An interview with Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki

- a woman embracing entrepreneurship

The TEDxUniversityofLeeds committee is beyond excited to have announced an confirmed our all-female and powerful panel for the coming TEDWomen2018 event that is due to take place on Friday 7th December 2018.

Along with this exciting announcement, we have conducted exclusive interviews with these amazing individuals about their experiences as women in their fields and their opinions on a diverse range of topics in relation to the event. 

So without further ado, read below for the first of these interviews with the amazing Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki.

Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki

Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki is a professor of International Business (IB) here, at the University of Leeds. Her research is focused on micromultinationals (mMNEs) and internationalisation of Small and Medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and family businesses. I had the opportunity to meet her and had a very interesting and inspiring discussion with her. 

She is incredibly supportive and embracing of innovative ideas. Considering herself a citizen of the world, Emmanuella really tries to bridge different branches of knowledge and disciplines e.g. arts and business. Her thoughts will offer a more holistic view of the world and motivate you, as they did me.

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Would you initially like to take us through your career path and how you ended up working on International Business?

"I started working in the area of International Business as its eclectic nature, changing dynamics and extroversion fascinated me. It is about appreciating diversity, different cultures and languages. I was brought up in Thessaloniki, Greece, in a house full of books written in many languages –my father himself was fluent in four or five languages. I started picking up vibes about different languages and cultures from books and music when I was quite young. Another aspect that enhanced my appreciation of cultures, diversity, extroversion and the global environment was that members of the extended family engaged in entrepreneurship like plenty of Greeks. If you put together the pieces of my childhood puzzle, it becomes obvious why I chose International Business and I opted for business studies during my University years."

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What you just said is important because it ultimately demonstrates how the culture we are brought up in can really make the difference in our lives.

Indeed, for instance this is embedded in Greek philosophy that discusses the notion of being a citizen of the world. I think this resonates a lot with the field of International Business that encompasses activities taking place across country borders. International Business studies appreciates different cultures and phenomena the researcher sees within different contexts. This is important as it allows the development of a global mindset. 

Recently the European Union conducted a research study about equality of men and women, and unfortunately Greece was in the last place. You are a good example of a Greek woman who completed her initial studies in a Greek University but then you moved here to the UK. So, do you think inequality is a reason to drive a woman out of her country or is the sentiment of internationalisation is stronger

This is a very interesting question you are raising. As a Greek woman today, I see that still in Greece the culture is rather masculine. Having said that, there is gradual improvement about the role of women in society and leadership. What drove me to study abroad was primarily the challenge of meeting new people and learning from new cultures. So for me it was more the “being a member of the world” mindset. Please bear in mind that I firstly moved to the UK when I was 22, so I was quite young. As far as my training was concerned, I had not experienced inequality in my school and university years as there are equal educational opportunities for both genders in Greece. Thus, for me, the motive was to receive education from another learning environment and expose myself in a learning process that automatically starts from day one, once you enter a new country. I always feel that the best investment I have made in my life was my education which of course is a lifelong process

Another reason that has motivated me to study outside Greece is that I like challenging my comfort zones. One could say that challenging your comfort zone is leaving from a country which gender inequality is implicitly or explicitly present. I experienced aspects of inequality when I returned to Greece from the UK after having concluded my PhD and Post-Doctoral studies at the University of Strathclyde. I was extremely young and well-educated and oftentimes I could see myself being one of the few in the crowd. I was never explicitly treated in discriminatory manner, but I was seeing only a few women in leadership positions in academia or in the business sector. It seems that the structures do not help women climb up the career ladder and apparently the glass-ceiling effect still exists. 

When we usually hear about IB, we think of multinationals. However, the economic crisis has provided the opportunity to the so called micromultinationals to be involved in international trade. Could you explain what exactly micromultinationals are and how they differ from SME exporting?

This is a very dear topic to me because the interesting thing with micromultinationals is that they internationalise big even if they are small. Throughout the world, SMEs tend to be extremely active in terms of exporting. Exporting means producing a good or service in one country and selling it abroad directly or through an agent, which is an indirect way of exporting. Usually in exporting there are limits and control of the product can be lost as it is disseminated and distributed in the markets by different agents. Exporting is a rather conservative and incremental mode to internationalise and companies often engage in exporting to test the waters and understand what is happening abroad. With exporting, a company can reach saturation, in terms of its growth, quite soon. Traditionally throughout the world there is a vast number of SMEs, which internationalise using only exporting. 

The interesting thing with micromultinationals is that they are small businesses, which are quite motivated to engage in internationalisation beyond exporting. They operate in the forms of licensing, franchising, joint ventures and strategic alliances and can acquire knowledge on foreign markets without necessarily owning their subsidiaries. Their products are developed both in the home country and in the host country. So, the idea of a micromultinational is that it internationalises by actually orchestrating value-added activities i.e. marketing, sales, production, research & development across borders. Micromultinationals are very extrovert, they learn fast and thus they can bring practices from abroad to the home country environment, which allow their businesses to grow. Moreover, they are likely to engage in higher degrees of networking activities globally with small and large firms, allowing them to identify entrepreneurial opportunities and new markets to target with their products. Obviously, still being quite small they have the advantage of being flexible and responsive to adjust to change. 

Is an entrepreneur born or developed through suitable experiences and an educational background? Are the predominant educational systems really cultivating entrepreneurial skills to children?

I see what you are thinking, it is essentially about whether an entrepreneur is born or made, and this is the dilemma here. I would say it is both! Obviously, there are some people who are by nature much more charismatic leaders. They have the ability to influence and inspire individuals and engage them towards a cause, vision and plan. They have a forward-looking perspective, emotional intelligence and the ability to assume calculated risks. These aforementioned qualities can be inherent features of an individual.

However, I believe these features can be reinforced by learning and an education system that promotes entrepreneurship. There are countries in which entrepreneurship is embedded in the education system, thus individuals are encouraged to think about starting their own businesses. This actually changes the mindset about entrepreneurship. First of all, people will think in a more open-minded manner and consider entrepreneurship as a potential career choice. It also cultivates a mindset that life is about taking up calculated risks which is the essence of entrepreneurship. On top of that, it brings you closer to failure and appreciating failure as a learning process and not being stigmatised by failure. All these messages are often embedded in learning environments, which strengthen youth entrepreneurship. My answer to the question is essentially that it is both. Entrepreneurs are born in the world with a drive and created through education, experience and mentorship. 

Returning back to women. Having devoted your PhD to Marketing, how are women portrayed, in the current socioeconomic environment, through marketing campaigns? Does the portrayal of women follow the changes in their social roles or do stereotypes still apply? 

I can respond to this question as a researcher but obviously also as a woman. The media has been consistently portraying women as well as men in a very stereotypical mannerWomen are portrayed in traditional roles, concerned with their physical appearance and as sex-objects. This discourse has been quite dominant over the past few years and across different parts of the world. Let’s not forget that media are part of our social learning. Thus, stereotypes communicated through media are disseminated in society. Unfortunately, there are still women in the world who do not have access to education and cannot decide for their own future. 

My own past research suggests that indeed the media have been slow catching up with the changing role of women in society. Women today are not only concerned with being physically attractive but they are extremely successful professionals; they are scientists and mothers, and they are very well-educated. These are amazing role models! These role models can problematise the status quo. 

You are a woman who is leading the Northern Advanced Research Training Initiative (NARTI) and the International Business/ International Management Special Interest Group of the British Academy of Management (BAM). How easy was it to reach such positions, being a woman? How would you inspire a young girl?

I would say that obviously there is no single recipe for success or leadership. The common denominator is hard work. Leadership requires self-development, confidence, listening and learning from your mistakes. A leader is open to criticism. We need to understand ourselves before we reach others. An over-inflated ego is toxic for leadership – leadership is about nurturing others. We need to be aware how we change or challenge ourselves in different occasions.

I think self-awareness and self-acceptance are crucial. Once we are able to accept ourselves for who we are and we can step in and mentor. To be a great leader, one needs to understand what matters to people, mentor the team or individual, so they can collaborate effectively. This is why I feel that a leader really needs to have self-awareness, confidence, resilience and these are skills we develop throughout time by enhancing our own personal skills and by reflecting upon your practices and experiences. 

I would like to close this wonderful discussion with a question concerning arts, which I know is an interest of yours. What are the features of the arts that can be connected to business activities? 

History of art is something I really like and related to my childhood years because my grandmother was a painter. I started exploring the art world by taking online courses.  I realised that phenomena we discuss in the business arena such as innovation, creativity, developing partnerships and alliances also have application in the art world. Consider the greatest artists such as Van Gogh and Picasso, they were great innovators and entrepreneurs. Artists are constantly taking risks, they are defying their comfort zones and they are becoming very proactive agents of change. These traits are, in essence, describing an entrepreneur but they also describe an artist. There are many parallels between the art world and the business world and the interface between the two is thought-provoking. It is learning by bridging different knowledge worlds and defying silos. I like connecting dots and bridging disciplines.  

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What to have your say?

If you have any interesting ideas or know of any interesting research or events taking place on campus, let us know!