Scholarly Sense and Sensibility

A gentle look into Fudan Professor Anne S. Tsui’s career and philosophy – a model for both East and West

As one of the most influential Chinese management scholars in the world, Professor Anne Tsui always puts “humanity” at the center of her research.

“Spare no effort in doing everything”

“Never have I intentionally pursued success. What I have done is only to spare no effort in doing everything I have done.”

Born in Shanghai, Anne S. Tsui grew up in Hong Kong. In 1970, she left for the US for further education and obtained her PhD degree in business management from University of California in Los Angeles in 1981. Since then, she has been a dedicated academician and researcher for decades, studying issues such as effectiveness of management and leadership, performance assessment, HR management effectiveness, self-control, staff-organization relationships, and demographic diversity within companies. Her research work has won unanimous recognition from the academic circle.

When asked about the key to her “success”, she answered, “The word ‘success’ is not in my dictionary. What I have done is only to spare no effort in doing what I have done. That is all.”

This answer did not come out of her mouth on a whim. Anyone who has some understanding of her knows that the principle of “sparing no effort” is what she has always adhered to in both doing research and leading her life. Her publications provide the best channel for us to know more about her life philosophy and research attitude.

Among many publications of hers, the Empirical Methods in Organization and Management Research she co-edited is a comprehensive and systematic introduction to the mainstream methods of management research around the globe. Starting from “the purpose of scientific research”, this book provides a comprehensive system of high-quality management research methodology starting from the how to raise the right question and build theoretic foundation to how to use different kinds of empirical methods, measurement models and how to conduct a case study. The book is reputed as the most “rigorous, and standard and high-quality guide to research methods” in China.

Talk with data and theory

When in the US, Prof. Tsui once worked as a HR department director of a world-renown company. She had thought about continuing doing similar work after she finished her further education with the belief that “I wanted to be able to help my company’s development by using what I learned from school.” After she received her PhD in business management, the calling from academic research inspired her to change her mind. She found her passion for research, passion for discovering patterns and methods from a pool of data. She needed to make a choice. If she chose to work for a company, what she had learned would only serve this company. If she chose to continue her pursuit of research, then she would develop theories that could benefit all the businesses and managers around the globe.

She therefore resigned from her company at a fairly young age and gave up a handsome salary. Over the following decades, she has immersed herself in business management research without having the thought of coming back to the business world.

Now looking back at the turning point in her life decades earlier, she smiled and indicated that she had made the right choice. Her research achievements have really benefited more than just one company and influenced the business practice of different kinds of companies just like the research findings of the other renowned management researchers.

Maybe it is exactly because of this experience of coming from the business world to the academia that she takes her research attitude and the practicality of her research very seriously. She indicated that the goal of her research is to help businesses and managers. This goal has never changed a bit. Because of it, TSUI has never published her research findings without careful confirmation and validation.

In her speech, expressions such as “We talk with data” are frequently used, indicating her research is based on robust support of data and closely relevant to reality.

Focus on people and realities of China

Blue sky and white clouds, ancient Chinese architecture

When she was an undergraduate student, Ms. Tsui majored in psychology. When she entered the M.A. program, she changed her major to HR science. Then when she became a doctorate student, she finally settled on management science. Recently, her research particularly focuses on leadership issues. Among all these fields she had specialized in, there is a common core: humanity.

Management is something about people. Work and people are inseparable from each other. The issue about “humanity” is the issue that is the most relevant to our lives but the most difficult to understand. In her preface for Empirical Methods in Organization and Management Research, she quoted a famous saying by Einstein to illustrate her belief: “Concern for the man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors; concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind.”

Anne S. Tsui at the IACMR
Anne S. Tsui at the IACMR

Ms. Tsui admitted that she is somewhat an idealist with her research focus on human demand. In addition, as a Chinese scholar on business management, TSUI pays constant attention to the business and social changes in Chinese society and she is dedicated to introducing into China the latest and most advanced theories from other countries. Since 1999, she has been serving a helpful role in the holding of several training programs on research methods for business school students in China. With the prestigious faculty and the most advanced management theories she helped to introduce into the programs, these programs were very popular among the participating students. A few years ago, she and her colleagues established the International Association for Chinese Management Research (IACMR) and started to publish the journal of Management and Organization Review, providing a platform for Chinese management scholars to have exchanges with their international counterparts. The importance of the association and the journal on China’s management research is recognized internationally.

From the number of papers on China’s market published in major international journals, it can be seen that China has gradually grasped more attention from the rest of the world. How to build a management theory system more suitable for the unique situations in China has become a priority issue for Chinese scholars. In recent years, Prof. Tsui has started to place her research focus on the contexts of Chinese businesses. She believes that Chinese management has characteristics based on which a theory system can be formed. Therefore, she is dedicated to finding out a system of research methods most suitable for the conditions of China. After all, the market environments and corporate cultures in China are drastically different from those in Western countries. Direct copying of the existing Western theories without any adjustment apparently will not work in China. However, the Western theories can still provide some experiences and references for Chinese scholars to learn from.

To realize her goal, Prof. Tsui has conducted an abundance of solid research on Chinese companies. She is currently doing research on the “leadership value system” and “humble leadership” in companies located in Beijing, Tianjin and several other major Chinese cities in the Yangtze River delta.

The Council on Business & Society Global Alliance is an ongoing international dialogue between six of the world’s leading business schools and an organiser of Forums focusing on issues at the crossroads of business and society – The Council Community helps bring together business leaders, academics, students and journalists from around the world. #CouncilonBusinessandSociety

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