Steve Casper spent the spring of 2018 teaching his students about stocks, bonds, time value of money, cash flow and cost of capital. This does not sound unusual for a finance professor, except that particular semester he was on sabbatical in Cambodia.
Most of his students, who came from rural farms on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, had a limited academic background in finance. Many did not have a personal relationship with traditional financial institutions that Americans accept as commonplace, like banks and stock markets. Casper, associate professor of finance and managing director of the DBA program at the Fox School of Business, says, “It was the most challenging class I’ve ever taught, but it was so much fun.”
Since the summer of 2016, Casper had been volunteering his time teaching rural students in Cambodia. After first getting involved via Habitat for Humanity, Casper has built a relationship with these students, teaching finance and leadership during two-week seminars. Last spring, the director of the Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia, the leading English-speaking university in the country, asked Casper to teach a full semester.
“Most of these students have never had a calculator before,” says Casper, FOX PhD ’10. “I was told I had 30 students. I get over there and I brought 30 TI-BA II+ financial calculators. My wife was coming two weeks later and I said, ‘Liz, I have 54 students. I need you to bring another 24 calculators, I just ordered them on Amazon.’ Eventually, it got up to 94 students.”
This past October, four of these students came to Philadelphia for a week of leadership and business practice. The trip was organized by the Cambodian Rural Student Trust, an NGO founded in 2011 that aims to help bright Khmer, or Cambodian, students from poor, rural families go to high school and university in Cambodia.
Casper brought the students to meet with representatives from all over the financial world, from companies like SAP, B-Lab and Saul Ewing. He invited the students to speak to his finance classes at the Fox School. The Khmer students shared the story of their lives, which often included uneducated family members, the loss of one or both parents and financial hardships. But each had a strong, unrelenting belief in the power of education to transform lives.
One student named Sompeas, who is majoring in law and hopes one day to become a lawyer, shares her philosophy. “I believe men and women are equal. I believe education will provide women with the knowledge to believe this and give them the skills to follow their dreams, have amazing careers and be greater contributors to society.” She continues, “The special thing about this trip is that I can share my voice and bring back many ideas that will inspire other girls to be adventurous and ambitious, while also expanding how I see things in my small world.”
Casper is grateful to the Fox School for allowing him to expand his world as well through his sabbatical. Casper loves the opportunity to teach both his American and Khmer students. “I always wanted to do this,” he says. “To have great classes, you have to be thinking about it all the time—how can I make it better, how can I get this point across?”
His passion for education translates into his enthusiasm about the mission of the Cambodia Rural Students Trust. The completely student-run organization, Casper says, “can give a student a place to live, feed them, and pay for their college or high school,” all for $2,000 a year.
“In Cambodia, education is a privilege,” says Casper. “I am honored to be part of something that empowers students to lead themselves and lead society.”
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Dr. Anthony Di Benedetto
Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management
Hometown: Montreal, Quebec
It’s been a few decades since Dr. Anthony Di Benedetto grabbed his bass, got on stage, and played music in front of big crowds. But the longtime Fox professor still harkens back to his rock-and-roll days in the 1970s whenever he gets to the front of a class and speaks to his students.
“I’m always conscious of being on stage,” he said. “It’s a little bit like doing theater or music. I still remember things like not turning your back on the audience. I really concentrate on not turning my back on my class. And as far as being engaging, the way you address the class is, in a sense, the way you would address an audience.
“I would say I’m better in a classroom because of what I’ve done in music.”
In other ways, music also helped Di Benedetto reach the stage where he is today — as one of the world’s leading research scholars in innovation and technology management. When he was a child growing up in Montreal, he had a tough time making friends. His parents spoke to a psychologist, who encouraged them to find an outlet for their son.
And so music it was.
“Sure enough, when I was in high school, I met a lot of people through music,” he said. “It was fun. And I stayed with it.”
Di Benedetto played in several bands in high school, college, and throughout his 20s, using his skills on the bass to become a valuable commodity because, as he put it, “everyone else wanted to play lead guitar.”
And he was good enough to make a little money at it, too, playing covers of The Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones in clubs and hotels around Montreal for one popular band and what he called “oom-pah” music and pop songs in German clubs for another.
But when it came time to thinking about his future, he decided that the life of a professional musician just wasn’t for him.
“The short story is I gave up rock-and-roll to get my MBA,” said Di Benedetto, who earned his MBA and PhD at McGill University, before launching his career as a professor, joining the Temple University faculty in 1990, and remaining there ever since.
Di Benedetto is certainly happy with that choice, admitting that he seldom plays music and rarely even thinks about his days in a band. But it will always be an exciting, interesting and eye-opening time in his life.
When asked if he’d ever play again, he left the door slightly ajar.
“A musician never says that he’s unemployed,” he laughed. “He’s just between gigs.”
As traditional lines of identity become blurrier, Fox professor Leora Eisenstadt examined whether the American legal system ought to restructure its protections.
Assistant Professor of Legal Studies in Business
Hometown: White Plains, N.Y.
Resides: Wynnewood, Pa.
Fun fact: Eisenstadt’s interests run the gamut. A former modern dancer who participated in a hip-hop dance group in college, she also had been a certified canoe instructor. These days, she’s an enthusiast of Fit Tribe, a metabolic strength training workout regimen. “And I’m the parent of two small children,” she said, “so not a ton of time for hobbies!”
Caitlyn Jenner identifies as transgender. Tiger Woods identifies as “Cablinasian,” a term he created. What do the television personality and champion golfer have in common? Their racial and gender identities do not easily fit into current legal constructs.
Like Jenner and Woods, many Americans can relate. A re- searcher at Temple University’s Fox School of Business posits that employment laws in the American legal system be restructured to offer civil-liberties protections for citizens who face identity discrimination.
“This isn’t only a race or a gender issue. It’s an identity issue,” said Leora Eisenstadt, an Assistant Professor in Fox’s Legal Studies in Business department. “Society has changed, but our laws and legal formulas often look at individuals as members
of categories into which a person can fit neatly. Today, there is no such purity. That doesn’t exist, which demonstrates how our laws are out of step with reality.”
Eisenstadt’s research points to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. She said Title VII, however, does not always or easily protect against the discrimination of multiracial or transgender individuals. Courts are often baffled by these fluid identities, she said, sometimes rejecting the cases on those grounds and, other times, ignoring the worker’s actual identity to make the legal formula work.
“Cases have been thrown out of court because the plaintiffs did not fit into a box,” Eisenstadt said. “Unfortunately, according to many courts, if you can’t prove you are a member of a single protected class, your case will not reach a jury. As a result, the law has often prompted individuals to sacrifice part of their identity in order to fit into a box and have their case heard.”
And this confusion in the courts has a negative impact on employers and employees alike, since a lack of clarity in the courts can lead to more difficult employment decisions, an inability to effectively train management and human resources professionals, and litigation that eats up precious resources.
In her research, Eisenstadt cites the United States Census and Facebook as examples of society being ahead of the courts. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau implemented a system in which it asked Census respondents to “check all that apply” in regard to the races with which they identify. She also called attention to Facebook. This year, the social media platform began offering its 189 million U.S. users more than 50 gender-identity options.
What these prove, Eisenstadt said, is that people cannot always be categorized so easily.
“In employment discrimination law, workers need to prove that they are a part of a protected class in order to bring a discrimination suit,” she said. “In theory, everyone is a member of a protected class. But in society today, those categories are porous and fluid. Not everybody has a single race or a gender. You might have multiple races or multiple genders or you might reject that categorization altogether.”
The American Business Law Journal recently published Eisenstadt’s theoretical research paper, titled, “Fluid Identity Discrimination.”
Through his research, Ram Mudambi has identified signs of innovation in the places you would least suspect
Frank M. Speakman Professor of Strategic Management
Hometown: Blue Bell, Pa.
Renaissance man: Outside of academia, Mudambi is an avid runner and cyclist who’s been known to pedal to Temple University from his home in Blue Bell, when the weather cooperates. He’s also the author of “The Empire of the Zon,” a futuristic novel he wrote under the pen name R.M. Burgess.
A popular impulse is to label Detroit as a downtrodden American city. Not so, says Dr. Ram Mudambi.
In recently published work, Mudambi and a team of researchers have found that Detroit’s patent output since 1975 has grown at a rate of almost twice the American average. Detroit’s innovative resilience, Mudambi said, is due to its continuing centrality in global innovation networks in the automotive industry. It has maintained this centrality through connectedness to other worldwide centers of excellence in this industry, such as Germany and Japan. Its innovative links to Germany have been rising steadily over the last three decades, while its association with Japan began more recently, but also shows a steep upward trajectory.
“The beauty of innovation is that it never stops,” said Mudambi, the Frank M. Speakman Professor of Strategic Management at the Fox School of Business. “In 1960, the U.S. was the richest country in the world, and Detroit was its richest city. And while the city has been in a continuous state of decline, we found that Detroit’s innovation numbers are very healthy.”
Mudambi’s findings fall under his umbrella research project dubbed iBEGIN, or International Business, Economic Geography and Innovation. The ongoing iBEGIN initiative is a collaborative effort, with professionals in centers around the world, including: Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School, Italy’s Politecnico di Milano and University of Venice Ca Foscari, the Indian School of Business, Henley Business School at the University of Reading (UK), and many others.
A segment of the iBEGIN project explores innovation hubs within the United States, undertaking detailed analyses of more than 900 metropolitan areas. In one published outcomes of this research effort, Mudambi and his team examined the evolution of Akron, headquarters of Goodyear, a mainstay of the global tire industry for over a century. In common with much of the Rust Belt, Akron continues to experience manufacturing decline. However, it is doing well as an innovation center, he said. Moreover, it appears to be transitioning from traditional science-based innovation to a softer, design-driven model.
This calendar year has been a productive one for Mudambi, who has been a Fox School faculty member for 15 years.
Twice in 2015, Mudambi’s work was published within Harvard Business Review.
In June, he served as Program Chair of the 2015 Academy of International Business annual meeting, developing the program and arranging a prominent lineup of scholars and global business leaders. The yearly conference is considered the largest gathering of academics in the international business community.
A month later, Mudambi and his team received a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation to support their inaugural iBEGIN Research Conference, which was held Nov. 13-14 in Philadelphia.
The next research project on the horizon for Mudambi and his globally dispersed research team involves battery power, a progression of yet another long-running iBEGIN segment on renewable energy and sustainability. The team has documented the important role that emerging economies like China and India are playing in the innovative landscape of the wind turbine industry, but batteries are the key to unlocking the potential of these new technologies.
“Batteries are the steam engine of our age,” Mudambi said. “We have ways to produce energy, but we have no way to harness it and store it. If we had to run our planet on stored power, we could run 1 percent. Imagine if you could run the whole planet on batteries. It’s a problem that, once solved, will revolutionize society.”