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Interview of Anne S. Tsui
Article Type: Research paper From: Journal of Technology Management in China, Volume 9, Issue 3
1. Where did you grow up? Do you think that it has any impact on your life’s work?
I was born in Shanghai, China and spent the first nine years there before I immigrated to Hong Kong with my mother. I spent the next twelve years there. My earliest life was under communist regime. We were extremely poor. Everything – food and household products, including clothes for making clothes – was by ration. We did not have any money and even if we did, we could not buy things because of extreme shortage. My father left home to work overseas when I was one. I was 13 when I first met him in Hong Kong. After a couple months, he left again for another two years. My mother died when I was 18. I went to a teaching college in Hong Kong after high school. I then moved to the USA for higher education and became a USA citizen after I finished my three degrees and became a professor. I am the single child and I learned to be very independent. Because we were poor, I learned to work hard, to excel in everything I do, and to make my mother and my teachers proud of me. Neither of my parents finished high school. I am the only person in my extended family that went to college from my generation and back. Part of this story is in my book “In pursuit of truth and beauty: The research journey of Professor Anne Tsui (求真之道, 求美之路: 徐淑英研究历程)” (Tsui, 2012, in Chinese).
2. Where did you go to school? Why there?
I started first grade in Shanghai and completed my primary school, second school and two years’ of teaching college in Hong Kong. I completed my bachelor, master, and doctorate degrees in the USA. When I was in Hong Kong, many of my friends went to the UK for higher education. I don’t know why I chose the USA. I recall one of my most admired classmates in high school went to Wellesley College. I decided to apply there, along with two other colleges. I did not get into Wellesley and I ended up going to the University of Minnesota, Duluth. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I met a wonderful advisor who was an Egyptian, Mr Kamal Gindy. He treated me like a daughter and I became a good family friend. He helped me gain self-confidence and believed that I was outstanding (believe me, I was not). When he went on a trip, he made me teach his class for him, the class that I was taking from him. I had to learn how to teach computing correlation by hand to my classmates. I don’t recall that I was nervous. From that experience, I learned that I can do anything and nothing was too difficult for me.
3. What did you do after your first degree (– if second degree, where was that done, what did you do after that?) How did you get into your first major area?
I majored in business administration when I first entered UMD. Soon, I switched my major to psychology because I liked that subject more than business, but I kept business as a minor. I applied to ten graduate schools in psychology and upon the advice of a business professor who taught the course Collective Bargaining, I applied to the master’s program in Industrial Relations at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (main campus). I did not get into any of the ten psychology programs but was admitted into the IR program with a research assistantship. I chose the thesis track instead of the course track (which means that I had to write a thesis in lieu of three to four classes). That started my research career in human resource management. I worked in the personnel department of the hospitals of the U of Minnesota as a personnel research analyst, during the second year of my master’s studies. I continued this job after graduation and a couple years later, I went to work for Control Data Corporation, also in the personnel department. I was a very focused and serious worker and my managers really liked me. This further gave me confidence. They put me on challenging projects and line managers (my clients) would ask me difficult questions about job design, team building, leadership development, etc. I realized that I did not have enough knowledge to answer their questions. During the summer of 1977, I was nominated by a professor at the IR center to attend a summer fellows program at the Center for Creative Leadership. I was with 14 doctoral students (I was actually in the doctoral program at the IRC but I was not pursuing it actively because I was already working full time). I found them to be so intelligent. I decided that I should get my doctoral degree so that I could become more useful to my managers in the company. I applied to three management doctoral programs in the country and was admitted into Northwestern and UCLA. I decided to go to UCLA because the doctoral director told me that I could finish my degree in three years if I worked hard. I guess I was either impatient or confident. Whatever the reason, I did graduate in three years and started my academic career at Duke University.
4. Have you had any particularly significant mentor’s in your career?
Yes, I had many significant mentors throughout my career, beginning with primary school all the way through my doctoral program, and beyond. In primary school (in Hong Kong), my English teacher in second grade gave me the name of Anne (I only had my Chinese name at that time). One time, a few classmates were putting thumb tags on classmates’ chairs. I thought that was funny and so I did it too. A student reported this game to the teacher. My teacher asked the students who participated in this game to stand up. When he saw me standing up, he was totally surprised “not you?” I felt embarrassed and felt terrible that I had disappointed him. From then on, I never did anything naughty again. In secondary school, one of my teachers took a strong interest in me. He said that I would go to college and would do great in my school and life. In the teaching college in Hong Kong, the principal also believed that I was a special student. I joined the drama club and co-directed a stage play with a classmate. Our play won the best play award. I never had acted and never directed before. Again, this gave me confidence that I could even direct plays if I work at it. I was the Master of Ceremony for a Christmas party for the college and I was on stage throughout the evening. Many years later, I saw the principal again (he was retired) and he still remembered me from that college.
I have talked about my advisor at UMD, Mr Gindy. I have to tell you this story about how he changed my life. After my graduation (I already was accepted into the IR program at UM), I went to New York City for the summer. I worked at the Metropolitan Guild in Lincoln Center and was living in a YWCA. I was not so eager to return to Minnesota and so I called Mr Gindy. I told him that I was planning on staying in New York City. I planned to apply to a fashion school. He was very upset and told me that I was crazy. Why would I give up a master’s program with a research assistantship and stay in NYC when I had not even applied to the school? He said “come back to Minnesota after the summer.” Again, I felt bad that I had disappointed him. So I listened to him.
Prof George Milkovich taught the compensation class during my Master’s program. At the end of the semester, my father (whom I had not seen for about 10 years) drove from New York City to Minneapolis to see me, unannounced. I had to spend a few days with him. I did not have time to finish the final paper. I turned in the incomplete paper to Prof Milkovich, explaining the circumstance. I said I would finish it after my father left. Prof Milkovich said that I had done well throughout the semester. He was fine with the unfinished paper. My confidence and self-esteem received another big boost. I had several mentors during my PhD days at UCLA, two at UCLA and one at USC. They all helped me tremendously. I was RA for two of them, and they made me work so much and so hard. One would call me at 2 a.m. to run some data for him. I wrote many papers with them, and learned to do and love research. I even had mentors when I was an Assistant Professor. I guess I am a lucky person with so many “special persons” (gui ren 贵人 in Chinese) looking after and out for me in my life.
5. How has your career evolved?
My career started during my Master’s program at UM. I was trained as a HRM professional. As I mentioned above, after realizing that I did not have enough knowledge to provide services to the managers in the company I was working for, I decided to pursue doctoral education. When I started the PhD program, I had the intention of returning to Control Data after I finished my degree. The company retained me as a part time trainer. I taught many leadership courses for the company during the three years of my studies at UCLA. I went back to the company during the summer months. I collected my dissertation data from this company. The company supported me in as many ways as I needed for my education. During the first semester at UCLA, I took an independent study course from Professor Charles O’Reilly who was leaving at the end of that term to go up to Berkeley. He gave me a dataset to “analyze” and see if there is a paper we could write. I found an idea and so we wrote this paper. We sent it to a conference to present, then onto JAP for possible publication. It was rejected because of the “common method variance” problem. Prof O’Reilly said that we had to give up the paper, but he fueled my interest in research. I worked as a RA for a couple other professors at UCLA. I also volunteered to be a RA for a professor at the University of Southern California. I wrote many papers but none of them were published, though most were presented in conferences. During those days, we were expected to learn how to do research, and the papers you wrote were evidence that you were involved in research and learning the skills. However, there was no requirement that you had to have published papers to be considered for a job at a good university. I interviewed at Columbia, Cornell, Oregon, USC, Wharton, Duke, and Illinois. I accepted the offer from Duke. Let me back track a little. I said earlier that I was going to go back to Control Data after I finished my doctoral degree. I fell in love with research and decided that I want to try an academic career. My naive thought was that I could help many companies by being a professor through my teaching and research, more than I would if I worked for a company or two. I told my boss at Control Data about my idea, and asked for his blessing to try the academic career for five years. He was very supportive and said that I could come back to the company any time. That was how I became an academic and I have not regretted this decision.
6. Looking back, what do you feel is your biggest contribution?
This is a difficult question. It depends on how one defines contribution. I have published some papers and authored or edited a few books. How much have these works contributed to knowledge? How much have they contributed to practice? It is very humbling to realize that one has spent over 35 years of one’s lifetime with so little or unknown contribution. Citations do not really measure contribution. It just reflects how many times other scholars thought of your papers when they were writing theirs. Is this contribution? I am not sure. I have taught undergraduates, MBAs, doctoral students, and some managers. Have I made a difference in these students’ lives? I kept in touch with a few students, and I think or hope that most of them are doing something good for society in their chosen careers. I feel very close to my doctoral students. I am still working on research projects with some of them. I feel like their mother, wanting them to succeed, to be happy, and worrying about them sometimes. I guess there is one thing that I hope will be a legacy. That is the International Association for Chinese Management Research (http://www.iacmr.org), which I founded with a group of colleagues. I got most of the credit for founding this association, but as you know, it could not be the work of only one person. I also founded the journal Management and Organization Review. I served as Editor in Chief for 10 years. It is now in the hands of a highly experienced editor, Professor Arie Lewin. MOR is going to reach new heights under his editorship. Through IACMR, we have introduced international research methods to management scholars and students in China. Today, one can find Chinese faculty and students in most business schools in the USA, Europe and Australia. How much of a role has IACMR played in opening the global management research community to China? I don’t know but I hope we have played a small role in building the intellectual bridge from China to the world outside.
7. What do the next 10 years hold for you?
I am asking this question myself also. I certainly do not want it to be more of the same, i.e. fulfilling the typical duties of a professor’s job. What I would love to do is to help young scholars to find a mission and strong passion for their scholarship. This desire is influenced by what I have seen happening in our profession in the past twenty years. More and more scholars, from students to senior professors, are seeing research as the means toward promotion, tenure, and other rewards, rather than as an opportunity to improve management practice and make the world a better place. I see a high level of stress and disillusionment, meaninglessness or even anomie among young scholars. Research has shown that one’s moral sensitivity declines when one is under stress. We see more and more incidences of questionable research practices. I have written several papers about this issue (Tsui, 2007, AMJ, 2009, MOR, 2013a, MOR, 2013b, AMR; Tsui and Jia, 2013). The burning question for me is this: “what can I do to help our young colleagues to truly find meaning and enjoyment in the sacred work of our scholarship?” This would be a very meaningful mission for me in the next 10 years.
8. How has your view of research evolved over the years?
My view of research has not changed and will not change. It is always about solving puzzles that defy common wisdom or existing knowledge. The ultimate goal of research or science is to develop understanding of puzzling phenomena and to create knowledge or technology that will improve the condition of the human and other species. The natural world and the social world are inter-connected. Both natural science and social science are important. Management research is social science largely, but management practices are having profound effects on our natural world (pollution, deforestation, energy reserve depletion, etc.) Therefore, management researchers need to develop knowledge about the very strong connection between the production functions of the firm and the natural settings in which these firms are located. Management scholars need to develop a new model of business that holds firms accountable for not exploiting natural resources and not leaving the world a worse place. The big question we should ask “Is this community or the world at large better off or worse off with the existence of this firm, this industry or this group of enterprises?” Our research must always be aimed at solving management puzzles and improving management practices. It is NOT only the means for promotion and tenure for the researchers. I used the term “socially responsible scholarship” (Tsui, 2013a) to encourage a return to doing research that matters for society and our world (and not just ourselves).
9. What problems or hurdles do you perceive in your area of work? How do you overcome/combat those problems/hurdles?
I have been quite lucky in my career. I have not experienced any major hurdles. There are always challenges in teaching and research. There have been some trying moments. If the work is too easy, one can become proud or complacent. We grow through overcoming difficulties. I usually turn to my senior colleagues for advice. I ask for help from my peers. I am never too proud or too timid to admit failure. One time, I bombed in teaching. I realized that I was over-stretching myself, a bit too confident, and a little out of touch with the type of students I had. I learned to know my limits. Being a little less confident, in other words humility, is a very good thing. I am reading Daodejing (English translation), and learning a lot about living a humble, moderate, detached and judgment-free life. There is so much wisdom in Daodejing. I see a lot of similarity to the teaching of Jesus in Christianity. Problems are opportunities to learn and improve.
10. How has the structure of the profession affected your career?
By structure, I am assuming you mean the hiring and appraisal system. Alternatively, you might mean the tenured track versus the non-tenure teaching only track. Let me make some comments about the former. The structure of the profession has not changed that much over the years, with five to ten year to tenure in most of the USA universities. More and more universities in the rest of the world, including Europe and Asia, are also moving to this tenure system. However, the emphasis on published papers has increased tremendously in recent years, in schools worldwide as I discussed in the 2007 AMJ article (Tsui, 2007). That was not the case when I was an assistant professor about 30 years ago. I was told that I would be judged on what new ideas I have contributed to the field, rather than how many papers in which journals. So my focus was on developing new ideas that address important problems in management. I was not given any quantitative quota, and we all knew that we should aim to publish our work in the best journals. If that did not work, it was expected that we would try to publish it in the next set of good journals. There was not a journal list. We all knew what are the A, B, C journals, roughly speaking. So, the pressure was not on number and outlets, but on ideas. This has changed so much in the past ten or more years. It is not a healthy change in my view, as I alluded to above. If the profession when I started was like it is today, I probably would have gone back to work at Control Data. Remember, the motivation for my decision to try the academic career was the naïve belief that I can help many companies through my research and teaching. Writing papers is a method to share our research results. It is for the dissemination of our “new ideas”, not a token toward tenure. This change is probably the biggest disappointment and concern that I have experienced in the past 10 years.
11. What characteristics do you think are important for a good researcher?
The most important is the desire to make a difference in this world. Most researchers in our field are professors at the universities. Some are in research institutes. The former also teach students, the latter may or may not teach formal courses, but they have apprentices. In both types of jobs, we can’t have researchers whose heart is not for changing the world for the better. I don’t expect every researcher to become an Einstein in terms of contributions, but I would like everyone to have the heart of Einstein in knowing that “Concern for making life better for ordinary humans must be the chief objective of science. Never forget this when you are pondering over your diagrams and equations!” (Isaacson, 2008, p. 374). Once the heart is in the right place, the rest is just techniques and skills, which can be learned easily by any student who is smart enough to be admitted into a doctoral program. This is important not only for research, but also for teaching. Professors’ attitudes and aspirations influence the students. Professors who have a noble mission in life will help their students to develop similarly high aspirations also. Teachers are important role models. Both researchers and teachers can change the world through the knowledge they produce and the students they educate.
12. Is there anything in your career you would have done differently? Any regrets?
Yes, I wish I learned to work smarter so that I could have more time for myself and for my daughter. I worked long hours, consistently for years. My body just could not take it anymore. I was worn out and I was exhausted. I was blessed with the realization that I had to either slow down or die early. So I am trying my best to learn to do less. I wish I had read Daodejing earlier in my life. He said that we could do more by doing less.
13. What advice would you have for today’s newly minted degrees going in to your field?
Think and behave like a scientist and not a researcher. There is a difference. Scientists are thinkers, change agents, and idealists. Researchers are doers, technicians. Most scholars today are following the coattail of great minds by taking their research and adding something to it. This is called the “moderator-mediator research”. Few aim to come up with original ideas. They do not want to take the risk of sending papers that are too original to journals. These are the mindsets of researchers. They are driven by their own interests and not by the interests of the world at large. They will remain apprentices to the literature for their entire career. There is nothing wrong with that, because most intellectual fields have only a few masters. This is the result of natural development. The problem for us is that few have the aspiration or ambition to become the masters in their research domains, even among those who are intellectual geniuses. They are trapped in the “publish or perish” mentality. Without an aspiration, you never will become a master. So I would encourage every young scholar to be ambitious, be willing to take risks, and to tackle difficult puzzles. Most importantly, be idealistic. Historically, the world is changed because of a few people who have a mission and a dream. As university professors and scientists, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to make a difference in our world through our ideals and our mission-driven scholarship.
14. There has been much criticism of business schools in the last few years, where do you think Business Schools should go from here? How should they be changed?
My answers are captured in the book titled “Management Education for the World: A Vision for Business Schools Serving People and Planet” (Muff et al., 2013). Prof Zucheng Zhou of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and I have translated this book into Chinese. It will be published by Peking University Press and available this summer. The Chinese title is “造福世界的管理教育: 商学院变革的愿景”. It describes the necessary changes in teaching and research for business schools to produce responsible leadership to ensure a sustainable world. It requires a paradigm shift about the role of business in society. The old model of business that it is responsible for making as much money as possible and leaving the social actions to individuals is no longer the right one for our world today. This old model condones business practices that deplete our natural resources and produce wastes that are contributing to the ugliness and the early death of this planet. We need a new model of business that holds business accountable to add value to rather than subtract value from society. Every dean, every faculty, every doctoral student, and every manager should read this book. If we continue business as usual, we can see the end of the world in the horizon. If you want to know how businesses are destroying our natural world, I suggest you read the book “Natural Capitalism” (Hawken et al., 1999).
15. If you had not been in your current career field what career might have appealed to you?
Good question. I am not sure but I think I can be happy and successful in most careers. I adapt well and I always am able to see some contribution in any job. I have a housekeeper in Beijing. She keeps my apartment clean when I am gone and also is my cook when I am there. She is adding a lot of value to my life. I do not like grocery shopping. She does that. I am too busy to clean the house; she does that. I don’t like eating out a lot. Her cooking is wonderful. If circumstance calls me to do her job, I can see myself making my employer as happy as she is making me happy. I mentioned earlier that I considered going to fashion school. Is it possible that I could the “Ana Sui” (a fashion brand)? I considered the idea of working for a non-profit or charity. I think I would enjoy working at Catholic Relief Service where my friend Carolyn Woo is a President after serving as Dean for the Mendoza Business School at Notre Dame for many years. As Laozhi said, “cultivate a style of leadership that creates ‘a good store of virtue, then nothing is impossible’, for there are no limits” (Dyer, 2007).
J. Michelle Abuda, Kristi Stiles, Yesenia Lopez and Samantha Tung
Naveen Jindal School of Management, The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, Texas, USA
Dyer, W. (2007), Change your Thoughts, Change your Life: Living the Wisdom of Tao, Hay House.
Hawken, P., Lovins, A. and Lovins, H. (1999), Natural Capitalism, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY.
Isaacson, W. (2008), Einstein: His Life and Universe, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.
Muff, K., Dyllick, T., Drewell, M., North, J., Shrivastava, P. and Haeertle, J. (2013), Management Education for the World: A Vision for Business Schools Serving People and Planet, Edward Elgar Publishing, Northampton, MA.
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Tsui, A.S. (2012), In Pursuit of Truth and Beauty: The Research Journey of Professor Anne Tsui (求真之道, 求美之路: 徐淑英研究历程), Peking University Press (in Chinese), Beijing.
Tsui, A.S. (2013a), “Editorial: the spirit of science and socially responsible scholarship”, Management and Organization Review, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 375-394.
Tsui, A.S. (2013b), “Presidential address – on compassion in scholarship: why should we care?”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 38 No. 1, pp. 167-180.
Tsui, A.S. and Jia, L.D. (2013), “Editorial – calling for humanistic scholarship in China”, Management and Organization Review, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 1-15.
J. Michelle Abuda can be contacted at: mailto:Jacqueline.email@example.com