Dr. Fernando Angulo was named a Board of Governors Research Chair in May 2020 and will hold the position for two years.

Why and how this prof studies businesses that balance profits with social issues

October 6, 2020 | Business, Society
Figuring out what consumers think – building surveys, and analyzing the data they provide – has fascinated Board of Governors Research Chair Dr. Fernando Angulo-Ruiz for more than two decades.

During his undergraduate degree and as a market researcher at a university in Peru, Angulo-Ruiz collected thousands of data points. Then he packed his suitcase with hardcopy responses to more than 900 surveys and transcripts from 21 focus groups and headed overseas to Barcelona. There, he completed his PhD and published his first academic paper on market segmentation in higher education.

“Fast forward to today, and I continue to be excited by research and I'm always curious to find the next new thing,” says the associate professor in the School of Business.

While Angulo-Ruiz continues to study recruitment and retention in post-secondary institutions along with the marketing capabilities of organizations, he will spend the next two years as a MacEwan University Board of Governors Research Chair focused on his research into hybrid organizations. We asked him to tell us about why and how he studies businesses that balance profits with social and environmental performance.

Q: What exactly are hybrid organizations?

Rather than focusing solely on profits, hybrid organizations have both financial and social goals. They can be social enterprises, Indigenous businesses and certified benefit corporations (also known as B Corps).

Q: Why is studying hybrid organizations so important to you – and to society?

Hybrid organizations balance objectives often seen to be in tension with one other – profit and social issues. The social side of a B Corp’s goals is not just lip service or self-serving initiatives to boost their company’s public image. They are at the core of their operations – B Corps are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.

In my research, I’ve worked with Indigenous businesses, women-led businesses and firms in emerging countries. These hybrid organizations not only aim for growth and profit but also to impact their communities: they create employment; deal with social problems, including poverty, homelessness and drug use; participate in local charities and non-profit associations as volunteers and board members; and address environmental issues. It is important work that makes a better world and helps improve lives.

Q: How did you get involved in this work?

In 2014, I partnered with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and was granted access to national survey data on Indigenous businesses. That partnership resulted in award-winning manuscripts, academic papers and, most recently, a book called New Frontiers in the Internationalization of Businesses: Empirical Evidence from Indigenous Businesses in Canada.

My latest research shows that Indigenous companies have a higher degree of hybridity (the extent to which they balance economic and social objectives) than mainstream businesses – more Indigenous businesses are balancing profit with social objectives.

Q: What questions will your Board of Governors Research Chair project explore?

There are still significant blind spots in the research into hybrid organizations. I want to look at why some organizations have a higher degree of hybridity and the consequences that come with that, including economic (e.g., sales revenues, market share, profitability) and non-economic outcomes (e.g., life satisfaction, happiness, engagement with the local community, environmental footprint). Lastly, I want to explore hybridity variations between B Corps and non-B Corp organizations, including their capabilities.

Q: Many people might picture lab coats and beakers when they think about research. Can you describe what your scholarly activity looks like?

In addition to surveying and interviewing business owners over the phone, online and face-to-face (nowadays with physical distancing), I visit these businesses’ facilities to observe and talk to businesspeople and record those interviews.

My student research assistants – all MacEwan students – assist with this research, transcribing interviews, conducting literature reviews and collecting secondary data.

Once we’ve gathered all of the data, I spend hours in front of my laptop assembling data sets and conducting qualitative and statistical analysis.

Q: What is your ultimate goal with this work?

There are challenges associated with being a hybrid organization, but companies are also finding ways to overcome those challenges. I hope that we can illustrate best practices and, in doing so, motivate more entrepreneurs to create hybrid businesses.



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