Hailing from the great state of Alabama, our crimson-blooded international business professor John Francis brought a great perspective to the classroom with his Seminar on the World Business Environment. Dr. Francis wrote a dissertation on strategy regarding international acquisitions to complete his doctorate studies at the University of Memphis. Before that he received his MBA from Samford University and his BBA from University of Montevallo in Alabama. Dr. Francis left the cohort ready to take on work in the increasingly global industry that is sports with his expertise and the spirited discussion he inspired through his lectures and assignments. His trip around the world was the perfect start to our summer session as we explored different countries far and wide and the business decisions related to them with our trip to the Dominican Republic taking place during the same time period.
Scott Bauhs: How did it feel to watch the Tide roll in on Johnny Football?
John Francis: Well, considering I took my 8-year-old son Will to his very first Bama game in Tuscaloosa last year only to experience Johnny beating us single-handedly, it was very gratifying to watch this year’s game.
SB: How does a Southern boy end up becoming a professor of international business strategy?
JF: Well, I always joke that being from the South is kind of like coming from a different country. However, there were a couple of major issues that drove my interest in IB. When I was growing up in Alabama, Birmingham was a steel town and its largest employer was US Steel, which my grandfather worked for. At the time US Steel was the largest company in the world and the business environment of many cities like Birmingham revolved around this company and industry. You don’t see US Steel around anymore and the footprint left behind is a bunch of rusted out manufacturing facilities. It’s almost like looking at corporate dinosaur bones.
At the time as a kid I had no idea what happened. Now I know that US Steel faced intense international competition from the rise of Japanese steel manufacturers. The competition was too good, in terms of quality and cost structure, and US Steel was ultimately run out of business. American companies historically have focused on our own domestic market, but I saw first hand that if you ignore the international environment you may fail.
Another experience that really impacted me was a study abroad semester in Southeast Asia I took as an undergrad student. I found out how interesting other cultures are and how wrong some of my assumptions about the world were. As I got a little older and started working in the business world, I decided to follow my interests and passion. I really enjoy exposing and expanding a business student’s focus to the global environment. I like to challenge their assumptions about what works across national boundaries and help them see the opportunities and difficulties that come with international business.
SB: You have extensive experience teaching trips abroad. Do you have a favorite place outside of the United States to take students to?
JF: Every place I go I usually end up loving for various reasons. For example, how can you beat going to Italy with its great balance of interesting culture, history, sports, food, art, sunshine, etc… However, if I wanted to be strategic with this course as a learning experience, studying in China and seeing firsthand the amazing development that is happening there would probably be at the top of the list.
SB: Not to ask a leading question, but why was our class the best you’ve ever taught?
JF: Ha. I did say that, didn’t I? Here’s my rationale. I had never done the Global Sports Business Updates before in my SMBA classes. I added this assignment in order for you guys to engage more with both the core concepts of international business, as well as current issues going on in the global sports industry. I had no idea how this would work out, but as you know you guys did a great job consistently in every class bringing in relevant topics and creating a great learning environment. For me the discussions that were generated were one of the real highlights of the course and kind of set you apart from my previous classes.
SB: Thomas Friedman wrote the book The World is Flat, which highlights the ways that technology has both enhanced and challenged the world. While it’s hard to argue that technology hasn’t affected the way that we interact with those abroad, do you feel that the world is now “flat” or that we still have a long way to go?
JF: It’s obvious that the world is a lot flatter than ever before as there are fewer barriers to cross border transactions. However, as we discussed in class, there will always be hurdles to doing international business that relate to the differences in institutions and cultures that must be understood for businesses to succeed.
SB: What is the best Karl Strauss beer? (Editor’s Note: Dr. Francis’ wife Jena is VP of Marketing for Karl Strauss)
JF: Currently on tap in my kegerator is Pintail Pale Ale. Did I ever tell you the story how I named Tower 10? Ha.
SB: Is Major League Soccer repeating the same mistakes of the North American Soccer league?
JF: No. If you read my published article you will know why! 😉
Basically, the mistake by NASL was the lack of stability in the ownership structure of the league. MLS has developed an innovative ownership structure where the league owns each franchise and individual ownership partners are investing in the overall league. Unlike NASL, MLS controls the growth of the league and the brand. It’s a long-term approach and appears to be working well.
SB: We are currently doing a project to help build stateside sponsorship and an American fan base for the Tijuana Xolos soccer team through our Marketing Research class. Would you have any advice for the team from your international business experience?
JF: My advice would be to develop some deep insights into a competitive strategy that differentiates the Xolos and then passionately and consistently execute this strategy. As Nick Saban says, “Work the process!”
SB: Of the following three options, what is your favorite part of being a professor at San Diego State: Hearing from students that what you taught them made a difference in their career, getting paid to research anything you can dream of and write about it, or walking out in the middle of February to 75 degree temperatures and the sun shining down?
JF: Well, two of your options are true regardless of location, but San Diego is a special place. I remember before I interviewed here, I was living in NYC and I had just received an offer from Seton Hall University. It was a really good job and I was very excited about it. Not wanting to go through the whole interview process again, my wife basically forced me onto an airplane to SDSU. There’s just something about seeing palm trees as you touch down that flips your switch. I went from loving NY and looking forward to a great new job to trying to figure out anything I could do to get the job at SDSU. I think every day how fortunate I am.
SB: What are your favorite sports memories?
JF: Ok, I’ll admit I’m one of those sports bucket list guys. I’ve gotten to go to some amazing events like the golf majors. I’ve been to the Olympics, watched football and baseball games in some really historical locations. I got to see Hank Aaron as a kid and I watched Pete Sampras’ last match at the US Open.
However, I guess I’d have to say that my all-time favorite memory was watching Bama beat Texas for the BCS a few years back. (You probably saw that coming). It was Bama’s first championship in awhile and to do it in the Rose Bowl was just amazing. Being a San Diegan now, I’m looking to the future hoping that the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs come through and make some exciting memories for us all. Also, what’s it going to take to get an MLS team here?