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Darla Moore School of Business

International MBA students apply learning to today’s headlines

International business professor Marc van Essen pushes his International MBA students to apply the skills he’s teaching them with frequent discussions on current events as case studies.

Part of this hands-on learning involves students discovering business insights with data visualization tools like Tableau to apply their background reading materials and lecture notes to real-world scenarios.

“The mastery of business analytics software skills helps International MBA students digest theoretical knowledge and prepare for the job market,” said van Essen, who is also the chair of the Sonoco International Business Department. 

As a professor who has worked with the Moore School for eight years, van Essen’s research concentrates on the intersection of institutions, corporate governance and firm strategy in an international setting with a focus on issues of comparative corporate governance and firm ownership.

He said he specifically looks at questions that include “What is the goal of the firm?” and “How can we maximize profit?” and “How are we distributing profits along to our key stakeholders?”

“My research really focuses on the comparative nature and trying to understand that governance systems are different around the world, and the consequences of these impact firm strategy and performance,” he said.

“If you ask a manager in the U.S. what corporate governance is about, it is very likely that they will say that it is about the question of how shareholders of publicly traded firms can make sure that they get a return on their investment. Things are quite different in the rest of the world, where ownership is typically in the hands of a few large, and hence powerful, ‘block holders’, and sometimes other stakeholders, like employees, are also powerful and well protected by labor institutions.”

Corporate governance and how it intersects with corporate social responsibility is also a major topic van Essen has begun researching that he and his International MBA students examine. He said an increasing number of international companies are making corporate social responsibility part of their strategy and listing it in their disclosures.

“Awareness of environmental and social issues has been rising, making society more and more demanding when it comes to business practices in these areas,” van Essen said.

He cautions that while corporate social responsibility initiatives are an increasingly emphasized trend, they are not uniformly applied across the globe.

“Pressures for responsible behavior among businesses is the highest in Europe, and it is evidenced by the stringency of European environmental regulations as well as civil society activism in this area,” he said. “The rest of the world — including the U.S. — is behind Europe in this area, but changes are taking place.”

As an example of progress in the U.S., van Essen noted that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is having discussions regarding making environmental and social disclosures mandatory alongside financial disclosures.

A recent research project van Essen has been exploring is the reliability of information firms are disclosing in their sustainability reports.

One of his findings is that firms with considerable state ownership and those that operate in contexts with stringent environmental regulations are less likely to selectively disclose the extent of their corporate social responsibility as it pertains to the environment. Family or locally owned firms are more likely to upsell the impact of their environmentally sustainable initiatives.

While continuing to research these sustainability reports, van Essen said he is increasingly seeing the value of environmental regulations and sustainability report audits to help alleviate firms’ misrepresentation of their overall environmental impacts.


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