- When and why did you decide to pursue an academic career?
Mol: I was offered to do a PhD in the Netherlands on the music industry. I loved it from the day I started. But while I love music, I am very amusical, singing very badly in karaoke boxes as only my very faithful friends can testify.
A few years on I still consider it such a privilege to be an academic; to think of new ideas, to research them and to talk about it with colleagues around the world as well as students in the classroom. Standing in front of young people at the start of their career, of their life and to engage their curiosity, experiment with new ideas, new behavior. That it is a real privilege. But there is a responsibility that comes with that privilege; as educators we have an obligation to make this world a better place. That is the real challenge.
Gómez: When I was working in the food industry in Colombia, about 30 years ago. I graduated from this university in Industrial Engineering. I did the specialization in food industry and then I was working in several food industries in Colombia, looking at the importance of the food sector and the close ties with the social and economic impacts. I was working in a Palm Oil plantation in San Alberto, Cesar. When I was there, there was so much social unrest that it sparked my interest and I said how can economic activities be balanced with social benefits and what is the role of food in economic system?
- What are the most satisfying aspects of being a scholar?
Mol: Doing research that impacts the world we live in. We are being asked to think through the challenges the world is facing, the challenges the scientific community is facing. I think that if we are given that privilege we also need to produce the goods. We need to make a real difference; not a solution to a marginal problem, but to rethink our relationship to ourselves, to our communities, to our planet. That is both a privilege and an obligation. But to be given that opportunity and to engage with it is greatly satisfying.
Gómez: Working with the students. Students are why we are scholars. We don’t do research by ourselves. We are, to some extent, as cheerleaders of students. We encourage them to bring the best out of each one both academically and personally. That’s the most satisfying aspect.
- What other research areas would you like to develop in the future?
Mol: There was an Economist article, not long ago, that described the field of management as a ‘compendium of dead ideas,’ arguing that management theory has lost its bearings given our current sociopolitical climate. Too easily are we giving into foregone conclusions, such as the inevitability of global capitalism without really thinking through critically what the consequences are for society and for the planet writ large. The current stance of the field of management is an ironic one: ‘capitalism does not work; lets do more of it!’. Educating the next generation of business leaders, I really feel that business schools need to do better at teaching what it means to be part of and to actively take part in something larger to ourselves. Capitalism teaches us we are enterprising beings, needing to satisfy our individual needs and this market logic is all we hear, teach and enact. Here we can draw an important lesson from the French sociologist Michel Callon, who said: ‘The economy is economics’. With it he underscored the importance of education in shaping society, emphasizing that there is no neutral position in the social sciences: if we teach our students that the world is a market populated by rent-seeking individuals, that is exactly how society will formed. The result is that for every problem a market-based solution will be offered. Whilst the market might do a good job in buying and selling commodities, it is a very poor model for the things that we really care for – such as our social and physical well-being. Rather than reducing everything to a market problem, we need new theories that do not seek to equate economic value with price. I think that here it is important to acknowledge that the economic discipline as originally conceived was the management of the ‘hearth and home’, derived from the Greek word oikonomos. How economic theories could contribute to a better understanding of how to build for ourselves a better home on this planet is something that will preoccupy me for the coming years.
Gomez: In the future I would like to spend most of my time understanding how the supply chains, from farm to table, affect many dimensions of human life, their economic, social, nutritional, capital and environmental impacts. That’s what I would like to do in the future, to understand the roll of food systems in all these environmental and human sustainability.
- Please tell us a special anecdote from your academic life.
Mol: Well; I was just teaching a class here (in Uniandes) that’s called Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Creative Industries for the summer semester. The creative industries are close to my heart because they are intertwined with how cultures establish themselves. In Colombia, people dance whenever there is music. And in that way a cultural industry can have a profound influence on a society. Likewise, in the Netherlands. When just now I was playing Beat It by Michael Jackson in class, I meant to use it as an illustration of an innovation in the music industry, namely the importance of videos in the music industry. But when I was a boy this video came out and it meant a lot to me. And when I played it in the classroom and it stopped I couldn’t speak for a minute. I was overwhelmed by childhood emotions. I was speechless for a moment and this is exactly why the creative industries matter: they are all about touching our hearts.
Gómez: It is just what I’m doing here at Los Andes. This is my alma mater. I went to school here, I love this university and to be able to come back and teach is amazing. When I see my students they remind me of myself thirty years ago. I was able to come the first time that the International Summer School was offered and the fact that I have been here for 14 years is something that I really appreciate and I keep in my heart.
- How does your work contribute to the society as a whole?
- How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
Mol: I want the students to teach the class back to me. Of course I’m responsible for the introduction of the theory and to facilitate the debate. But I really try to give the students a voice in the classroom. Another way of saying this is to think of the classroom as a social laboratory. It’s a playing ground where you have to make an argument that stacks up so that you can persuade your fellow students. This is nothing other of what you’ll be doing later in life when you are going to see a client, a bank, a supplier. If I see the students cogently argue their case, even when I don’t agree with it, I’m a happy man.
Gómez: Is very simple: I trust the student is in the classroom because he or she wants it. They are spending time, resources and effort that they may be spending somewhere else. So for me, it is a big responsibility, but also the responsibility of the students. I like to think about my class as we are creating knowledge together. That’s why I try to engage students as much as possible in their own learning and I also try to involve outsiders as much as possible so they can bring the real world experience and develop an environment of discussion. So it’s more interesting for me because I learn; for the students because it is realistic and they feel themselves as an important part of their education; and for the industry because they use it for recruitment purposes.
- What do you learn the most from the interaction with your students?
Gómez: Each individual is completely different. Each one of them has strengths and weaknesses, passions and things that we really like. I think that in some extend, the key to have a successful group of students in research or in teaching is to recognize that and to try to bring the best of each student to classroom or to research or to all the activities that we do as part of education.
- During your visit, what surprised you about Colombia?
- After your visit, what do you take from Colombia back home?
Mol: The people. Through unplanned encounters with Colombian people I was not only able to learn more about them, but was also able to reflect on my own assumptions. Reflecting on the Colombian society, I think that the income distribution is still quite big. I think that everybody here is aware of the privilege to be part of Uniandes and to live the good life. It’s a wonderful place to be and I also greatly sense the obligation of both students and faculty to give back, perhaps in ideas, perhaps in creating jobs, perhaps in transforming the country for the better. That is something that I would take home with me as it inspires me.
Gómez: I’m an ambassador of Colombia in the town that I live in, Ithaca, New York in Cornell University. It’s a big responsibility, because the opportunity for many of our students of going there depends in our performance.
- What would you highlight from your visit to Universidad de los Andes School of Management?