Meet Ulf R Andersson: If you play football you want to make an assist that leads to goal
Ulf R Andersson
He received his Doctorate from Uppsala University in 1997. Today, he is one of the most widely published researchers in the research domain MNE subsidiaries and the eleventh most influential researcher, according to a study published in the Journal of International Business Studies.
He is currently editor of the Journal of World Business, Professor of Business Administration with a focus on Marketing at Mälardalen University (MDH) and Adjunct Professor at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo. In the spring of 2021, he was elected Fellow of the European International Business Academy.
In parallel with his research, Ulf Andersson teaches on the International Business Management and International Marketing programmes.
He has been cited more than 2 850 times in Web of Science, has a track record difficult to match and is one of the decision makers of what gets published in the Journal of World Business.
But actually, Ulf R Andersson slipped into research on a banana skin.
The original plan was to write his degree thesis about his own consulting work for a bank in Dalarna, where a course colleague had previously worked. The Bank had also hired an external consultant, who was unfortunately not that interested in the two newly graduated economists participating in the task, and the whole idea was shot down during the start-up meeting.
“Fortunately, another researcher got in touch and asked if we could investigate the influence of various categories of employees regarding short- and long-term decisions in different companies,” he says.
Andersson was fascinated to see the results having benefits in working life, and that's the way it started. Today, he studies the relationship between parent company and subsidiary in multinational organisations and is one of the world's most influential researchers in the field.
“I look at how the subsidiaries develop and behave locally, and what consequences it has for their position in the organisation,” he says.
Most theories are based on the assumption that subsidiaries are subordinate to the parent company, which in turn has clear ideas about what the subsidiary should be doing. However, Ulf Andersson's research shows that the subsidiaries' activities can be difficult enough for the head office to understand and familiarise themselves with.
“The subsidiaries understand much more than the parent company. In fact, they can become leaders in a certain technology within the organisation, if only the parent company gives them some leeway. During the pandemic, for instance, we saw a subsidiary step in and help another division within the same multinational company, which meant that the company could increase its output of ventilators. Thanks to their support, more ventilators were shipped both to the parent company in the US and other parties that needed it,” he says.
How much is based on trust and relationships?
“A lot, both internally and externally. There are certain factors that affect the subsidiary’s development, but how the parent company views them is of significant importance. Those who develop the most have parent companies that trust that they can handle emerging situations on their own, and where the subsidiary can act more than just the extended arm of the parent.”
The pandemic also exposed new types of problems, where parent companies with independent suppliers quickly became aware that they needed to repossess their skills and do more on their own. This was something that Andersson and his colleagues had been predicting for a long time.
“Some of my colleagues in Ireland had followed a company for 17 years; now we saw it happen in reality. There was a link between the subsidiary and us that showed that the problems could be solved in various ways.
And where the focus for the last few decades had been on offshoring, they now wanted to strengthen the organisation's resilience with greater ownership. Anyone who thus has a subsidiary abroad – with capabilities if only they get the chance – can secure the entire flow chain,” says Ulf Andersson.
He does not have any concrete cooperation with companies and authorities, it is not really scientifically correct and lies within the business segment, but the insights are already used by established consultants.
“My own driving force is to share the knowledge with the students. If you play football, you really want to make an assist that will lead to goal, and to turn reality into theories that are used when students join companies is a huge satisfaction,” he states.
Ulf Andersson would have liked to have become a teacher himself if his research had not taken off, and presently he teaches at Master's and doctoral student level on the International Entrepreneurship and International Strategy courses, when he is not researching or checking submitted material for further review to the Journal of World Business.
Describe your regular work week
“It is hugely varied and is often governed by deadlines and conferences. If there are many papers for the Journal of World Business, there will be a lot of reviewing, and other weeks the doctoral students will be busy or I need to spend time on my own research. But this is also a fascinating aspect of a researcher’s life. Sometimes there are weeks when I go to the office every day, other weeks I travel around half of Europe.”
What's the hardest part about conducting research?
“During some periods, it can be difficult to keep your motivation up, and to succeed requires a burning interest. It's incredibly fun to come out, learn and read about other people's work, but it's definitely not an eight-to-five job, rather perspiration more than inspiration. Researching is a way of life, and if it weren’t so much fun, you'd never spend this amount of time on it.”
What do you do on your day off?
“I spend time with my family or go fishing,” says Andersson. “I've been fishing my whole life, and a large aspect of my interest is tying up flies and getting the equipment ready. Mostly I fish trout, char or grayling – and perch fishing is really cool. The hardest part is getting away as often as I want, but then I also feel that I am really on a break, not least north of the Arctic Circle where there is usually no mobile phone coverage.”