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Small Business Research Takes Professor to Brazil, India and China

Published: January 17, 2012
Washburn, an associate professor of marketing, travelled to Brazil, India and China during her sabbatical to conduct research.
Washburn, an associate professor of marketing, travelled to Brazil, India and China during her sabbatical to conduct research.
Judith Washburn was standing in a piano factory in China when the seed for her sabbatical research was planted.

Washburn, an associate professor of marketing , had travelled with Michael Truscott, Dana professor of economics , on a 2009 trip offered by the Centers for International Business Education and Research to better learn how to internationalize the Sykes College of Business.

From that interaction with small business owners of piano factories, Washburn wondered how the downturned economy was impacting small businesses in the emerging economies of Brazil, India and China. While these economies are thoroughly studied, the small business enterprises in them aren’t.

“Emerging economies are of interest to the U.S. as they are potential new markets, and are of interest to society at large because of their size,” Washburn told students in a fall Honors Symposium presentation. She defined these businesses as having less than 100 employees and $100 million or less in revenue. “These countries represent a large impact on where the world is heading in terms of economic impact.”

Washburn spent last spring in India on a sabbatical interviewing small business owners, continuing the research last summer with a trip to Brazil. She’ll return to China this May, all to gather research for a book on small to medium-size enterprises in these emerging economies and how political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental (called a PESTLE analysis) changes in a downturned economy impact their business models.

“One thing that I’ve found consistent so far is a lack a skilled workers,” said Washburn.

Washburn plans to launch an online questionnaire this summer when she returns from China, collect and code the data by the end of the summer and start on her manuscripts in the fall.

“It’s an effort on my part to learn more about international business issues,” said Washburn, whose initial assumption was that as all emerging economies, there would be many similarities among the three countries.

David Gewandter ’12, Washburn’s graduate assistant who is studying to get an MBA and master’s of finance, said he was intrigued to find from the preliminary research that in all three countries, people are spending a lower percentage of their annual income on basic necessities and more on education, leisure and luxury goods.

“As a result of this fairly recent development, we are now able to see how consumers in these countries perceive the concept of branding,” said Gewandter. “This information is invaluable to multinational companies looking to enter these emerging markets.”

Madhu Panjabi ’11, who graduated with two degrees, an MBA and a master’s of finance, completed an independent study for two semesters as Washburn’s research assistant.

Panjabi, who was born and raised in St. Maarten by Indian parents, said her background and having parents who own a small gift store on the Caribbean island, piqued her interest in Washburn’s research.

“I could see some correlations on a macro-level as everyone is suffering from the recession and it has a similar effect even in St. Maarten,” said Panjabi, who said she learned a lot from the independent study with Washburn.

“Research is tough. It takes lots of time, patience, digging through various information, sorting out different sources to insure you are getting correct and true information, and definitely thinking out of the box,” said Panjabi. “I always questioned what I was researching and learning, to ensure I got the most out of it.

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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