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The University of Texas at Dallas Interview with Professor Mike Peng
Article Type: Research paper From: Journal of Technology Management in China, Volume 9, Issue 2
1. Where did you grow up? Do you think that it has any impact on your life’s work?
Shanghai. I left Shanghai in March 1989, nearly a quarter century ago. As the largest city with the highest concentration of economic activities in China, Shanghai was starting to show some economic dynamism during the 1980’s (when I was coming of age). That was the first decade of China’s opening up. Today, of course, Shanghai has become the unrivaled global business center in China. For example, look at all the high rises in Pudong. NONE of them were there when I left.
A lot of my research ideas about the growth of the firm in China came from my observations and (limited) interactions with managers that were employed in Shanghai in the 1980s. My dad was an engineer-turned manager, so he would come back home talking about his work and colleagues. Sometimes I would meet some of them and ask them “silly” questions about their work. These experiences later sparked my interest in the growth of the Chinese firm, which eventually led to the first major paper in the world on the growth of the firm in emerging economies. This paper was published in a premier journal in the field, the Academy of Management Review (Peng and Heath, 1996).
2. Where did you go to school? Why there?
I attended Shanghai International Studies University (1986-1989) and majored in international trade and economics. At the time it was China’s top talent training school for English-speaking professionals. Formerly, it was known as the Shanghai Foreign Language Institute. I wanted to be an international business practitioner at that time.
In 1989-1992, I attended Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota. There I majored in business administration. Based on my exhaustive (pre-Internet era) research while still in China, it was the only school in the USA that offered in-state tuition to international undergraduates. Here at the University of Texas at Dallas and many other schools, we charge sky-high out-of-state tuition and use international students as cash cows. At Winona State when they say “welcome” they really mean it. I recently saw Winona State president here in Dallas and thanked him in person. He said Winona State is still doing that!
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 research area?
You can get that from my CV. I got my BSBA in August 1991 from Winona State, and then immediately entered the PhD program in business administration at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle in September 1991.
My PhD major was business policy and strategy. How did I get there? Really a happy accident! Coming from my international business roots during my Shanghai days, I wanted to major in international business. But the University of Washington discontinued the International Business PhD intake. Its application form actually allowed applicants to name three possible majors. So for the second major I put down organizational behavior and human resources (OBHR), because I took a human resource course at Winona State and had some vague idea of what OBHR was. I put down strategy as my third major, NOT knowing anything about strategy. Their OBHR area admitted enough students, but strategy didn’t admit anyone. So I got in! As they say, the rest is history.
4. Have you had any particularly significant mentor in your career?
At UW, Professor Charles Hill was my PhD advisor. He provided a great deal of inspiration through his own hard-hitting work that was widely published. However, he did not spend a lot of time with me. Professor Anne York, an assistant professor, took me on and spent a great deal of time with me. If Charles and Anne were like “parents” of my doctoral studies, Professor Richard Moxon was likely a friendly “uncle”, by always being encouraging and supportive. I was truly blessed to grow professionally under their care as a PhD student, with training at UW that, I would argue, was second to none.
At Ohio State, Professors Oded Shenkar and Jay Barney were my (informal) mentors by answering my numerous career related questions whenever needed and helping me navigate successfully in academia. Their high standards and compassion have greatly influenced me as an emerging scholar.
5. How has your research evolved?
Please see the details in my paper “From China strategy to global strategy” in the Asia Pacific Journal of Management (Peng, 2005).
As the only student in my department at UW who was from China, I was naturally interested in firm strategy in China. However, the time was the early 1990s and China was not a “hot” country to study as it is now. The “hot” country in my field was Japan at that time. My faculty, although very supportive in general, were not interested in my China research. So I was very lonely and had to persist on my own without faculty hands-on mentoring and co-authorship in this stream of work.
Given that focusing on China – at that time at least – was too “exotic”, I also deliberately made my scholarly interests broader by looking at other areas of the world. At the time of my PhD graduation in 1996, I had done research not only on firm strategy in China, but also in the USA and Central and Eastern Europe. As my interest became more global and my publications were widely read, my publisher, South-Western Cengage Learning, tracked me down and invited me to write a GLOBAL STRATEGY text first, and then a GLOBAL BUSINESS text. So, my preferred nickname is MR. GLOBAL.
How has my research evolved? While I have maintained very strong interest in China (who hasn’t nowadays?), I have also explored firm strategy in the rest of Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and (YES, most recently) Africa. I truly want to live up to my nickname as Mr Global (!).
6. Looking back, what do you feel is your biggest contribution?
My biggest contribution is the institution-based view of strategy, which is positioned as the third leg for what I call a “strategy tripod.” For the tripod, the first two legs are industry-based view and resource-based view.
7. What do the next 10 years hold for you?
I’ll be 56 at the end of the next 10 years. Having published widely and consulted with multinationals, governments, and international organizations, I would like to do more consulting. However, consulting will always be my sideline. Of course, my mainline will be research, teaching, and education.
I have already turned down a few schools that wanted me to be their dean. I really enjoy what I do as a professor, but have a hard time envisioning that I’ll enjoy being in the dean’s suite administering. Don’t get me wrong: I admire my dean a lot. Dean Hasan Pirkul is one of the key reasons in my decision to come to UT Dallas and why I have not left. But as a strategist, I’m not sure I’d enjoy being a dean, doing HR work full-time. Overall, I guess the work I do in the next 10 years will have to pass the fun test.
8. How has your role in teaching evolved over the years?
I now have fewer words on each slide and I don’t teach straight from the book. I have also learned to be more Socratic in having more Q&As.
9. What problems or hurdles do you perceive in your area of study? How do you overcome/combat those problems/hurdles?
The review process has now become a “rejection process.” With over 100 journal articles published, I am the most prolific contributor to the literature in my department. That said, I still receive rejections on a WEEKLY basis – and sometimes DAILY in a very bad week.
How do I overcome these problems of rejections? I don’t cry after getting rejections (or sometimes allow myself to cry for about one second, and then move on).
10. How has the structure of the academic profession affected your career? (Tenure track, etc.)
Being on the tenure-track is beautiful. Being tenured is even more so!
11. How did you use the freedom of tenure, of being a senior professor, if at all?
I use it very carefully and professionally. This freedom comes with a great deal of responsibility.
12. Is there anything in your career you would have done differently? Any regrets?
No. I think God made the best career plans for me, and I’m so blessed to have discovered His plans and have followed through such plans.
13. What advice would you have for today’s newly minted PhD’s?
Work hard, work smart!
14. There has been much criticism of business schools in the last few years, where do you think Business Schools should go from here?
Ignore such ill-informed criticisms, and keep improving what we have always been good at doing: research, teaching, and service. These critics fail to see that although not perfect, business schools have been and currently are some of the best organizational innovations – not only in higher education, but also among all organizations – in the last 50 years of the 20th century.
In search of excellence, business schools (in my view) operate an Olympic Games model. Should we demand all Olympians to be good at practical skills? How practically relevant are the skills to throw a basketball into that hoop or to out-run your competitors in a 100-meter dash? (The only useful scenario I can think of is that you were a criminal being chased by cops, and you were very lucky because cops ran out of bullets!). But then, why is the entire human race captivated by these Olympic sports? My answer: It is the spirit of the search for excellence in one’s chosen sports.
Faculty and students choose to come to business schools, because this is our chosen sport. Uninformed critics can challenge our spirit of scholarship. However, I’m especially unhappy when academics join them. Have you ever seen current or retired Olympians complain about how meaningless their chosen sport is? I have not seen any. I hope some of our academic colleagues who join such critics have better scholarly and professional integrity. We really need to learn from Olympians, not only from their sports endeavors, but also from NOT criticizing their chosen sport (despite the imperfections).
UT Dallas Jindal School of Management is a shining example of a successful business school, with which I’m very proud to be affiliated for the last 9 years. Our rankings keep rising, students keep coming, and good faculty, such as my newest colleague Professor Shawn Carraher, keep joining us. I’m very serious about this next point: critics need to read my 2010 article, “In defense of scholarship,” coauthored with Prof Greg Dess in the Academy of Management Learning and Education (Peng and Dess, 2010).
15. If you had not been a professor what career might have appealed to you?
Being a historian. I had thought about majoring in history when in high school. I am still an armchair history buff.
16. Of what one achievement are you the most proud?
Being the youngest chaired professor at a major American business school. In 2005, I was 37 when I joined UT Dallas as the Provost’s Distinguished Professor, a position that was specifically created to attract me to come. After I joined the faculty, I have become the number one most prolific contributor to the top 45 journals tracked by Financial Times, which has ranked UT Dallas to be a top 20 research school worldwide. I am very proud to contribute to UT Dallas’ rise in rankings, visibility, and prestige.
17. How does one make a difference in this field?
Be disciplined, read beyond your core discipline (in other words, be interdisciplinary), believe in yourself, and take critical feedback constructively.
18. Why are research and publishing important?
Without research and publishing, we should rename our school as “The High School of Texas at Dallas.” Don’t get me wrong. We are all graduates from high schools, and I personally loved some of my high school teachers. They truly made a difference in my love of knowledge and books. But there is a huge difference between a high school (whose mission is teaching only) and a university (whose mission, in addition to teaching, is research and publishing). In noble words, research and publishing are about contributing to human knowledge production. This is a sacred mission for all universities in general, and especially for research-oriented universities like ours.
19. What research do you think should be done in the future that would be related to the Journal of Technology Management in China?
Let me wear my amateur historian hat. This actually is one of the leading questions in modern (post-1500) world history. If some alien were to land on earth in the year 1500 and tried to figure out which country would be the most technologically advanced and innovative in 2000, he or she would have (very rationally) predicted China (the USA, of course, did not exist at that time). The year 1500 was an important turning point in world history. The year 1492 was the year Columbus discovered America. Interestingly enough, his three boats were smaller than the LIFEBOATS of Chinese Admiral Zhen He’s 100-ship fleet, which sailed throughout Southeast Asia and into the Indian Ocean and ultimately reached the east coast of Africa (today’s Kenya and Tanzania).
So what has happened to Chinese technological innovation? What is the future trajectory of Chinese technology, innovation, and management? Why a widely read and deeply interested scholar of Chinese descent like I cannot name a single modern innovation that is of Chinese origin?
Call me a “big picture” guy. I’d like JTMC to help me answer some of these big questions.
20. What else would you like to say to the JTMC readers?
Work hard, work smart!
Peng, M.W. (2005), “From China strategy to global strategy”, Asia Pacific Journal of Management, Vol. 22 No. 2, pp. 123-141.
Peng, M.W. and Dess, G.G. (2010), “In the spirit of scholarship”, Academy of Management Learning and Education, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 282-298.
Peng, M.W. and Heath, P.S. (1996), “The growth of the firm in planned economies in transition: institutions, organizations, and strategic choice”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 492-528.
Alyssa Neeley, University of Texas at Dallas, Frisco, Texas, USA. Alyssa Neeley can be contacted at: mailto:email@example.com