A Doctoral Defence in Sweden

30 June 2006 at 6:01 am 6 comments

| Nicolai Foss | 

I have a hard time keeping up with my co-blogger’s blogging frenzy.  Of course, he is much smarter and more energetic than I am and that partly accounts for the increasing discrepancy between our respective blogging frequencies. However, the reason I didn’t blog yesterday on O&M was that I served as an external examiner on a doctoral thesis at the Jönköping International Business School in Sweden. Situated virtually at the brinks of the enormous lake Vättern, JIBS is a newly established and highly entrepreneurial place that aims at pushing its research to a serious international level.

The specific thesis I was asked to discuss was Carlo Salvato’s Micro-foundations for Organizational Capabilities. Salvato is an Associate Professor at Bocconi University and already has an Italian PhD degree, which is based on a thesis utilizing Swedish data. His Swedish thesis, on the other hand, is based on Italian data!

More specifically, its empirical setting is product development projects in Alessi. On the basis of a painstakingly detailed identification, analysis and classification of events in 90 product development projects in Alessi, Salvato applies optimal matching analysis to detect patterns in the projects that may be interpreted as routines and capabilities.  He also strongly adds to the notion of capabilities by decomposing that construct in a constituent elements (hence, the title of the thesis), although he does not go sufficiently micro for my taste (in this connection, Carlo claimed that his attempt to build micro foundations for capabilities was seen as heresy by one of the high priests of the evolutionary church, ehhh, approach in management).  Although I am no sucker for the capabilities view in management, this thesis impressed me greatly.  I am sure we will hear much more of Carlo Salvato in the future.

A peculiarity of the Swedish thesis defence procedure: The external examiner has to summarize the thesis, before he discusses it. After which the candidate has to tell the audience whether he can accept the summary. Odd.  And the newly minted Doctor receives an absolutely ridiculous black hat.

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Entrepreneurship, Management Theory.

Copying the Physicists Uncle Milton Nostalgia

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Peter Klein  |  30 June 2006 at 8:54 am

    But are the gowns as cool as these?

    That’s Pete Boettke, myself, Pierre Garello, and Gérard Bramoullé, after examining Alexandre Padilla at the University of Aix-Marseille in 2003.

  • 2. teppof  |  30 June 2006 at 3:02 pm

    Hmmphh – I’d like a cool hat. All I got was a technicolor-type robe…Maybe I need to go back to Finland to get another PhD from there…(I think Finland follows the Swedish model [protocal of defense, the hat and all], or is it vice versa?)

  • 3. Eric H  |  4 July 2006 at 6:05 pm

    I’m surprised that a blog that shows acquaintance with NIE doesn’t take the opportunity to explore what governance purposes the external examiner and the “strange” procedure serve. Perhaps the external examiner serves to minimize academic inbreeding; if he can summarize the paper without laughing out loud, so far so good. If he can summarize it in 10 words or less, perhaps not so good (Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School, gauging a paper by its weight: “This feels like a C, I want an A.”) The examined party must accept the summary to be sure the external examiner isn’t an idiot or a fraud … or trying to discredit the entire institution of which he is almost by definition a competitor. And if there is an honorarium involved, someone wants to make sure they are getting their money’s worth.

    The black hat, like so much else in academia, is merely a formal hazing ritual. Or does it give rise to a photographic hostage to prevent the candidate from exposing the institution about which he now knows so much? Sorry, time to shut off the analytical engine.

  • 4. Peter Klein  |  5 July 2006 at 10:43 am

    Eric, a fair point. I confess I’ve generally avoided systematic study of the academic institutions of governance, fearing I might end up like John Nash if I looked too closely. (What physician really wants to “heal himself,” after all?) Aloysius Siow and Scott Masten have done interesting work on this, I believe.

    PhD dissertation committees in the US usually include at least one “external” member, meaning from another department within the university. Examiners from outside the university are rare. But there is no certification of the examiner by the examined party. Perhaps as an outsider-insider, the “external” examiner has sufficient reputational incentives not to shirk. (Though I’ve personally seen a lot of shirkers.)

    Another interesting comparative-institutional point: Most US departments of economics and management are very reluctant to hire their own graduates (outside the top 5 or so). In European business schools this seems to be very common. That could explain why European institutions have a greater need for an external monitor at the examination stage. Even without such, there is relatively little inbreeding at the US departments.

    I’d love to hear others’ opinion of this.

  • 5. Nicolai Foss  |  5 July 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Eric, Yes, in principle a fair point — BUT it is hardly the case that an external examiner can “serve to minimize academic inbreeding” in a system that has full discretion over the choice of the external examiner — as is the case in all of the countries that I know of that utilizes this system.

  • 6. Eric H  |  5 July 2006 at 11:01 pm

    Wow, quite a result from one chain pull!

    My reaction to the shirking at my thesis defense was to be thankful 8~)

    And that’s a good point, Nicolai.

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