Ayalla is Assistant Professor of Marketing at MSU’s Broad College of Business. She explains what marketers can learn from consumer behaviour and how she hopes to help more women to enter HE.
What does a typical day look like at Eli Broad College of Business?
There's no such thing as a typical day in academia. You have to pace yourself and set your bars. You are the one who decides how your day is going to look.
Depending on how you look at it, that is either one of the benefits or one of the challenges of this profession. I'm very fortunate in that I am my own boss for about 80% of my time. I can research whatever I want, and I value that freedom.
What are the main challenges in your role?
I’m originally from Israel and I did my PhD at the University of Haifa. When I moved to America, I realised that the US higher education system is considerably different. To be successful, there is a specific path you have to take. As a newcomer, you have to figure out what is expected of you.
If you want to be a successful academic in the US, you have to publish in a very specific list of ‘A level’ journals. That can put a lot of strain on you as a professor. You even have to teach in a different way here. It can be difficult to ask for help, especially when you are a newcomer or at the assistant level.
Academia can be very lonely work, particularly if you don't collaborate on projects or write with co-authors. And there are lots of setbacks. Sometimes you send out a paper, let’s say it’s 30 pages long, and you can get 12 pages of comments from the reviewers explaining what's wrong. No matter how successful you are, that’s still hard.
What are the most rewarding parts?
I like that my job is highly intellectual and requires me to think a lot and be creative. You have to see the end product before you start. It's like being a sculptor who looks at this giant stone but can see Michelangelo’s David. I love my colleagues too. I get to interact with the smartest people in the world.
I find teaching very exciting. I teach the executive MBA where the students are professionals, many of them already at management level. To be able to help them perform better or advance their career is highly rewarding. It pushes you to be better in your teaching.
How important is it to have professional experience outside of academia?
In my view, for an academic's scholarly work to be meaningful, it needs to be closely related to what's happening in the field. That’s particularly true when you work at a business school.
In my experience, whenever I've done something in the field, I get new ideas for new research projects. You can't teach an executive MBA without having this practical experience. You can't sell students theories without showing them the practical side.
How has your move from Israel to America informed your academic career?
I originally moved to the US to work at the University of Michigan. I was fortunate enough to take my family with me. We moved to Ann Arbor, which is a beautiful place with lots of water and greenery. Half of Israel is desert, and we'd never seen a real fall season, not to mention snow, so the difference was really striking.
I soon learned that communicating with others is significantly different here as well. While Americans are very metaphorical, Israelis are very direct. This directness can and often will be perceived as being rude. The differences can be overwhelming, but the positive thing is that it makes you become sensitive to how people behave.
As an outsider, you have a great opportunity to make an impact because you see things from a different perspective. For example, I co-wrote a paper about the special relationship Americans have with their garage. At first, I couldn't understand why they have a two-car garage but they keep their car on the street. I realised the reason is that their garage is full with stuff!
What can marketers learn from consumer behaviour?
I've yet to meet a successful company which has no consumers at all. It doesn't matter what sort of organisation you are: profit, non-profit, small, big. Your key to success is understanding your consumers.
You need to know who they are, what their needs are and what value you bring to the table for them. If you don't have that value, you have no consumers and you have no business.
It's a simple formula: start with consumer needs, then convert them into a meaningful value. Only then can you be profitable. If you miss one of those two elements, you are out of the game.
What do you count as your greatest achievements in your career so far?
My greatest achievement will be a student emailing me years after their course and telling me they have a new job that they love. I can't tell you how meaningful that is. If they say that something they learnt in class helped them, that makes my year!
Another issue that I would consider as a personal achievement, is to help more women get into HE and to help them succeed and rise up the ranks. It is up to us women academics to pave the way for others to follow.
I have a little girl who is 11. In her view, she can do whatever she wants to. She doesn't think there is anything she cannot do because she is a woman. I would like more young women to feel like that.
My job in high ed is a monthly series. Read the other interviews here.
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