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Arv Malhotra: Focused on innovation

12/21/2016

Arvind Malhotra and sonYou might describe Arvind Malhotra as the stereotypical absent-mind professor.

When he's not teaching, you'll find him immersed in research about business innovation. But if you want to call him, you might have to use his wife's phone number because he's lost his phone – just like he loses his wallet just about every day.

"I will never deny it," Malhotra says. "My wife always leads me through finding it."

But Malhotra, the H. Allen Andrew Professor of Entrepreneurial Education and professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, is no "ivory tower" academic. He has been forging relationships with students since he arrived on campus in 1999 and still meets up with those from his earliest teaching days to grab a bite, network and talk shop.

"They have free help from me for life," he promises. While students are in his class, they get opportunities for hands-on learning that encourage them to gain firsthand experiences in the kinds of things they'll be asked to do after graduation.

In his How to Manage Innovation in Companies course, full-time MBA students learn frameworks and tools for effectively collaborating on teams – and then participate in simulations to test their application. For example, students act as managers launching a new hotel. They decide which innovations to include – such as an upscale restaurant, digital key entry and luxury amenities. Their job, says Malhotra, is to accumulate ideas, experiment and figure out what would work best for their budget and clientele in time for the launch. "It teaches them to prioritize," he adds.

In other courses, Malhotra literally shares the world of business with his students. His Global Business Strategy course prepares students to be ethical global managers. They debate issues such as child labor laws and bribery in different cultures and learn to recognize the differences between their native lands and those of others. They also spend time trying to decipher the next emerging economies. "We're not looking at the emerging economies of now, but what will be hot 10 years from now," says Malhotra.

The goal is to teach students their role as business leaders in an increasingly global marketplace. "They are learning about giving back to society what they take from it," says Malhotra.

That theme continues in his Global Immersion capstone course, in which students see firsthand how businesses operate in different countries and learn about the influence of social and cultural dynamics, as well as how to give back to society. His students have studied in Hong Kong, Japan, Columbia, Peru and Chile. Next on the itinerary are Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

"Just 50 years ago, we were embroiled in battle with Vietnam – and now we're great partners," says Malhotra.

Seeing the world with his students is good for his soul, too. "I love traveling with students," he says. "It teaches me as much as it teaches them."

Malhotra is committed to challenging his students. "At the end of the day, I'm a professor," he says. "My students want to be better leaders and better global citizens. They want rich experiences outside of the class."

His commitment earned him the 2016 Weatherspoon Award for Excellence in MBA Teaching. Student nominations cited his humility, ability to refresh his courses so they never get stale and willingness to forge friendships with them.

"Professor Malhotra is like a conductor of a symphony in the classroom, using each of the musicians and their instruments to create a wonderful tune," wrote one nominator.

A prolific and award-winning researcher, Malhotra works at the intersection of technology, strategy, and innovation. He has studied social media, data breaches, virtual teamwork and the adoption of technology. Driving his work is a desire to help companies continuously innovate. He focuses on large-scale collaboration, collective intelligence, employment incentives and better use of technology and processes.

Malhotra spent the summer of 2016 collecting data for a study on how B2B companies can use social media to make richer connections with customers. Malhotra is also looking at what motivates customers to download a company's mobile app and how apps help customers build a relationship with the brand – such as a restaurant or airline.

With a grant from the National Science Foundation, Malhotra has dived into crowdsourcing as it applies to companies.

"My goal with my research is to help companies learn how to collaborate better," he says. "New technology lends itself to a collaborative economy, and it requires a different mindset."

"When I think of Arv Malhotra, I think of focused breadth – not two words that often go together," says Dave Hofmann, Hugh L. McColl Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. "His interests are very broad, but the undercurrent is a passion for innovation. He uses an alternative lens to view innovation – one that leads to very interesting research and cuts across disciplines, but is always focused on innovation."

Malhotra is also focused on family. He is married to UNC Kenan-Flagler marketing professor Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra (MBA '00, PhD '06), with whom he collaborates on research projects.

Their two sons are Tar Heel born, says Malhotra, an avid Carolina fan. He also loves both football and futbol, with Barcelona as his favorite soccer team. In fact, he created one of the first 100 web sites in the world for football fans to connect and discuss things online.

"He is a sports fanatic who knows every sports statistic on the planet," says Kubowicz Malhotra.

But spectator sports are not enough. The Malhotras go bowling and golfing, and they head to the beach for body boarding when they can.

Malhotra is a champion for the education offered by UNC Kenan-Flagler and the lifestyle he gets to live in North Carolina.

"We love the Carolinas dearly," says Malhotra, who grew up in Los Angeles. "I never actually come to work. Everyday it's a great, new, happy place."

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