Ten Questions

September 4, 2012 12:38 pm

Preeta Banerjee

Preeta Banerjee

Preeta Banerjee: "If you have a strong belief in yourself, you can make anything happen"

Preeta Banerjee is an assistant professor of strategy at Brandeis University International Business School in the US, a position she has held since 2007. Her work focuses primarily on technology and innovation management. She recently returned from Kolkata, India where she was on a scholarship teaching entrepreneurship and researching frugal innovation, the practice of using limited resources to create low-cost products and sustainable companies.

Born in Washington DC, Prof Banerjee has a degree in computational biology and a PhD from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and worked closely with technology start-ups.

In her spare time, Prof Banerjee enjoys reading, travelling with her family and swimming.

1. What is an average day at work like?

I drop my daughter off at school and come into Brandeis right after that. I usually teach two classes in the morning, have afternoon office hours and leave by 4.30pm to pick her up. I definitely believe in a work-life balance. When I’m with my daughter after work, she’s my world until I tuck her into bed. Of course, as soon as she goes to sleep, I go straight back to work on my papers.

2. What would you do if you were dean for the day?

I would have a mandatory meeting every year where all the professors share their research. The non-research faculty could talk about novel teaching methods and philosophies. With so much going on every day, we rarely get the chance to exchange thought leadership with one another in a more concentrated manner. It would be a great way to expose faculty members to their colleagues’ ideas and passions.

3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

My high school biology teacher, Richard Dawson, told me to bring passion to my studies and to dig deep into everything I learn. If you don’t understand something fully, you have to get to the bottom of it.

4. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

Receiving a Fulbright-Nehru scholarship to go to Kolkata. It was amazing to see how much we can gain from these kinds of exchanges: there’s a lot of top-down learning we do in the US that can be informed and augmented by bottom-up models from the developing world.

5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

I was trained as a computational biologist, so it took me some time to realise that in business there aren’t just one or two right answers, like there might be in science. There are numerous approaches in terms of how to innovate, how to manage technology and how to grow a new company – and it’s important to recognise the many shades of grey involved in these sorts of issues.

6. What advice would you give to women in business?

There are always tough choices to make – I left the University of Illinois after a year to be with my husband in Boston. Everyone has to make decisions and not making a decision is itself a decision. It’s vital to always be cognisant of the fact that there are trade-offs and that those trade-offs can change.

For budding entrepreneurs, I wouldn’t get hung up on the whole idea that you need to have a formal “incubator” to come up with business ideas. In some of the poorest areas of India, there are many women who are starting their own businesses and making great lives for themselves and their children. If you have a strong belief in yourself, you can make anything happen.

7. What is the strangest thing you have ever done when teaching?

Since 2007, I’ve been incorporating videogames into my classes. Brandeis IBS was the first business school in the world to use IBM’s Innov8, a business-process simulator that looks at business process mapping. I’ve also had students play the game CityOne, which looks at how industries such as banking, retail, water and energy affect a city’s macro-economic landscape. Interactive programmes like these are great because they allow students to make decisions about real-life business situations and see the results of their decisions unfold before their eyes.

8. What is the last book you read?

Jugaad Innovation, co-written by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja. It deals with the issues of frugal engineering and puts in very simple terms the ideas of flexibility and ingenuity in innovation.

9. What is your favourite business book?

Edward Tenner’s Why Things Bite Back. The book is a reminder that technology is not just an economic phenomenon, but also has important social and cultural impacts. While it is wonderful that we use technology to create jobs and build nations, it’s not just about the bottom line.

10. What are your future plans?

I hope to expand my work surrounding frugal innovation, as well as do more to help students embrace the role of innovation in their careers. This past year, I was involved in the new student-run “3-Day Startup” event, where participants had to brainstorm, research and pitch innovative businesses in the space of a weekend. My dream is that ideas like that will become more the rule than the exception in business education.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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