Genia Kostka is assistant professor for Chinese business studies at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany. Her primary research interests lie in the political economy of contemporary China; examining private entrepreneurship, local governance structures, climate change, and environmental politics. In addition, Professor Kostka is a professional fellow at Tsinghua University in China and has worked at the Institute of Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

Prof Kostka has a PhD in development studies from the University of Oxford, an MA with specialisation in international economics and international development from John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a degree in international relations from the London School of Economics.

Prior to undertaking a career in academia, Prof Kostka worked as a strategic management consultant for McKinsey & Company in Berlin and interned at Goldman Sachs. In her spare time, she enjoys racket sports and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

1. When did you know you wanted to teach?

I grew up in a family with seven children and as the eldest daughter, I naturally found myself in the role of teacher. I used to organise ‘action days’ for my sisters and their friends where I would divide them into teams and give them challenging tasks and puzzles to solve. Looking back, I realise that sending my siblings out to sell apples in the train station were the antecedents of my classes in entrepreneurship!

2. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the process of crafting research questions and then going out to find the answers. Every year I spend two or three months in China. This year I did fieldwork in Hunan and Shandong provinces to better understand the promises and pitfalls of China’s recent effort to redress environmental degradation through the use of planning and targets. Given its regional diversity and fast-changing nature, regular fieldwork is crucial to understanding what is really happening in China.

3. Do you have a teaching routine?

There is no routine, even in my teaching. For example, I am teaching two electives where students provide consulting advice to a business client. These real life cases are always exciting, both for the students and myself, as the clients and consulting topics always change. This semester, we will be consulting for Trumpf, a German high-tech company and Tausendkind, an internet start-up selling baby clothes.

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

I have incorporated ‘culture breaks’ in my lectures. For example, I have shown recent artwork that interests me or video clips of my sisters’ swing dancing and ballet performances to lighten up the class. Cultivating an appreciation of skills and talents outside the business world is important.

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

I would work to create a culture that rewards impact-driven research. The ‘publish or perish’ environment in academia places immense pressure on academics to tailor their research output to the requirements of leading journals. I would like to see greater emphasis placed on generating high-quality policy or business-relevant research. I would also promote open access journals as I believe academic research needs to be easily accessible for everyone.

6. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

When I was 17, I won a scholarship to live and study with students from more than 60 countries at the United World College in Hong Kong. To be able to study and learn in Asia at a young age was a wonderful opportunity and set me on the path towards a life of scholarship focused on Asia.

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

Identify and build upon your strengths, seek out like-minded people and stay focused on your plans. Good work will get eventually rewarded.

8. What is the worst job you have ever had?

I had all sorts of odd jobs to fund my university studies. I sold meat pies at the Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, promoted discount cards at shopping malls and stuffed advertisements in people’s mailboxes. They all had their tedious sides but overall I took something away from each one of them – I haven’t eaten a meat pie since my job at the Rugby Sevens.

9. What is the last book you read?

This summer my father-in-law, an economist, gave me The Spirit Level – Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It is a truly path breaking work that presents convincing evidence of the benefits of increased income equality for healthy societies. It is an important addition to the growing literature showing the downsides of policymakers’ preoccupation with economic growth over questions of income distribution and sustainability.

10. What is your life philosophy?

I always try to remember that life is too short to sweat the small stuff. To decide whether a problem is ‘small’ or ‘big’, I usually ask myself: Will this matter five years from now? Often the answer is no.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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