ultimately remunerate shareholders. But, what happen when firms participating in the same industry have different business orientation? 

This is what is happening currently in the book industry, with the conflict between e-retailer and publishers. Stakeholders and investors in those companies are completely different and hence they pursue different objectives. While publishers are by nature profit-maximizers and need to remunerate authors and investors in the short run; e-retailers are revenue maximizers, and pursue to increase their installed based of customers and to increase their share value. 

Let’s analyze more in depth the e-retailers strategy with the case of Amazon. Data can be obtained from its annual reports and Nasdaq. Figures attached show:
  1. Amazon has had an exponential growth in revenues from 2000. The average annual growth rate in the period 2000-2006 was 23%, which increased to 28% in the subsequent period, 2007-2013.
  2. There is a huge correlation between revenues and share price. After 2000 the correlation between those figures is almost 95%. 
  3. Amazon is a company that hasn’t had significant profitability from their outset in 1997. From 2003 to 2013 its profit margin rate has been close to 0%, just avoiding losses. 
  4. There is not significant correlation between profit margin rate and market share. 
But, what is the impact of e-retailers’ business orientation on revenues growth in the supply chain? As theory predicts revenue maximizers want to set a smaller price than profit maximizers. This goes against to their providers - the publishers - who have preference for profits. This dispute is distorting all the book industry; and we can see the evidence in press. For instance, the ‘famous’ dispute between Hachette and Amazon, who are currently in negotiation of new agreements on how to price Hachette’s books. 

The dynamic nature of the book industry (i.e. introduction of digital formats) make it very difficult to make predictions about how is going to evolve the power and structure in the supply chain. Some constructs like consumer value, operations, costing, or managerial perceptions, are in clear evolution and change. All these topics will be explored in the following years from different angles, and I expect to add relevant insights within the umbrella of QVaDiS research group and our industry partners.

18 May 2014

Implementation of the streaming business model: add-supported or subscription?

In recent informal meetings with IFPI, the music industry federation, I received a hard copy of their last report on the global industry (Link). This contains valuable information for those interested in producing research about creative industries and new digital business models. The aim of this post is not to present a detailed summary of the report. Instead, I only pretend to highlight an interesting finding, which reflects the idiosyncrasies and differences of European consumers.

The music industry needs to explore further the economic exploitation of digital business models (Link and Link). In this regard, the streaming seems one of the main solutions in terms of revenues. The streaming payment model is radically different from download sales in the way it generates revenues. A download is paid just once, regardless of how times it is listened to. With streamed services, a track may be listened to by an individual hundreds of times, each generating a micropayment. Streamed services can be commercialized with add-supported or premium subscriptions – monthly fee. Let’s see how streaming business models have been implemented in Spain and Germany. 

Spain is one of the countries with the highest piracy rates in Europe (in our previous work estimated in 44%) and the industry needed to offer “free” and “legitimate” alternatives to seduce the Spanish consumers to stop downloading files from not-licensed sites. This fact can explain why the add-supported revenues grew from 19% to 39% of total digital sales from 2009 to 2011. During that period subscriptions grew from 13% to 22%. But the main change was produced after 2011 when huge proportion of music consumers engaged with streamed music. The add-supported sales in 2013 decreased to 24%, while subscriptions increased and generated up to 43% of digital sales. 

Germany is quite a different case. It is one of the countries in Europe with the lowest piracy (in our previous work estimated in 14%, three times less than the Spanish one). Consumers has been significantly more engaged with legitimate digital formats, and that is probably the reason why that add-supported business model had a marginal presence in digital sales, and subscriptions have moved from 39% of digital sales in 2009 to 48% in 2013. 

Subscriptions are the main source of digital revenue in the music industry in Spain and Germany (43% vs. 48%) but the cost of the implementation has been significantly different. It is interesting to see how the pattern is quite consistent in those countries with high (Netherlands or Italy) or low (United Kingdom or Switzerland) piracy rates. The fact that in all those European countries subscriptions-pay monthly is the dominant digital format is also relevant, as it gives a clear indication about the transition of the sector towards a service dominant logic. 

Final note for those interested in piracy rates provided above. Details on the methodology and piracy rates for ten different countries were published in Industrial Management and Data Systems and can be downloaded for free at the webpage of the journal (Link). The article has been downloaded 1691 times in 2013 and awarded as the outstanding paper of the journal that year.

11 Apr 2014

Teaching innovation: Offering teaching materials combining theory and practice

Economic and management textbooks are often difficult-to-digest for students. The links between theoretical developments and practical implications are not clear enough. In the other side case studies developed in well-established business schools have not enough theoretical developments and students must refer to textbooks to extract the main messages and implications of those cases. 

In my view teaching materials can be delivered in other forms, combining the practicality of case studies and the robustness of textbooks. During the last couple of years I have been working with my colleague and friend Dr. Esteban Lafuente in giving form to those ideals. 

At the beginning the project consisted on a series of informal seminars. We invited entrepreneurs to the classroom to explain their cases. We observed high students’ engagement and participation. We made reference to the cases in lectures to contextualize theories. After some informal conversations and the involvement of Prof. Vicente Salas we decided to embark on a challenging and ambitious project, writing a book based on the case studies available. This book has been just released (Link). 

The book contains a unified approach, integrating mainstream economic and management literature to the storyline of three entrepreneurial projects in the new digital economy. The analysed cases are real life stories of entrepreneurs whose businesses operate in diverse economic sectors, including erotic photography, cloud computing, and the certification of innovative projects. 

Theories developed in this book focuses on understanding market dynamics and strategic decision-making processes. We take the perspective of Besanko and coauthors and offer a combination of economic and management theories, among them Porter’s market forces, firm profit maximization models, value chains and valuation of companies. 

As usual practice for high-quality teaching materials we offer model solutions to problem sets and discussion questions to those lecturers interested in using the textbook in their courses. We strongly believe that this innovative book is a perfect complement for modules on entrepreneurship, business economics and operations management. We hope you find the book useful and welcome comments and suggestions for future editions.

24 Feb 2014

I feel like a lab rat

I might confess that in the last week I have been involved in a couple of events described in economic theories giving me the impression that I have been observed by a big brother (or senior researcher) doing real life experimentation. Let me introduce the events in detail.
First event: Birmingham with 114 miles of navigable water is said to have more canals than Venice. Fortunately, one of the canals links my flat with the university of Birmingham campus. This canal has a parallel crosswalk and it takes approximately 40 minutes walking. I normally take the train, which is faster, and more comfortable but last Friday I decided to walk over the canal. After a few minutes walk I saw a child of about 5 years in the water, with clear signals of getting drowned. There was no sign of the parents. I collapsed.

Despite the drama of the situation it came to my head the concept of the Hypothetical Bias. It is a concept used to criticize surveys and formally described in academic articles and textbooks as the difference between the predicted and actual behavior of someone facing an extreme situation such as for example having to save a child from cold water. 

I discovered that I am not the kind of person that immediately thrown into the water to save the child. My first reaction was to see if I could catch him from the bank. But he was too far. Just when I was self-convincing to jump into the water a young man arrived and did. Definitely a very brave person. The parents were fifty meters from there playing with their other two daughters and their two dogs. When they realized what happened the child was already safe. 

I do not know what I would have answered in a survey, but quite likely I would have said that I would have thrown to the water immediately. And obviously it would have been a biased response. We also see strong hypothetical bias in elections or buying rare products.

Second event: My father rented a shop in the town center of Barcelona in the early 70s. He has worked there selling newspapers, magazines and books for the last 40 years, and currently at his 62 years of age he only requires 3 years and a half for retiring. A new legislation in Spain directly affects the rental price of his shop. The new act requires "old rents" (before 1986) to pay market prices, which are about six times higher than the current rents. Obviously, he cannot afford market prices, having to quit his economic activity.

But apparently there is still some hope. It seems that there is still a legal possibility of enforcing the actual rent price until the date of his retirement. This opens the possibility of negotiation with the owner of the shop. In this situation we could apply the theorem of Coase, which states that if transaction costs are small enough, bargaining will lead to an efficient outcome regardless of the initial allocation of property. 

To make it simpler let’s imagine that my father pays a rent of 1$ per month and after performing his economic activity has a profit of 4$ per month. According to the owner of the shop the current rental market price of the shop is 6$ per month. Consequently, the total profit with the current situation is 5$ per month, 1$ smaller to the profit generated renting the shop at the market price. In that situation both parties should be better off renting the shop at market price and then negotiate how to share the pie. The Coase theorem predicts they will reach an agreement if the transaction costs (in this case the negotiation costs) are small enough. 

Concluding note: I admit that those events are not as hilarious as I presented at the beginning of the post. Economics as a social science pursues to explain human interactions, and as human being it is totally natural it happens to me. I made it dramatic in order to show that a new way of writing case studies is possible. Most of the current case studies for teaching do not contain theory in them. They limited to provide detailed information of a situation relevant for economics and business. It forces the students to refer to the textbook or teaching notes. This could be simplified integrating the theory into the narrative of the case study, which in turn helps highlighting the relevance and value of having a good understanding of the theory. 

After having said that I would like to make a short survey to colleagues and students. Do you prefer this way of presenting case studies? Do you think they could be a more efficient didactic strategy? Looking forward for your feedback.