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03/18/2012

In the Hotseat

One of the classes I've been taking this semester is 15.223 Global Markets, National Policies, and the Competitive Advantage of Firms. As someone who took economics and politics at the undergraduate level, I've found this case-based class to be fascinating, looking at the challenges that companies encounter when operating internationally, the role of national governments and international institutions such as the WTO, and ethical dilemmas faced. 

Some of the cases that we've discussed include De Beers in Botswana, international trade disputes between Embraer and Bombardier, Google in China, and the roles that pharmaceutical companies should play in the battle against AIDS in Africa. 

Most of you will be familiar with the concept of "cold-calling," where a professor will randomly select somebody in the class to spontaneously talk on a given aspect of a case. Whilst our professor for this class doesn't quite use this tactic, she does still have a few tricks up her sleeve, as I discovered when we were discussing a case in which IKEA was being accused of using child labor by a German TV network; our professor asked "Who thinks that IKEA should have appeared on this TV show to answer these allegations?" - and up went my hand...

The Hotseat. Source: flickr/BruceLee (Creative Commons License)The Hotseat. (C) Flickr/BruceLee

...my professor asked me to come to the front of the room, and sat me down on a chair facing the class. She introduced a gentleman to the class, who to my horror was a journalist from the Boston Herald. He then proceeded to grill me for the next ten minutes as though I was an IKEA executive responding to these allegations.  

Despite being pretty gruelling, it transpired that years of watching Jeremy Paxman interviews (the BBC's famously tough newscaster) helped me out quite a bit here - and I somehow survived with my classmates being pretty positive about my performance.

The class served as an important reminder to us all that we may at some point in our careers find ourselves in a position where despite our best intentions as ethical and principled leaders, our companies face a challenge or crisis that we have to respond to, often in the very public eye.

We concluded with some discussion around media relations, 'crisis management' approaches, and steps that companies can take to prevent such situations from occurring in the first place. The message is loud and clear - by maintaining transparency and proactive collaboration with NGOs, corporations can better manage their supply chain risk, and reduce the likelihood of such labor violations occurring.