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Exploring the Dynamics of International Value Chains: an Interview with Professor Jonas Puck

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In our latest feature for the ITIR blog, we delve into the intricate world of international value chains through the lens of Professor Jonas Puck, the newly appointed Dean for International Affairs at WU (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien).

Professor Puck joined us for a series of online lectures at the University of Pavia in March 2024 and brings his extensive expertise in the socio-political risks facing multinational corporations and the broader impact of global geopolitical dynamics.

As the Academic Director of the MBA in Energy Management, Professor Puck also shares insights on the pivotal role of energy transition in shaping the future of global industries. These insights are particularly relevant to the Revalue Chains T-Lab’s objective to understand and develop resilience within international value chains.

Here is what he shared with us regarding the socio-political challenges multinational corporations encounter, as well as the extensive impact of global geopolitical dynamics.

Professor Puck, thank you very much for taking the time to join us for this interview and congratulations on your recent appointment as Dean for International Affairs at WU Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien! How do you envision integrating your extensive research on socio-political risks and global dynamics into your new role?

Thank you very much, I indeed feel that this is a challenging but at the same time very rewarding role and I am thankful that WU put trust in my abilities to develop this position. I think that my research on international strategizing, including socio-political risks, helps me a lot in this position, as it provides me with a good understanding of strategic options in international management, including associated challenges and opportunities.

Your research has significantly contributed to our understanding of international business and the challenges faced by multinational corporations in turbulent geopolitical climates. Could you share some key insights from your latest projects in this area?

My current research focuses on three subdomains of international business. First, I work in the overlap of international business and finance, second, I focus on big data, artificial intelligence, and data analyses in international business. Third, in my research on IB-policy interactions, we, for example, recently developed and published a conceptualization of supranational organizations for the IB field [Hartmann, S., Lindner, T., Müllner, J., & Puck, J. (2022). Beyond the nation-state: Anchoring supranational institutions in international business research. Journal of International Business Studies, 53(6), 1282.], highlighting their conceptual relevance for international business theorizing.

Jointly with Moritz Putzhammer, Arjen Slangen, Stav Fainshmidt, and Thomas Lindner, I also had a research program on international firms’ within-host country growth. One relevant finding here is that pro-market reforms also bear challenges for international firms (and not only benefits), specifically as they slow down their pace of expansion in a market [Putzhammer, M., Slangen, A., Puck, J., & Lindner, T. (2020). Multinational firms’ pace of expansion within host countries: How high rates of pro-market reform hamper the local exploitation of foreign expansion knowledge. Journal of International Management, 26(1), 100703.].

Many of these findings also made their way into a volume I edited jointly with Rob van Tulder, Alain Verbeke, and Lucia Piscitello on international business in times of crisis [van Tulder, Rob, Alain Verbeke, Lucia Piscitello, and Jonas Puck, eds. International Business in Times of Crisis: Tribute Volume to Geoffrey Jones. Emerald Publishing Limited, 2022].

As the Academic Director of the MBA in Energy Management, how do you incorporate the concept of energy transition into the curriculum, and what unique challenges do you believe the future leaders in this sector face today?

I think the sector faces a lot of relevant pressures, ranging from sustainability needs to poverty reduction, as it is so central to the future development of our planet. In consequence, the biggest challenge for the industry, from my point of view, is the unbelievable uncertainty that decision-makers face in the light of those challenges. That’s why the knowledge that managers can develop through participation in MBAs and other studies is such an important tool, as it helps them reduce some of the uncertainty associated with their decisions.

Energy management is pivotal in discussions about sustainable and resilient value chains. How do you see the role of energy management evolving in the context of global supply chain management and international business strategy?

I fully agree that the energy sector is pivotal in this regard, and even more. Without energy, there is no digitalization, no non-personal communication, no digital knowledge flows, and more. Almost every technology we got used to has no future without a secure and sustainable energy supply. That’s why energy management and the management of global energy supply chains become more and more important, not only for managers in firms but also for political decision-makers.

With the increasing complexities of global trade and geopolitics, what advice would you give to companies looking to navigate and manage these challenges effectively?

I think it is impossible to give a ‘one-size-fits-all’ reply to this question. However, I feel that one important misconception appears to be on the rise: the assumption that the reshoring of VCs is the solution to rising geopolitical risks. I agree that reshoring addresses some elements of the challenge, but firms also make themselves very dependent on a single country, their home market when they follow this strategy. Further, they cut themselves off from supplies they cannot produce at home (e.g., many raw materials). Therefore, it is my strong belief that the best strategic response to rising geopolitical risks is not reshoring, but a careful diversification of the GVC.

Can you discuss any upcoming research projects or initiatives at WU that aim to tackle these global challenges and prepare business leaders for the future?

Sure. On one side, we currently have several projects in our team that focus on specific political conditions in host markets (e.g., populism, elections, etc.) to better understand the relevance of specific socio-political phenomena for international business and international business theory. On the other side, we try to venture deeper into new technologies like artificial intelligence, and others, to understand how to more efficiently manage global value chains.

We thank Professor Puck for his time and insightful contributions to this interview. We invite you to follow the ReValue Chains T-Lab LinkedIn page to stay updated on the latest developments and insights regarding the strategic role of digital technologies in developing resilient and sustainable global supply chains.