University of Southern California

Nandini Rajagopalan
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Globalization and emerging markets have fascinated me for more than two decades. My early interest in countries like India and China and what their rapid growth meant for firms from developed economies like the U.S. manifested itself first in my teaching efforts. Over a decade ago (when interest in emerging markets was more of an intellectual curiosity than the feverish obsession it has now become) I developed modules on emerging markets – specifically China and India – identifying the key strategic questions that managers should ask as they consider opportunities emerging markets provided for incremental revenues, low cost sourcing, and innovation. These modules proved very popular among both the Marshall MBAs as well as the EMBAs and I found classroom discussions ascended to an entirely new level as we debated and discussed the interactions between economic, social, cultural, and political factors and how these interactions had profound implications for the creation and sustenance of competitive advantage in these markets. The experience of discussing strategies for emerging markets in Marshall’s classrooms in LA and San Diego was richly complemented by the experience of discussing similar issues in Shanghai in the Marshall GEMBA program. It was fascinating to see the similarities as well as differences in how participants viewed emerging markets depending on where they had spent the majority of their working (and student) lives. For example, a participant in the Marshall EMBA LA program typically expressed more discomfort with China’s political environment (and the resulting economic uncertainty) than a Taiwanese executive participating in the GEMBA program in Shanghai. For one student the lack of comfort with a country’s political and cultural environments translated into major question marks when it came to answering the multi-million-dollar question: Should we enter this market? For another executive who was clearly more used to living amidst uncertainty these were relatively minor issues that were unequivocally swamped by the economic opportunity she saw in the same markets! As I provoked, questioned, debated, and synthesized the variety of viewpoints on globalization and emerging markets I realized that Marshall’s biggest strength and source of competitive advantage lies in our students and in their diverse backgrounds and life experience. My classroom discussions were energized by students’ willingness to draw upon their own life lessons to challenge widely-held beliefs and assumptions – the analytic rigor of the frameworks and concepts discussed in class got further honed by subjecting them to the ultimate test, their ability to explain the outcomes of strategic decisions made in the crucible of real life.

There is widespread agreement today that the frameworks, concepts, and lessons developed primarily in developed nations and reflecting the experience of western multinationals are rather limited (and sometimes plain wrong) when it comes to understanding what makes firms succeed in emerging markets. MNCs from emerging markets are repeatedly turning received wisdom on its head, demonstrating that innovation and low cost can not only co-exist but can be used aggressively to capture volume and profits simultaneously. Successful firms from developed nations are realizing that market ambition needs to be accompanied by healthy doses of humility and the willingness to learn from not only their local (and often resource-constrained) competitors but also from their more value-conscious local customers and employees who bring unique insights into the cultural and social mores of their country of origin. At Marshall we have a unique opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge that will be needed to successfully navigate the challenges and opportunities that countries like China and India pose. To realize this opportunity, however, we cannot only rely on the experiences and knowledge of our faculty. We have to leverage as much as we can the knowledge, career experience, and broader networks our students (and alumni) bring to the table. They will ask us tough, even uncomfortable questions inside and outside the classroom and I know that to answer these questions I have to practice what I preach – challenge my deeply-held assumptions, continuously learn, and be willing to acknowledge that I will not always have the answer! Confidence tempered with humility goes a long way in the classroom just as it does in dealing with emerging markets.