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.”