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Darla Moore School of Business

Assistant professor applies his own real-world experience and research to IMBA Global Strategic Management course

Moore School management assistant professor Jeff Savage brings his own experiences and research findings surrounding innovation strategy, technology-to-market commercialization and entrepreneurship to his lessons for his International MBA Global Strategic Management course.

“My teaching philosophy is to make my strategy course ‘Google-proof.’ As opposed to other courses, students won’t be tested on whether they can recall the definition of a concept or recite Porter's Five Forces,” he said. “Instead, the course is designed in such a way that students are expected to review the basic principles of strategy on their own so that we can use precious class time to gain a ‘master's-level’ understanding of strategy. Because our students rise to that challenge and put in the work before class, we can focus on putting these tools and frameworks to use in real-life business situations and engage in dialogue and debate surrounding when and how a tool or framework should be used, its weaknesses and strengths, etcetera.”

To that end, students in the Global Strategic Management course typically work with a local startup, small firm or nonprofit organization to evaluate a key business opportunity such as a new product line and geographic expansion or to mitigate a key threat like an emerging competitor.

“Not only does this solidify the concepts in their minds, but it also helps them better prepare for future management positions, as they are able to see how strategic thinking affects ‘boots on the ground’ people, processes and tactics,” Savage said.

Recent Global Strategic Management class projects include analyzing global HVAC trends in sustainability with a multinational HVAC company; helping a sawmill startup prepare for a pending acquisition; devising key metrics for a stormwater management company’s chief operating officer and potential partnership opportunities; and working with the local transit authority to devise a financing strategy to reduce reliance on government funding and improve user engagement.

International MBA students bring a broad range of experience to Savage’s classroom; in the current cohort, students come from various countries and backgrounds, including military veterans, Peace Corps volunteers and top-tier consultants. Savage emphasizes that the students’ broad range of experience is critical for his teaching philosophy.

“When you bring together a wide mix of experience and backgrounds to study and debate the proper use of the analytical tools and frameworks of strategic thinking, those vastly different perspectives and world views blend together to create a fantastic learning environment,” Savage said. “The diverse backgrounds create a humble, convivial culture where everyone is driven to learn all that they can — it's invigorating to step into the room each day.”

International MBA student Will Richardson said he appreciates the in-depth discussions he and his classmates have about global strategic management.

“Classroom conversations are always lively and productive,” he said. “I always feel that I am going to get the most out of my experience by living the case and arguing wholeheartedly for my positions. The mini-case assignment provides the perfect venue for this. For each assigned case, a small group of students are expected to present while the rest of the students raise questions that allow everyone to excavate through deeper layers of meaning from each case.”

In their class discussions, Savage and his students also look at larger-scale strategic decisions that will impact prominent multinational organizations.

“In 2020, the class spoke a lot about the launch of Disney+ and how Netflix should respond to that threat,” he said. “With the pandemic, I have added several new discussions on the pros and cons of virtual work, using the innovation mindset gained from my research.”

Savage also brings his research findings into the classroom. Centered on strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship, much of Savage’s recent research focuses on novel outcomes or novel scientific research.

A recent study looked at how top innovators in South Carolina are able to routinely produce new and interesting outcomes.

“[My co-authors and I] found that ongoing discovery and innovation is enacted through a push-pull relationship between focused, within-group work and engagement with external communities, both scientific and practitioner,” Savage said.

One of his ongoing studies takes a detailed look at patent strategy and analyzes how patents are enforced, what they represent in terms of innovation and how to distinguish their overarching novelty.

From enforceability to claims’ language to who is referenced in the citations, patent strategy is significantly different depending on the industry. For instance, chemical firms spend a lot of money funding patents designed to confuse competitors, Savage said.

“On the other hand, software patents — due to the ease with which software code is copied and/or the patents are avoided — tend to focus on the external design,” he said. “The problem with most of our patent strategy research is that we are too general; the focus has been on looking at ‘overall patent strategy’ rather than how the context affects the best way to protect one’s intellectual property.”

An initial study was published in the May 2020 Journal of Management by Savage and several of his USC colleagues, “Mapping Patent Usage in Management Research: The State of Prior Art.” The scholarly paper reveals important patterns surrounding foundational measurement in patent-based research in management. Their review discovers two core findings: one centering on summarizing how patents have been used in management research; the other focuses on guiding management scholars in terms of common measurement issues for patent-based indicators.

In a third study, Savage engages with local national laboratories as they attempt to improve their commercialization of novel scientific research.

“One International MBA team and I are currently working with GlassWRX, a ‘stealth-mode’ startup based in Greenville, South Carolina, as they leverage the scientific breakthroughs at our national laboratories to upcycle waste glass and other materials to create materials resulting in longer-lasting, more eco-friendly concretes, as well as materials that can better clean our air and water,” Savage said. “The students and I provide consulting on potential commercialization paths for the many applications of this technology — including market size, competition levels, potential partnerships, regulation pitfalls and optimal locations for building future plants.”

In projects like the GlassWRX scenario, Savage teaches International MBA students to apply the tools and frameworks of strategic thinking to real-life scenarios multinational companies are facing.

Through his research and classroom discussions with students, Savage continues to explore how strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship intersect.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.