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‘The center of gravity is shifting’

Northeastern’s new Center for Emerging Markets wasted no time in establishing itself as a clearinghouse for the latest ideas on the business opportunities springing up in China, India and other developing international markets.

On June 4, it hosted a symposium that drew experts on such topics as why emerging markets matter, what impact they’ll have on U.S. firms, and how businesses might capture emerging-market customers.

Here, center director Ravi Ramamurti, the College of Business Administration Distinguished Professor of International Business, discusses the center’s formation and the opportunities that abound for Northeastern faculty and students who seek to understand business sectors around the globe.

Why was the Center for Emerging Markets created?

Quite simply, it was the coming together of two factors: the growing importance of emerging markets such as China and India in the world economy, and Northeastern’s faculty expertise on this topic.

Our faculty has researched and written about emerging markets for a long time. In the business school, for example, Dan McCarthy and Sheila Puffer have worked on Russian management for years. Ravi Sarathy has studied firms in many developing countries. Chris Robertson has focused on Latin America.

We have similarly distinguished faculty in other parts of Northeastern, too, such as—in arts and sciences—China expert Suzanne Ogden and Middle East expert Denis Sullivan, and—in the law school—professors well versed in human-rights issues and globalization.

What are the center’s goals?

The main goal is to conduct and disseminate research on emerging markets. Such research will likely be shaped by close interactions with managers, leaders and policymakers, such as the senior corporate leaders on the center’s external advisory board.

A second, closely related goal is influencing managerial practices and public policy in both developed and emerging economies.

Finally, the center’s programs will help our students learn about emerging countries, gain co-op assignments there, or go on international field-study trips to learn more about how business is being conducted today.

What types of projects are international-business faculty members already working on?

Northeastern’s international-business faculty has been ranked among the top-10 or top-15 departments in the world in terms of its research productivity. What we didn’t quite realize until recently is that much of this research is, in fact, focused on emerging markets. So we were quite surprised to find that in the last few years, for instance, our business faculty has produced nearly 200 publications on emerging markets.

What are some topics our faculty members are exploring?

Subjects include the competitive advantages of emerging-market firms, the ethical challenges of operating in emerging countries, issues in corporate governance, how to manage state-owned enterprises, the drivers of deregulation and privatization, and how Western firms can compete successfully in emerging markets.

Most of our new faculty hires in international business come with an abiding interest in emerging markets, so our reputation in this area will likely get stronger.

Why did the center organize the “Capitalizing on Emerging-Market Opportunities” symposium a few weeks ago?

It was our first attempt to increase awareness among the Boston business community on the strategic importance of emerging markets.

Although I provided an overarching framework for the symposium, the real ideas and insights were provided by our speakers, who are senior executives from the U.S.-China Business Council; the U.S.-India Business Council; and such companies as EMC, Liberty Mutual, Pfizer, Staples, Thermo Fisher Scientific and the Tata Group.

More than 100 executives and professionals registered to attend the event, which shows a substantial interest in the topic among Boston-area companies. On the basis of feedback, we have decided to organize more outreach events for the business community.

What should every business student know about emerging markets?

Students should know that the center of gravity of the global economy is shifting from developed to emerging economies, and from West to East. This makes it very important that Northeastern students understand what is going on in other parts of the world, and spend a season or two of their careers working there.

What if a student intends to work only in the United States?

Even to succeed in the U.S., students will need to understand the strategic implications of mega-economies, such as China and India, which not only bring wage competition to bear in the global economy, but also world-class talent and entrepreneurs. Career advancement within U.S. multinationals is going to increasingly require emerging-market experience.

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