Dr. Rajeev Sooreea is an inspiring new professor at the School of Business and Leadership. In this interview, he talks about his impressive academic background, teaching philosophy, love of teaching ("As a business teacher, you not only disseminate knowledge but also help shape the vision and leadership of the future. You are part of the process that shapes the next CEO, the next President, or the next economic crisis!"), and his research interests. Most important, he discusses the value of studying International Business in today's globalized world, and answers questions about the financial crisis in the United States and the Greek debt crisis in Europe.
Q: Rajeev, can you tell us about yourself and describe your academic background?
Before joining Dominican, I worked at Penn State University for seven years. I conducted research and taught courses in International Business including Emerging Markets, Strategy and Policy, and Macroeconomics. I also have an industry experience, working in the areas of Financial Management at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in Michigan.
In terms of academic background, I hold a doctorate in Applied Economics from Western Michigan University. Prior to that, I graduated with a master’s degree from Leeds University Business School from the U.K. and a bachelor’s degree with Honors from Bombay University in India. My training in International Business was from Harvard University where I earned a professional master’s degree in Management.
During my academic life, I have been very fortunate to top in 12 distinct disciplines and receive several awards and honors such as the Dean’s List for Academic Achievement Award at Harvard, the Department for International Development (DFID) Award from Leeds University in the U.K., as well a Teaching Excellence Award from Western Michigan University.
Q: Why did you choose to be a university professor? What do you like most about teaching?
As a business teacher, you not only disseminate knowledge but also help shape the vision and leadership of the future. You are part of the process that shapes the next CEO, the next President, or the next economic crisis!
You have the intellectual freedom to create an environment where students can grow, make mistakes, learn from their mistakes and, above all, discover themselves.
At the end of the day, when you see that “aha” on a student’s face, you know that you have just made a difference in their life. Its manifestation could be right away or it could be years later, but you have got the ball rolling. And that is what keeps teachers alive.
Every time you meet with your students, you are also constantly putting yourself to test because you are always faced with new, previously unheard-of, questions that are likely to challenge your own thought process. This makes you dynamic.
Q: What courses do you teach at Dominican? Can you describe to us your teaching philosophy?
At the undergraduate level, I teach globalization, international business, and microeconomics for managers. At the MBA level, I’m scheduled to teach a course on globalization, its concepts and effects. In the near future, I have plans to teach courses on emerging markets both at the undergraduate and MBA levels.
My teaching philosophy is to impart international business and economics knowledge in an innovative and engaging way and to bring students to the point of independence and critical thinking.
I do this in essentially three ways: Through collaborative learning styles, by transferring theory into reality, and by optimizing the use of technology.
In-class group discussions and exercises are an important component in all of my classes. In upper division classes, I promote significant team research, projects and presentations. I believe that learning is effective when it is engaged learning.
To transfer theory into reality, I make good use of business cases, current events, sensitivity analysis, and situational/conceptual scenarios. In some of my classes, for example, in the International Business course BUS 4064, I use Harvard Business School cases heavily, which may be quite complex at times but challenge the students to evolve into independent learners.
In my Globalization (BUS 3019) course, which is a prerequisite to BUS 4064, I use shorter cases that have practical relevance to get students introduced to the case method.
The overarching pedagogical goal is to enable my students to build a knowledge base and a skill set so that they can firmly stand at par with others in a competitive world, at least on these fronts, once they graduate from my class.
To manage my classes effectively, I make good use of technology primarily through Moodle, our online course management system. Not only does this increase students’ accountability, responsibility and their degree of professionalism expected of business students, but also, it ensures effective communication and monitoring on my part.
Q: You are a professor of International Business. Please describe to us why learning about international business is important for Dominican’s undergraduate and graduate business students.
The world is flattening and becoming multi-polar. We have the rise of several key players such as China, India, and Brazil. And there are several countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa which are surfacing rapidly. All of these countries are redefining the global landscape in profound ways.
For example, we are relocating a lot of our manufacturing plants to China to reap cost efficiencies, but China is seeking strategic assets in Europe and sending labor to work in Sudan.
A financial crisis that started in the United States translated into a global economic crisis, which put several European countries on the verge of bankruptcy. Brazil’s new oil discovery is sending a new message to the oil-exporting Arab world.
Because of increased global integration and interdependence, international business will never be the same. Even if businesses operate locally or domestically, they will be influenced by global factors because of this huge paradigm shift, which is taking place at the very moment. So, it is paramount for the managers and business leaders of tomorrow to have global preparedness.
In concrete terms, this means that our students, both grads and undergrads, need to be educated about global business strategies, various business-government relations, national economic policies, and the environment of international trade, business and finance. They also need to be cross-culturally literate and aware of different ethical standards and value systems so that they can function effectively as global business leaders.
Q: What are some of the most important lessons that you wish your students would take away from your courses (and from a Dominican business degree).
In my international business courses, I hope that
By getting a Dominican business degree, students would earn the best of both worlds: a liberal arts education ingrained in the values of study, reflection, community and service along with cutting-edge business knowledge and leadership.
I would say the Dominican business education is all about “integrative business leadership.”
Q: You have many research interests and have recently been invited to present at an international conference in Vietnam. Can you describe to us your research interests?
Some of the research topics I’m interested in are Entry Strategies in Emerging Markets (especially Foreign Direct Investment); Knowledge Spillovers; Stock Markets, Trade and Macroeconomic Policy; and Global Imbalances as you highlighted. These topics are interesting to me not only because they are contemporary, but also because they deal with time dynamics and have some important policy relevance.
However, another area of research interest for me is the Business of Biotechnology. This is particularly exciting because we are part of the San Francisco biotech cluster and still so little research has been done as far as the business aspect of this industry is concerned.
The good news is that some students and faculty at Dominican are working with me on a biotech business research project which has been accepted for presentation at an international conference in Vietnam in 2012. Moreover, thanks to the Strategic Initiative Fund Grant at Dominican, I will be engaging more faculty and students from various departments and schools to conduct a pilot field research study on the performance of the North Bay biotech firms. These experiential learning activities will aid in furthering the interdisciplinary research culture at Dominican.
Back to my own research, I have interest in the relationship between Foreign Direct Investment, trade and institutional factors. In one of my papers (which was accepted for presentation at the Academy of International Business in Japan this year), I examine whether and how host country size, development level and openness clusters matter in the FDI-export nexus. The research is done using some interesting dynamic panel and cluster analysis to analyze FDI spillovers in Asian, Latin American and African regions. I also try to identify the various motives of FDI in heterogeneous locations.
In the area of international finance, I am investigating the role of financial factors in the current global imbalances. In one of my recently published papers, I examined the financial contagion effects of U.S. and European stock markets crashes as a result of the recent global economic crisis. In another publication, I analyzed whether stock markets which are reflective of consumption and asset prices can be used to explain trade deficits.
Going forward, I would like to leverage my interdisciplinary background in international business, management and economics to conduct research that will find homes in good peer-reviewed journals.
Q: Briefly, what are your thoughts on the current recession in the United States?
There is no confirmed evidence that there is a recession. The last recession started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. The National Bureau of Economic Research defines a recession as a significant decline in economic activity. However, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the broadest measure of economic activity, grew at a rate of 1.3% in the second quarter of 2011 and current GDP estimates for the third quarter are above that.
Corporate profits also suggest that recession is not the baseline case. But the risk of a recession has certainly risen over the past few months because of stress in global financial markets, especially in Europe. We are on an edge right now.
There still is weakness in housing, employment and business confidence. Consumption is low because people are struggling to pay their debts and manufacturers are not producing enough since demand is weak. So, we need growth in these areas otherwise unemployment will stay high.
What we don’t want to see at this point is a cutback in government spending or a sharp rise in taxes. We don’t want to see Europe going into further panic as this could hurt American exports. An area where we need growth is investment in infrastructure, that is, construction. There are no quick fixes, we need to get the fundamentals right: investment is one and the other is education.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Greek debt crisis and the future of the European Union?
The seed for the Greek debt crisis was sown back when Greece (and other EU countries) masked their deficit and debt levels by using complex financial instruments (currency and credit derivatives) to satisfy the Maastricht Criteria to adopt the euro.
Now you add to that Greece’s low growth and FDI levels in the late 2000s (due to an adverse business cycle hitting its shipping and tourism industries), you get low credibility and investor confidence.
The Greek debt crisis is only part of the European sovereign debt crisis. Italy could be the next big casualty and this would set in motion an even bigger problem. Italy has an economy which has not grown in a decade and this will make debt restructuring less effective.
In this crisis, Germany, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been called upon as the main rescuers. Germany with its trade surpluses and export competitiveness has a moral obligation to support countries like Greece and potentially save the euro. However, this creates a moral hazard too as other countries like Portugal, Italy, and Spain follow suit. On the other hand, securing funds from the IMF means accepting tough austerity measures, which may include wage cuts, pension reforms, tax increases, and sell-off of state-owned assets. The need to bolster the EFSF has led the EU to reach out to countries outside the euro zone with surplus cash, such as China.
This whole European sovereign debt crisis raises the question about the future of the EU and the euro. The key point here is not about bringing down the Greek debt level to 120% of GDP by 2020 or bailing out Italy.
It is about the EU not having a single fiscal authority to synchronize fiscal policy. This is partly because the EU was never designed to have one, and partly because each member state has different tax and spending priorities so it is extremely hard, if not impossible, for all of them to align their budget deficit and debt levels. What the EU probably needs is some kind of a European treasury, but its practical implementation might be quite tough given each country’s different economic realities.