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Darla Moore School of Business

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New international business chair ruminates on the IB's department strengths

Marc van Essen, the new Sonoco International Business Department chair at the Moore School, talked with Folks Center executive director Karen Brosius about his passion for teaching and building on the program’s dynamic strengths.

What drew you to join the International Business faculty at the Moore School in 2012? What inspired you to come teach here? Share with us what you saw that was unique or impressive that didn’t exist in other universities where you had worked or visited.
I was drawn to the Sonoco IB department at the Moore School based on its reputation and expertise in IB research. Before even visiting the department, I was aware of the really unique group of world-renowned scholars such as professors Tatiana Kostova, Chuck Kwok and Kendall Roth. The IB department has been consistently ranked no. 1 for international business research productivity in the world since 1990 (“The UTD Top 100 Business School Research Rankings”).

Our scholars conduct cutting-edge research in international business and are passionate about it — it is in our DNA. When I visited the IB department for the first time in 2011, I was particularly impressed with its intellectual diversity. As part of my paper presentation, “The Effects of Labor Institutions on Blockholder Effectiveness in 23 European Countries,” we discussed comparative corporate governance from a legal, financial, political and management perspective. This is only possible at the University of South Carolina, because there is no other department with the breadth and depth in international business that we have.

Second, due to our top-ranked IB undergraduate program, the excellence of students is another factor that attracted me to join this department. We attract very smart and open-minded students from all over the world, and I’m impressed by their intellectual ability and curiosity. It is really a pleasure to be their professor and academic director.

How has the combination of your European education and experience informed the development of your teaching?
For me, teaching is a moment of sharing. Through teaching, I can transfer my knowledge to students and introduce them to some of the most relevant and fascinating phenomena in business. If I had to sum up my teaching philosophy, it would be to create an interactive learning environment using a portfolio of activities. I care deeply about active learning, critical thinking, retention of the information learned and development of data analytical skills in my students.

The case-study approach works extremely well as a teaching method since students very much enjoy making parallels between their background reading materials and real-life cases. I guide students to discover business insights “with their own hands” using data visualization tools, in the hope that mastery of software skills helps them digest theoretical knowledge and be prepared for the job market. For example, we create with the students a dataset regarding firms from multiple European countries, and then I coach students on each step to visualize descriptive answers to important business questions with a widely used software, such as Tableau. During these sessions, I provide my students with the “knowledge bricks” that they can use to build their own “house,” which they reveal in the group presentation and in an individual final assignment. 

Tell me about the courses you have created to teach international business.
Most of my classroom time over the past seven years has been spent teaching a course called Business in Europe. I start every class with a discussion of a current event and use a variety of case studies that we extensively discuss in each class. We examine variations in business practices in Europe as well as the complexities of the European environment from management, political and governance perspectives.

The second course that I have developed is Comparative Corporate Governance. This course is offered to International MBA, Master of International Business (MIB) and Professional MBA program students. It introduces key concepts in corporate governance and delves into the relationships between corporate governance, management practices, strategy and performance.

For the past eight years, I have also been teaching International Business courses at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland at the bachelor’s, master’s, Professional MBA and Ph.D. levels. Moreover, several universities have invited me to teach courses in their flagship programs, such as HEC Paris and EDHEC Business School in France; Xi’an Jiaotong University, Shanghai Jiao Tong and Renmin University in China; and RSM Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

One of your research areas is focused on corporate social responsibility. Talk about what trends you see happening in Europe and in America — their similarities and differences — and what you foresee in the future.
Recently, I have started to conduct research in this area, specifically in the intersection of corporate governance and corporate social responsibility. An increasing number of companies across the globe have started to include corporate social responsibility — organizations’ philanthropic and environmentally conscious efforts — in their strategy as well as in their disclosures. However, these trends are not yet uniform across the globe. Pressures for responsible behavior among businesses is the highest in Europe, but other countries, including the U.S., are making rapid changes. 

One of my recent projects explores the reliability of information that firms are disclosing in their sustainability reports. We find that firms with considerable state ownership as well as firms that operate in contexts with stringent environmental regulations are less likely to selectively disclose their environmental impacts or, in other words, to “greenwash” or emphasize their impacts. Surprisingly, we also find that family firms are more likely to greenwash compared to other firms.

Congratulations on your appointment as department chair in August. How do you see the department’s emphasis on a ‘partner-based model’ evolving during your tenure as chair?
We’ve developed more than 80 partnerships with the top international business schools in more than 35 countries — more than any other U.S. university. The plan is to continue the ‘partner-based model’ and intensify the relationships by developing multiple programs with our current partners. The transaction costs are lower, and commitment is higher. For example, with ESSEC (France), Bocconi (Italy) and Aalto (Finland), we have agreements for undergraduate IB exchange, cohort programs and a double master’s degree. We are in the process of getting access for our students to specialized master’s programs, which are sometimes taught in local languages and in areas such as digital business and sustainability. All this presents very exciting opportunities ahead.

Read more IB stories in the November 2021 "The Edge" E-Newsletter.

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