Prof. René Belderbos has been awarded the Journal of International Business Studies (JIBS) silver medal for ‘exceptional’ intellectual contributions. The award was part of the journal’s 50-year anniversary celebrations, held in 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark. We caught up with René to find out more about the award and his wider work in general, including an upcoming sabbatical in Japan.
What is special about this journal and your silver award?
The Journal of International Business Studies is the top journal in the international business domain and one of the most important journals in the wider field of business, according to the Financial Times 50 rankings as well as similar rankings at the University of Texas Dallas and the Association of Business Schools. I’m on the editorial review board and a consulting editor at the journal. As part of this 50th anniversary celebration, the journal awarded silver medals to anyone who had published between five and 10 papers with the journal between 1979 and 2019 (and gold medals for anyone who had published more than 10). The awards were handed out at the 2019 Academy of International Business Conference, hosted by the Copenhagen Business School.
Which of these papers are your most proud of – and why?
One influential paper that I’ve published in the journal was on Real options and foreign affiliate divestments (2009), which has been accessed over 600 times and has received 170 google scholar citations. For this paper, we investigated 1000 Asian manufacturing affiliates of Japanese electronics multinationals. And we found – amid macroeconomic uncertainties and divergence across countries – that firms put a premium on flexibility. In other words, they hedge their bets by spreading operations across various affiliates in different countries. This holds even where affiliates are under-performing because it’s a trade-off that highlights the importance of flexibility.
Although it may cost more to operate additional plants, you always have a backup and so are better able to keep meet commitments and deliveries to your clients. I gather that in current times, with many environmental, health and political hazards, more and more firms are taking a cautious perspective and building flexibility into their production facilities. For example, a company like Canon that manufactures cameras, photocopiers and other high-end electronics made a big increase in investments in Vietnam after the SARS outbreak threatened its facility in Shenzhen, China, close to Hong Kong, in 2003. They now benefitted from this flexibility during the recent COVID-19 crisis.
So companies like Canon maintain those investments over time because they value flexibility. For example, after the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, so many factories were damaged and could not operate for between one and two years. Now other companies have copied this as an industry standard. Right up to the present day, amid the coronavirus pandemic, a semiconductor firm in the north of Italy may face severe disruption if it lacks an alternative facility in another country or region. So it’s clear how important it is to have flexibility in the production network.
Do you enjoy your research work? What are your future plans?
Yes, and to some extent I feel lucky to be a researcher. We’re on relatively solid ground, because we tend to focus analyses on longer trends, also because very recent data are usually not available for systematic analysis. Politicians and business leaders, on the other hand, need to weigh risks and opportunities, before making decisions and preparations based on forecasts that are never complete, that can always be overtaken by forces majeures. The coronavirus emerged barely three months ago and has already affected over 100 countries worldwide. Entire countries – and economies – are now on lockdown. Nobody knows how long it will last or how it will end. For my part, I plan to go on sabbatical to Japan next year to do more research on the ever more important topic of flexibility and resilience of firms.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / H.Pijpers; Flickr / Chevanon Photography