Meet Lin Cui: From Data to Decisions

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Lin Cui is Professor of international business in the ANU Research School of Management. In this interview, he speaks to us about what attracted him to the ANU, the changing role of Chinese FDI to Australia, and his new research project on how Chinese multinational enterprises can best manage expatriates in order to achieve social responsibility and economic sustainability.

1) Tell us a little bit about your background.

I was born and raised in Beijing, China. I spent the first 22 years of my life in Beijing, which I consider the greatest city in the world with its rich history, modern dynamics, and most importantly, its proud citizens. There is a certain vibe to the city that is unmatched by any other. It is also home.

My family is multicultural — my wife is from South Korea and we migrated to Australia in 2005. We have two daughters; both are trilingual — they can speak English, Chinese, and Korean. For hobbies, I like basketball, travel, technology, history, and philosophy.

2) What attracted you to the ANU?

I came to the ANU in 2005 to do my PhD in Business. There was a faculty opening in our school at the time of my PhD defence, which I applied for and was successful in getting. I have been a faculty member at the Research School of Management since February 2008.

Research excellence is what attracted me to the ANU to do my PhD, and what has kept me here for the past 15 years. The supportive organisational culture at the ANU is a big plus as well. As I progress in my academic career, I also find myself able to give back to the University with various service and leadership roles.

3) What do you do in your spare time when you are not number crunching?

It depends on what you define as “spare time”. With two young kids at home (literally at home the whole time during this current COVID-19 situation), there really isn’t much down time for me and my wife. Even during normal times, my academic job is 24-7. My collaborators around the world keep me busy all the time. I do try to keep 2–3 hours per day free from work (normally after the kids’ bed time), to catch up on the NBA news and highlights, and engage with history/philosophy books or podcasts. Sometimes I re-watch old TV comedy shows to unwind.

4) In your experience, how has a focus on theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence complemented research in the humanities and social sciences?

Contextualization is critically important for social sciences. Building contextualized theoretical frameworks helps us understand complex and dynamic social phenomenon, where actors and environments interact and co-evolve.

Unlike natural sciences, randomised and controlled experiments are generally unrealistic for the type of research I do because many factors cannot be controlled. In recent years, empirical rigour in business research has improved immensely as the demand for evidence-based decision-making increases.

However, we also need to understand that not all decisions can be optimised, because there could be an endless list of factors related to the decision at hand. We simply do not have sufficient evidence for all of them, nor the cognitive capability to integrate all the evidence in our mind to arrive at a decision. Nonetheless, robust theoretical tools with empirical validation can help people improve the quality of their decisions.

5) How has the role of Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) shifted in the last decade. What can Australia do to facilitate a win-win outcome?

In the past decade, the focus of Chinese FDI has shifted from resource-seeking and acquisition of technologies and know-how to profit-seeking. More and more Chinese investors are pursuing a balance of learning and profiting in their overseas operations, as an early emphasis (‘focus’ better here??) on exploration has proven to be financially unsustainable.

A large proportion of Chinese FDI remains to be politically influenced, but not necessarily directly controlled by the state due to the Chinese government’s Belt and Road Initiative. This is reflected in the location choice and activities of Chinese investors, and Australia has been an attractive destination, especially in the natural resource sectors (e.g. mining, agricultural land, etc.).

The effect on Australia is double-edged. Capital inflow from China does benefit Australian businesses and employees, but it also raises concerns over national security and national interests in the industries related to natural resources and key infrastructures. Vigilant regulations are necessary to make sure foreign investments are aligned with Australian interests. This can be done more productively by setting up transparent and non-discriminatory regulatory frameworks and applying them to all foreign investments, rather than singling out Chinese investors purely based on their national identity. Similar to many other issues, identity politics do not help.

6) With your National Natural Science Foundation of China grant 2019–2022, what does your new research project explore?

Chinese multinational enterprises (MNEs) lag behind in social responsibility and looking after expatriate managers. My new research project explores how Chinese MNEs can best manage expatriates in order to achieve sustainability in human resources and maintain social and economic aspects of their foreign operations.

Expatriation management of Chinese MNEs is characterised by complexity and unsustainability during the internationalization process. Existing practices tend to focus on business competitiveness and use profit and market share as KPIs to evaluate expatriate managers. However, these practices are no longer sufficient as businesses are increasingly expected to deliver social benefits and take care of their personnel.

The question then becomes: how do MNEs maintain business competitiveness while meeting social responsibility standards and long-term development needs and looking after the wellbeing of their expatriates?

My new research seeks to clarify the relationship between sustainable expatriation management by looking at different configurations and subsidiaries’ performances. I use methods such as qualitative case studies and Structural Equation Modelling to empirically analyse the mechanisms. In addition, I am also trying to pioneer the use of Fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis to study the relationship between sustainable expatriation management and subsidiaries’ social performance.

I hope that my study will improve the understanding of emerging market MNEs and bring strategic insights to solve practical international management challenges during the internationalization process of Chinese MNEs.

To learn more about Professor Lin Cui’s research, please visit his ANU Researchers profile.

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