Goizueta Faculty Interview: Professor Jeff Rosensweig on the Intersection of Theory and Practice

Professor Jeffrey Rosensweig is Associate Professor of International Business and Finance at Goizueta Business School. He is also the director of the Global Perspectives Program and the new John Robson Program for the Study of Business, Public Policy, and Government. Speaking with business librarian Saira Raza, Professor Rosensweig discusses his journey to academia and his plans for the John Robson Program. 


GBL: What attracted you to the field of economics? What particular aspects of the field intrigue you?

JR: I like economics because it really deals with people. I never approached it very theoretically. I was concerned even in high school about seeing people around who were unemployed. It was a very bad time for the economy. There was a recession, and I would think, “Why isn’t the economy working better? Are there ways to make it work better?” Ultimately, it’s about having a society that’s more efficient and hopefully, it works for more people.

GBL: As an economist, you’re using data to track various aspects of the economy and identify patterns, which help us anticipate what could happen in the future. However, there are a lot of assumptions that come along with that. The main one in economics being that people are going to behave rationally. In the context of teaching at the business school, how do you mediate that gap between the theory and the models and then the practical application of these ideas in the business context and “in the real world.”

JR: When I was getting my PhD at MIT, it was at the time of “strictly the rational man or woman” model, and we would use math in a way to maximize happiness and things like that. My wife (she was working at MIT as a architect) would look at what I was working on and she would say, “But this is all wrong! People aren’t rational! People don’t make decisions like that.” And so, we would argue. Then few decades later, along comes this whole field of behavioral economics and behavioral finance which is much more concerned with what people actually do. Nobel Prizes are awarded to the to the people who grew this field. My wife now says, “if you had listened to me, and started working on it this way, you would have won that Nobel Prize!”

One reason I wanted to be in the business school instead of the economics department is because I’ve always been more interested applied economics – getting real world data, seeing what we learn from the data, having hypotheses, and testing those hypotheses. In an economics department, especially when I was starting out, it was still very theoretical models, and they were based of this model of people always behave rationally. I’ve always liked the business school aspect that if it isn’t realistic no one really cares.

GBL: Recently, you were named Director of a new program – the John Robson Program for the Study of Business, Public Policy, and Government. What is your vision for this new program? Does it tie into the Global Perspectives program at all?

JR: John Robson and Roberto Goizueta were the visionaries behind the Global Perspectives program, and I was fortunate to be picked to build and direct it. Roberto Goizueta said about the Coca-Cola company, “We were global before global was cool.” That inspired John Robson, who was dean at that time, to have this idea, “Why don’t we make our business school global before global is cool.” I’ve been running Global Perspectives for a quarter century with some of my great colleagues and students involved. I was always interested in the interplay of business and public policy. (I worked at the Federal Reserve and for the government of Jamaica before I became an academic.) The John Robson Program will explore that interplay and what differentiates it from other programs around the country is that it will be student-centric and community-centric. The funding will go towards projects in which professors and students work together on research. We plan to have annual conferences that engage professors, students and community, government, and business leaders on topics like health care affordability, financial regulation reform, transportation and infrastructure, and sustainability.

GBL: You’ve been at Goizueta for 30 years, and I’m sure you’ve seen lots of changes. What have been the most remarkable changes? What are some things that have stayed the same? How do you think you have grown as an individual and as an educator?

JR: The most remarkable change is the scale. We went from about 40,000 square feet to about 200,000 square feet, and now we have several programs. When I first started, we didn’t have an MBA program, we didn’t have an executive program, we didn’t heven have a PhD program. And we also grew our faculty and staff, including IT services and the business library. When I first arrived, I think we had one person for all of IT. Literally.

The thing I noticed most now is in the last few years, we’re building a truly world-class core of younger faculty members. And you know, for someone who’s been here so long and seen different waves, all of a sudden, I see all these people who are, not just good, but they’re getting “Top 40 Faculty Members under 40”-type awards. You know, once I was named one of the top 12 executive MBA educators [by the Wall Street Journal], but that ship has sailed! Now I see myself as more of a mentor to students, alumni, and sometimes the junior faculty. I’m excited about these young faculty members and the way they are leading the charge.

GBL: The last book that you wrote was with Betty Liu, called Age Smart, and it was a bit of a departure from your previous work because you’re focusing on personal relationships, eating habits and personal finances. What inspired you to shift gears and write that book?

JR: Age Smart was departure from my previous book Winning the Global Game, which was about my vision for the globalization of business. The vision for Age Smart was to explain that to age well, you really need balance in five areas of life, and we use a metaphor of a 5-legged stool. We interviewed tremendous leaders about how they aged smart and shared our own perspectives on creating that balance to age well.

GBL: What is your favorite business book and why?

JR: I would say Leading Minds by Howard Gardner. It’s not meant to be a business book – he’s probably the world’s expert on education. He’s a psychology professor at Harvard, but in the book, he studies some of the great people of our era, such as business or political leaders. First of all, I like diversity of leaders he profiles, such as Eleanor Roosevelt. Then, what he does that’s very powerful – it’s not just biographies, but in a very analytical way, he tries to distill what are the qualities of truly leading minds. For instance, he says she’s able to build a commonly shared vision that is a story of aspiration rather than impose her vision.

GBL: What are three words that come to mind when you think of Business Library?

JR: I would say helpful, expert, and teamwork.