A stalwart of the WHU faculty since 2001, Lutz Kaufmann is a Professor of International Business and Supply Management and awarded the MBA program’s ‘Best Teacher Award’ each year from 2015 to 2019. We talk to Professor Kaufmann to find out more about his research focus, his approach to teaching in the MBA, and the skills needed for leaders of the future.
Why do you feel it is important to have faculty who are actively engaged in research?
Without research (and tried and tested facts), you are just another person with an opinion. Teaching an MBA without your own research is like re-heating cold coffee for your guests in the microwave. That may not be true for all fields, but I believe it is the case specifically for what I do.
Therefore, I regularly try to bring my research findings into the core of my teaching and I use only my cases in my courses.
How do your particular courses in the MBA program directly benefit the progression of students and why are they important topics for effective leaders?
My course on Negotiations is about social decision-making. Decisions are made daily that way - managers and entrepreneurs in practice negotiate all day long. It is a key skill of every leader, which is far more nuanced than sitting at a table and somehow cleverly getting the other side to compromise.
As for Strategic Sourcing - that is purchasing in a B2B context. Even I did not join an MBA program 30 years ago eager to attend a course on purchasing. However, in the average company procurement is responsible for over 50 percent of the costs, and for others that can be for far higher percentages. Many companies including start-ups are largely orchestrators of their supplier ecosystem. Privileged access to such resources is a hard to imitate competitive advantage.
Which research topic/projects are you currently involved in?
First, I currently investigate how the use of deception plays out in business negotiations. We found that not all types of deception are created equal; bluffs in business negotiations have very different consequences than lies. Just think how you feel if you were bluffed versus lied to – whom do you blame? Would you want to negotiate with the other side again? Do you see bluffing as a skill or is that lying? In my course, we offer role plays on these topics and discuss the consequences together in detail.
Second, I research the effective use of stories in business negotiations. What is their effect in other contexts, like pitches in Shark Tank (a business reality TV series) and the like, is top of mind for everyone but rarely researched.
Third, we have built a framework to understand the unintended consequences of sustainability initiatives. For example, firms have recently focused on reducing plastics in their supply chains based on pressure from multiple levels of stakeholders. These pressures are largely grounded in managers’ negative reactions to pictures of ‘plastic islands’ within oceans and marine life harmed by plastics. A specific initiative to reduce plastics in the supply chain would have a relatively short-term intended consequence, is relatively measurable, and is salient to key stakeholders.
One unintended consequence of such an initiative might be greater carbon emissions (due to replacing plastic material with heavier packaging alternatives), which have a longer-term time horizon, are more difficult to measure, and are less salient to multiple stakeholders. Stakeholders likely have a harder time envisioning a ton of carbon versus a sea creature entangled in plastic.
What has been a particular highlight of your career so far at WHU?
During the last decade, my doctoral students have won numerous national and international research awards. Four of them have won the prestigious Emerald/EFMD Outstanding Doctoral Research Award since 2008, two in 2009 alone, making WHU the first institution to win such an award in two categories in the same year. In 2016 and 2019, two of my doctoral students won all of the most prestigious dissertation awards in SCM globally. This was the first (and second time) that all four awards were granted to researchers who were from the same institution and who belonged to the same research team.
I was also the academic director of a joint WHU & Oxford executive program for a German DAX company. This won the EFMD Excellence in Practice Award for the best-customized executive program in Europe in 2010. This was the first award of this kind for a German academic institution and consequently, from 2010-2014, I became an Associate Fellow of Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, UK, in parallel to my position at WHU.
What would you like to tell prospective students about the MBA program?
Pursuing an MBA is like managing a firm. It is a team sport, not an individual sport. It is a unique opportunity to find new career paths, so it is essential to keep an open mind throughout the program. For example, if you know that you for sure want to go into finance and only finance, my advice is not to pursue such a general management degree. An MBA at WHU transforms you into a capable manager with a comprehensive understanding of different roles within a business, rather than specialized knowledge.
What do you believe will be the most crucial skills for MBA students in the future?
The ability to stand uncertainty. Interestingly, this was important when I was studying for my MBA in the US thirty years ago, proving that it is still just as relevant a skill today.