"The best idea might be deep in the organisation. The ability to realize that, and be open to it, is an important part of good leadership."
When Professor Ragnhild Kvålshaugen got the oppurtunity to take a break from work and study full time for a Masters degree, there was no doubt what she wanted to do with her future.
"I am from Valdres, a district in southern Norway. I was the first generation in my family to pursue an academic career. I was lucky to have many terrific teachers in secondary school and did rather well under their guidance and encouragement."
Did you grow up in a family of academics?
Far from it. I am from Valdres, a distric in southern Norway. I was the first generation in my family to pursue an academic careere. I was lucky to have many terrific teachers in secondary school and did rather well under their guidance and encouragement. That was the key thing. I also had a great-uncle and great-aunt that instilled in me a belief that you should utilize your talents.
One should never underestimate good teachers.
No! And there were many at Fagernes videregående skole [now:
Valdres vidaregående skule].
Did you read a lot?
I guess so. And I always thought school was kind of fun. I followed the
news, read the papers and read political history.
When did you start focusing in on your chosen path?
I was studying political science at the University of Oslo, Blindern. This was in the mid-eighties, and political science was all the rage. The student/teacher ratio left a great deal to be desired. There simply wasn't enough guidance. Two friends of mine and I decided we had to look for something else to do, and one of them stumbled over the foundation programme in business administration at BI. I was hooked immediately.
You took your bachelor degree – and went straight to work?
I sort of felt like that was what I was supposed to do. I went to work at Bankakademiet, which used to be a school for finance and banking, that later merged with BI, where I was mentored by a great boss, Henri Werring. He saw what I could do, believed in me and gave me many opportunities. He made me want to become a teacher myself. I studied at BI while still working full time at Bankakademiet. When I got the opportunity to take a break from work and study full time for a Masters degree, there was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to do. Economics and business administration was my thing, and I wanted to specialize in strategy.
Again, you met a great teacher?
Yes, Professor Bente Løwendahl. She was dead set on me getting a PhD. I completed my Masters degree in 1994, and was getting ready to give birth to my second child. I thought: no way! I was raising a family, I had no time. But Bente was very persuasive and supportive and in the end I applied for a scholarship, and much to my surprise I got it.
You started studying at Copenhagen Business School?
Yes, until BI got it's own PhD program. Bente became my supervisor and I spent two years and ten months on my PhD dissertation. I was then offered at temporary position as Associate Professor at BI.
What was it about BI that made you want to stay here?
Well, Peter Lorange [former President at IMD, founder of Lorange Institute of Business Zurich, recipient of six honorary doctorates] worked here, for one! The field of strategy was somewhat new in Norway, it was not a well-established field of study here. BI became the focal point for it. There was a lot of interesting research going on, you felt you were a part of an international research community. Very exciting.
"A lot of my work at BI is in executive education, so I meet a lot of people with specific real-world problems. I like it when my research has both theoretical and practical implications."
Intellectually, what drew you to it?
Well, my interests lie in the area where strategy, leadership and organization meet, but my main interest is in the strategic processes and strategic change: how and why do you make the decisions that will take your business to the future? How do you realize chosen strategies? Leadership is very central in these processes, and it is interesting to understand how leadership can become a resource for the organization.
Further, I am particularly interested in how organizations can renew themselves from the inside by managing knowledge and create opportunities for learning and improvements. Times of crisis tend to sharpen people's ability to learn new things fast. But really, you can learn new things every day. Organizations who want to have a future cannot stand still. The world around them is moving really fast. That goes for my business too – education. The Humboltian model is no longer the only viable way of getting an education. Nowadays the best universities in the world can give you courses via the Internet. I'm convinced we've only seen the beginning of this.
Some people aren't too keen on big changes. But you welcome them?
Yes. Changes are opportunities to grow and learn. Differences, too. I'm currently part of a large research project called Klima 2050 [Climate 2050]. We look at every aspect of the businesses in the construction and building industry, and how those businesses will be impacted by climate change. This is a rapidly escalating problem for society. There has been a major increase in insurance payments due to heavy rain and flooding over the last five years. My research group at BI is particularly interested in why the different actors in the built environment are not able to adapt to climate change and why climate adaptation innovations are not widely implemented.
That should give you something to do for the foreseeable future!
It's very exciting. Construction is a complex field, with many players, that is ripe with conflict. However, collaboration and coordination is much needed in this complex context to solve this matter. Our ambition is both to contribute to theory development on organizing complex relationships in times of change and to create knowledge that is useful for work in the built environment, i.e. to provide insight that helps in climate adaptation.
Do you find it easy to find areas for research in general?
I would say so. A lot of my work at BI is in executive education, so I meet a lot of people with specific real-world problems. I like it when my research has both theoretical and practical implications.
Are people with experience especially eager to learn?
With all due respect to our fulltime students, when it comes to a field like strategy, real experience is certainly an advantage. My students are super motivated to learn about advanced theoretical knowledge in strategy and leadership.
And are businesses in Norway adept at absorbing new research?
Not especially. [Laughs]. That might be the fault of academics, too. There's a lot of people here at BI that want to be in close contact with businesses. But there's a tradition in certain academic circles where the dividing walls are very high. In my particular field, I have to take both worlds into consideration. The research must meet high academic standards. But it also needs to have an impact in business.
There's an incredible amount of literature about leadership. What, in your opinion, are the main misconceptions?
Well, the material that makes it's way into the media is often pretty bad. Anecdotal, based solely on someone's personal experience and very little else. What people need to realize is that leadership is a process of impact and influence. A lot of the literature is about, you know, the great leader. But leaders need to have a relationship with their employees, so that they themselves remain open to be influenced. It's not a given that a leader has the best ideas at all times. The best idea might be somewhere deep in the organization. The ability to realize that, and be open to it, is an important part of good leadership.
You work closely with a lot of people, whether they are students, research colleagues or business people. What can you say about your personality skills?
A certain degree of emotional intelligence is no drawback, of course. I engage in qualitative research, and need to relate to people. I like to think that being a big sister to three siblings taught me something!
What's your philosophy as an educator?
Students first. I always have time for them. I had leave of absence from BI for a couple of years to work for SINTEF [the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia]. But I missed teaching so much!
And how does that weigh up with being a researcher?
It's a continuous dilemma, of course. But I like it. I'm dependent on those periods of time when I can lock the door and go really deep into the work. You have to make room for it. That's why executive education works so well for me. I have intense periods of teaching, followed by intense periods of research.
Does that leave you with any time outside BI?
Oh, absolutely! You have to have that, work balance. I make sure to find time for trips to the mountains north of Oslo. Any time of the year! And I travel as much as I can with my husband and my two children, if they are able to join us. I also do volunteer work for Stella, which is a women's organization run by the Red Cross. We have courses and programs aimed at assimilating immigrant women into Norwegian society and business. It's very interesting – and enriching. They want to contribute, but there are a lot of barriers. They're a resource for society that we need to take much better care of.
Reference: Advantage #3/2016 – The magazine for members of BI Alumni
MORE ABOUT RAGNHILD KVÅLSHAUGEN
- AGE: 53
- LIVES: Oslo
- WORKS AS: Professor at the Department of Strategy.
- TWITTER: @ragkva
- TEACHES IN: Teaching at levels – bachelor, master, Ph.D. and executive. Teaching within strategy and leadership in executive education such as Executive Master of Management and Executive MBA .
- 1987, Cand. mag. University of Oslo. Political Science, English and Business
- 1992, Pedagogical seminar, University of Oslo.
- 1994, MSc in Strategy and International Marketing, BI Norwegian Business School.
- 2001, Dr. Oceon. BI Norwegian Business School.
BOARD AND COMMITEE POSITIONS BY SELECTION:
- 2010 Position as University Lecturer at the University of Linköping.
- 2008 – 2012 Board member BI. Norwegian Business School.
- 2007 – 2014 Board member in Nemko AS
- 2013 Visiting Scholar at University of California, Berkeley-
- 2011 – 2014 Associate Dean of Executive MBA at BI Norwegian Business School.
- 2009 Visiting Scholar at Scancor, Stanford University.
- 2004 – 2006 Senior Researcher, SINTEF Knowledge and Strategy.
- 2001–2004 Associate Dean for the Siviløkonom programme and Dean of master programmes BI Norwegian Business School
- (2002 – 2004).
- 2001–2015 Associate Professor at BI Norwegian Business School.
- 1998–2001 Doctoral student at BI Norwegian Business School.. In addition, adjunct position as Assistant Professor at the Polytechnical University College, today NITH.
- 1995 – 1998 Head of Department at the Polytechnical University College.
- 1989 – 1995 Assistant Professor at the Norwegian School of Information Technology.
- 1987 – 1989 Administrative position at Bankakademiet.
- 1982 – 1983 Teacher in primary school.
- Teknologiledelse. Innovasjon, økonomi, organisasjon. Fagbokforlaget, 2013.
- Organisere og lede: Dilemmaer i praksis. Fagbokforlaget, 2012.
- Inside the Business Schools: The Content of European Business Education.
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