Barbara Flynn, a veteran of academia who arrived at Indiana University in 2006, is director of the IU Center for International Business Education and Research.
CIBER, founded in 1981, creates business research and study opportunities for IU faculty and students, with the ultimate goal of preparing graduates to compete in today's global economy. The center mostly is funded federally and operates on a $500,000 annual budget.
The 55-year-old Flynn has a degree in psychology from Ripon College in Wisconsin and taught elementary school for five years before enrolling at Marquette University to pursue her MBA. After receiving the degree in 1981, she came to IU and earned a doctorate of business administration in 1984.
She took over as director last year, succeeding interim director Bruce Jaffee and former director Alan Rugman.
Flynn held prior faculty positions at Louisiana State, Iowa State and Wake Forest universities. Here's what she had to say on various issues relating to international business:
IBJ: How did the director's position become available and what attracted you to it?
FLYNN: The previous director was stepping down. We have a four-year funding cycle, so the position tends to rotate through every four years or every eight years. I first learned about CIBER because I applied for some research funding from CIBER to support what I was doing and then found that the position was available, and applied for it because I do a lot of international operations research. That's my primary interest.
The study of international business was invented at the [IU] Kelley School [of Business] many years ago, so we have a long history in that area. But we don't necessarily publicize it a lot, being from Indiana. The rest of the world kind of thinks we're in the middle of a cornfield and there's nothing going on here. People don't tend to associate us with international business; they think of big schools on the coasts.
IBJ: In an increasingly global society, how do you see the center growing under your leadership?
FLYNN: We're trying to move beyond looking at international business as a separate field of study and instead to look at the international implications of teaching and research across all areas of business.
I guess I don't consider myself to be an international business professor at all; I've never taken a class in international business. But I look at operations manage- ment in a global context and we're trying to help people see that it's part of what everybody does: students, faculty and then with the outreach to the businesses.
And, of course, our expenses have gone up. We're constantly looking to new sources of funding. One would be pursuing research grants and sponsored research opportunities that are available through places like the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Commerce, Relations for International Development, that kind of thing.
IBJ: Part of your emphasis is on China and global supply chains. How is the country's emergence helping or hurting the U.S. economy?
FLYNN: I think it's helping a lot. It's interesting when you hear people, especially last fall, worried about quality in Chinese supply chains. I think it would be tough to find a supply chain that didn't go through China. There's a part of every supply chain that passes through China.
Really, I see it as a win-win situation because it's really helping the economy and the people of China develop and yet offering low-cost products and supplies.
IBJ: China's hosting of the Summer Olympics and the related protests are bringing a lot of negative attention to the country. Is it warranted?
FLYNN: It's really unfortunate. When I've been in Beijing, they're trying so hard to make a good impression, and they really see this as their opportunity to show the world that Beijing is a modern, forward-thinking place. I think the protests are really unfortunate.
I was there last summer. I've been in China four times in the past couple of years. Primarily, I go to southeast China. So I've only been to Beijing once. It's gathering data for a research project I'm working on, and the southeastern part of China is the most advanced in terms of manufacturing. So that's why I've gone there, primarily. But I'm also getting involved in working with some doctoral students in China and Hong Kong.
IBJ: Japanese companies have a large footprint in Indiana. Are Gov. Mitch Daniels and his counterparts in the Midwest doing enough, though, to lure Chinese companies to their states?
FLYNN: I don't have any knowledge of what they're doing, so I probably shouldn't comment on that.
We're hosting a program [May 28-30] on doing business in India and also attracting Indian companies as well. I know the governor is interested in that. He's been cooperative with us.
I guess one of the points that we try to make, though, when we're talking to people about some of our programs with students is that, even if a student never studies abroad, no matter where they're working in Indiana, there's going to be international companies there. It's interesting to see the extent of direct foreign investment in Indiana. They're going to be dealing with companies that have their headquarters in other places and are working with people from other countries.
IBJ: Speaking of India, that's another country that is rapidly developing. What do you foresee in terms of U.S. investment there?
FLYNN: I see that as really growing. We're involved with a group called the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry. And they're very interested in encouraging Indiana companies to invest in India. They came to [CIBER] to ask if we would help out.
An Indian delegation [at the conference] will be talking about issues relating to infrastructure, legal issues, intellectual property, all kinds of different issues. And then ... the Indian ambassador to the U.S. is coming. We've got some pretty highranking people. And we're partnering with Fed Ex on this, and hopefully some other global companies, so it should be a very interesting program.
IBJ: Foreign direct investment in the state's automotive manufacturing industry is expected to grow, according to an IU report. What does that mean for the state?
FLYNN: Well, I think it would mean jobs and help replace jobs that have been lost in the U.S. auto-supply industry. I'm assuming that the direct foreign investors are coming here because we have a good work force, people work hard, and we have a reasonable cost of establishing operations here. So, I think it would be a good place to come.
IBJ: For the most part, Democratic presidential candidates cite NAFTA as a mistake. What are your views on the controversial issue?
FLYNN: We co-sponsored a free-trade conference in December. As a person, I would support it, but CIBER certainly doesn't have a position. I think it's beneficial. I'm all for reducing barriers to trade.
IBJ: What are the chances U.S. companies will ever have a presence in Cuba?
FLYNN: Boy, at this point, I think pretty slim.
But it is interesting, because people are talking a lot about Vietnam now-that Vietnam is the new China. And Africa. So it's interesting to see things opening up in other parts of the world where we thought they never would. But I think it would be a long time before they do in Cuba.
Vietnam now is maybe where China was 10 years ago, where costs are really low but so is the skill level. But they're building very aggressively. They're very pro-U.S. and really like our business. And I think what's happening in China, as skill levels get higher, they're starting to charge more. They may be pricing themselves out of the market and Vietnam is looking to slide into that niche.
IBJ: U.S. customs quietly published its intention to raise import taxes on apparel, shoes and other goods. If the tax indeed is raised, how will it impact companies and consumers?
FLYNN: I guess the intent is to protect American companies. I'm all for lowering barriers, not increasing them, and trying to reduce costs in other ways. One of the things we talk about in our classes is that the labor cost of most products is a very small proportion of the total cost. OK, labor costs are a lot lower in China, but there are other costs that are more expensive. They're not always looking at the total picture by always focusing on labor costs.
IBJ: Another IU study reported that Indiana exports to foreign countries reached a record $22.6 billion in 2006 and were expected to climb higher last year. Will the upward trend continue?
FLYNN: I would hope so. I guess I also see a huge role for Indiana in logistics and supply chains. FedEx is expanding dramatically and a big part of that is that everything from China comes right over the top to Indianapolis and goes out to the rest of the country. I think our location helps us to play a major role in that.