Published June 2014
This article was produced for the Warwick University International Summer School 2014, follow this link to access the original.
Q) What would I learn on the course?
Kevin: The rationale for this module is for you to do something at the country level of analysis. A lot of business school courses analyse the individual – looking at choice, behaviour, motivation and things like that. There’ll be some that examine the meso-level – the culture and leadership within a firm – and there’s some that are pitched right at the top in terms of globalisation or trade and this operates above the country level. The rationale for our course is to look at the country as an actor; a phenomenon in its own right. The way we do this is through a very practical exercise that’s designed to give you financial literacy which you’ll find useful over and above the academic content of the course.
The rationale for our course is to look at the country as an actor; a phenomenon in its own right.
Over three weeks, you’ll design a single-country fund. A single-country fund is an investment vehicle; it’s a pool of money. In a sense it’s a bet on how well the assets within a country will perform over time and that’s quite a useful way of looking at the differences between countries because some countries have strengths in things like national resources or they have strengths owing to their geographical location or their position within a political-economic block such as the Eurozone.
It’s useful for job interviews. When you’re asked what you did as part of your degree or summer school experience, you’ll be able to say that one of things was to design an investment fund. It’s an unusual activity and is something that a lot of graduate recruiters would be quite impressed by.
Q) How will I learn to do this in three weeks?
Dmitrijs: We throw you in at the deep end! We won’t talk you through what to do next, we won’t tell you how to achieve this step-by-step. We will tell you what you have to accomplish, which is what you would encounter in real life, and then we give you guidance and resources. How you achieve the goal is entirely up to you. It’s fascinating to see how our students go from confused to terrified to actually proud of overcoming the challenges they’ve faced. In this way it’s rewarding for us. You’ll learn how to apply what you’ve learned on the course in real life and that helps in further employment.
Kevin: There’ a little bit of pushing people outside of their comfort zone – you don’t learn otherwise – but at the same time there’s the structured support. It’s a small group so it’s almost like you’re in a project team and we’re your manager.
Q) What’s it like to work at Warwick?
Kevin: I like campus universities, such as Warwick. I’ve just been in Gothenburg, which is a lovely city but the university’s dispersed. A campus university offers a different experience to just visiting a city as a tourist.
Dmitrijs: Being here as a student previously and now working here, I feel that the combination of academic rigour and a supportive environment from staff is fundamentally important.
Kevin: It’s quite a high pressured environment; it’s one of the top 25 business schools in the world so there’s a lot of professional pressure in terms of research performance. I wouldn’t say I dislike that as that’s why I’m doing the job here in the first place. This course is taught to undergraduate second year students and it’s the first course which counts towards their final degree – there’s quite a lot of stress and pressure that can result from that.
Dmitrijs: Pressure is both a pro and a con. If students are stressed and they see us stressed, it’s a recipe for disaster…
Kevin: …but, thinking about it, we’re both very chilled out so we don’t let things phase us and that’s useful for students. I think what students want is consistency and they get that.
Q) Is this a good way to spend three weeks of my summer?
Kevin: If you want to be able to say you’ve studied at one of the world’s top business schools and to develop your financial literacy, developing skills and competencies in understanding how investment vehicles work, I would see it as a valuable thing to do. The course offers some valuable life skills; they’ll stay with you for the rest of your life. I wouldn’t see it as ‘giving up’ part of your summer holiday.
The course offers some valuable life skills; they’ll stay with you for the rest of your life. I wouldn’t see it as ‘giving up’ part of your summer holiday.
The way I approach my work and learning is that I don’t see a gap between my leisure time and what I do for my work because I do what I enjoy doing. I tend to work every day and I’m quite occupied and motivated to do work. The course will be demanding but it won’t be drudgery or unpleasant. It will be interesting. You will learn a lot.
Dmitrijs: Apart from the obvious strategic career and academic benefits this course offers, the summer school is such an interesting social experience. It’s not like going to school and then going home. Here you’ll be with this group of people and you bond. You get to go places – Stratford, London – there’s a rich social undercurrent.
Kevin: Again, it reinforces the value of a campus university. You still get the excursions, the trips to different places, but there is something about being in a place that is dedicated to learning. We’re building on a pre-existing offer; we’re not starting from scratch or inventing something that we haven’t done before. We’re very much seeing this as being integrated with the same kind of learning experience that our undergraduates get. They are a very bright, very hard working, very motivated group of people.
Q) Do I need any prior knowledge to take this course?
Kevin: It’s not-so-much a pre-existing body of knowledge but you’ll need some basic skills and capabilities which you’ll then develop while you’re here. I would expect you to have some interest in business and management – even if it isn’t the degree you’re planning to pursue. I’d expect you to have some interest in financial issues but, really, any citizen of the world should have some interest in investment and how those funds work.
You’ll also need the ability and enthusiasm to work as part of a group. One of the things about the assessment for the course is that it’s all group work; there’s a group essay and group presentation.
Any citizen of the world should have some interest in investment and how those funds work.
Q) What are you researching?
Kevin: I’ve been looking at how people make sense of complexity using pre-existing structures. The idea being that the world is too complex for people to process raw and unmediated; they have to fit it into an existing structure. The most recent paper I had published looks at people in the Inland Revenue and suggests that the way they make sense of their work is to think of it in the same structure as a fairy-tale. There are heroes, there are villains, there is combat and things work out along a kind of pre-determined trajectory.
Dmitrijs: I’m looking primarily at collective memory and collective memory loss. That involves looking at what people do – their specialities, their work – how that determines how they generate and share knowledge; both in the present and from the past.
Q) What are your strengths?
Kevin: I play guitar and I sing in a band. On a professional level, writing is a core strength.
Dmitrijs: He’s really good too…at writing – I haven’t heard him play the guitar yet. I think I’m good at seeing how things play out in practice and translating real life aspects into something more academic.
Kevin: I’m reading a book called The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human which is quite a fascinating book by a guy called Jonathan Gottschall.
You know that story about how if you leave an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters they’ll eventually come up with the works of Shakespeare? I’ve always been interested in that experiment and he has a really novel answer to it that I’d never heard before which is to say it’s already happened. We, the human race, started out as lots of monkeys and we gradually evolved into somebody that could write the entire works of Shakespeare. It’s a really brilliant and clever answer.
He is a really good storyteller. He talks about the role of stories in pre-history and, as an example, he asks you to imagine two tribes living next to each other on the African Savanah. One tribe – let’s call them the Practical People – lives next to the other tribe, let’s call them the Story People. They’re very alike but while the Practical People are planning how to hunt more effectively, the Story People are sitting around the camp fire chatting and telling stories. Which of those two tribes will survive? Gottschall says, we already know, the Story People survived because we’re the Story People.
Dmitrijs: Two things at the moment; The Trial by Kafka and Hollywood by Charles Bukowski. I enjoy the lyrical fluency of Bukowski. It’s not pretty but it’s thoroughly enjoyable. To me, as a social scientist, The Trial very nicely highlights the pervasive nature of our society – you cannot step out.
Kevin: Kafka’s very good for understanding bureaucracy. He does this poem called Before the Law; it’s a one page parable about being denied entry.
Q) What was the last film you watched?
Dmitrijs: I gave myself the luxury of watching Saving Mr Banks, which is a film by Disney about how Mary Poppins was made into a film by Walt Disney. It was thoroughly enjoyable. They didn’t pull any punches. Their chief and founder is shown as charming but a bit Machiavellian. I would recommend it even if you’re not into Mary Poppins.
Kevin: I tend to watch a movie each night at 9pm just to switch off. The last film I watched was Mission Impossible III.
Q) And what are you currently listening to?
Kevin: I’ve recently been to Sweden and the two CDs I took were Animals and Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Most of what I listen to though tends to either be gangsta rap or death metal. They’re both the most political types of music but in different ways.
Dmitrijs: I recently rediscovered My Chemical Romance and I can’t stop listening to their 2004 album, (Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge). It’s an excellent memento. I’m also very much into this band Heaven’s Basement. They’re from London. I went to their show last month – tremendously energetic.
Q) And finally, how do you fit it all in?
Kevin: I stopped playing Candy Crush! I got quite addicted and I made a conscious decision that my time was going down the plughole. I also, switch off email - those pop ups are a distraction. I also set myself deadlines – I tell people I’ll give them something by such-and-such a date. It makes me do it.
Dmitrijs: I agree about deadlines
Kevin: But not about Candy Crush?
Dmitrijs: I think it’s important to have a hobby!
Dr Kevin Morrell and Dmitrijs Kravcenko will be teaching the Strategic Investment And International Business Environments course at the University of Warwick International Summer School from 29 June-19 July and 20 July-9 August 2014.