June 8, 2020
International business assistant professor Michael Murphree recently received the Emerging Scholar in Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award at the Industry Studies Association’s annual conference.
Recognizing outstanding industry-focused research in the area of innovation and entrepreneurship, the award acknowledges Murphree and his co-author John Anderson, a management assistant professor at the University of Northern Iowa, for their research on “Nothing to our names: Dynamic capabilities in small and medium-sized enterprises.”
The scholarly paper focuses on fieldwork Murphree and Anderson did in Dongguan, China, from 2015 to 2018 and the growth and performance of small manufacturing firms since the 2008 financial crisis. The fieldwork research was funded by the Wang Initiative through the Sonoco International Business Department and by the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). Dongguan is an industrial city with a population of 8 million in southern China; it’s famous for its thousands of labor-intensive electronics and light manufactured goods exporters, Murphree said.
“I have looked at the IT hardware and electronics industry, the plastic injection-molding industry and high-technology startups in Dongguan,” Murphree said. “In the course of my research, an interviewee mentioned offhand that ‘The foreign firms which dominated contract manufacturing for thirty years are now getting beaten by us. They don’t know how to change their management and methods. They can’t shift products. But then, we have nothing to our names, so we are fearless.’”
Murphree said he was intrigued by the small, nameless firms that managed to compete in an environment with rising wages and rents, declining overseas demand and tightening government regulations.
“I found they dynamically shift the boundaries of their firms, dig internally for new knowledge or simply abandon business models regularly to try new ones,” he said. “This dynamic approach to entrepreneurship and business operations is the foundation of their success.”
The companies epitomize the fundamental definition of innovation with their flexibility in shifting enterprises and seamlessly acquiring new knowledge to make them competitive, Murphree said.
Continuing his exploration of those local Dongguan firms, Murphree published a research paper with Dan Breznitz, a University of Toronto professor and Munk Chair of Innovation Studies, in the March 2020 edition of the Global Strategy Journal. In “Collaborative Public Spaces and Upgrading through Global Value Chains: the Case of Dongguan, China,” Murphree and Breznitz explore how companies like multinational enterprises and local firms with often competing goals come together in collaborative public spaces.
The paper explains these collaborative public spaces are “a social space based on trust that enables different and divided actors to engage, sharing concerns and information in ways that they otherwise would be disinclined to consider.”
Looking ahead, Murphree has a chapter entitled “Crossing Borders: Young Entrepreneurs and the Lure of Major Cities” in the forthcoming book Cross-Border Innovation in a Changing World: Players, Places and Policies published by Oxford University Press. Focusing on cross-border entrepreneurship between Taiwan and Mainland China, Murphree will present his findings from this chapter at the Academy of International Business annual conference.
Concentrating on a related topic, Murphree also has a chapter under development, “Whither Global Value Chains: The Shifting Role of Taiwanese FDI in Mainland China,” in the prospective upcoming book, tentatively entitled China’s New Development Strategies: Moving Up and Moving Abroad in Global Value Chains.
Most of Murphree’s research focuses on China and Asia because of their “climate of fearless entrepreneurship,” he said. “How [Asian] businesses, which lack many firm-specific advantages or suffer from persistent capital shortages, manage to thrive and innovate continues to fire my curiosity.”