As the calendar turns summer and another class leaves Fletcher, we reflect on some of the fascinating research we’ve supported from students in the past. In this post, we revisit MIB ’16 graduate Nathan Holdstein’s research on investor relations for companies in Mainland China.
For firms at various stages of development, listing shares on a major international stock exchange is the penultimate measurement for establishing oneself as a “successful” business. This is especially true of firms based in Mainland China. In many cases, firms choose to list shares outside of the country, mostly in Hong Kong and the United States, either as a primary listing or to supplement existing listings on local bourses. Those that do so can face intense scrutiny from market regulators, investors, media, and the general public. What can they do to better demonstrate the value they will bring to shareholders in international markets?
The author interviewing Prof. Zhigang Tao, Hong Kong University
My capstone looks at the investor relations component, and why Chinese companies should more actively engage key market players to better show their value. I am hypothesizing that companies doing so have larger percentages of institutional shareholders, which will reduce volatility and push the price up over the long-term. This occurs in large part because those firms that are successful will provide the market with a steady stream of reports, forward guidance, and general news updates to give analysts and stakeholders a better understanding of what the company’s value is.
With support from the Institute for Business in the Global Context, I traveled to the Special Administrative Region in Hong Kong to meet experts and practitioners of investor relations and finance there. Given its proximity to the Mainland and relatively market oriented monetary regulation & capital controls, it is no surprise that a number of Chinese companies choose to go public on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. I wanted to get a better understanding of what it takes to have a successful listing in Hong Kong, in which the share price remains relatively stable and increases in value.
Technological solutions for agriculture in the developing world have become fairly widespread during the last decade, but challenges remain related to reaching farmers in rural, less connected areas. Well known applications such as M-Farm in Kenya have provided SMS-based market and price information to farmers, while other applications, including Esoko in Ghana, have offered information on weather patterns and other factors. However, due to lack of digital infrastructure or farmer literacy, reaching those at the base of the pyramid remains a significant challenge.
An eKutir farmer’s irrigated tomato plants
eKutir, a social business based in Bhubaneswar in the Odisha State in eastern India, has developed an ICT-based model that is designed to create value at the base of the pyramid. The eKutir model provides “micro-entrepreneurs” working in farming, food sales, and sanitation with access to technology that helps to improve productivity and streamline value chains. Over time, there is potential for this system to make a substantial impact by increasing returns on investment and reducing transaction costs throughout a wide range of value chains.
With support from the IBGC, I had an opportunity to travel to Bhubaneswar in March 2017 to meet with the eKutir management team as well as some of the farmers and entrepreneurs involved in eKutir’s value chains as part of research for my Fletcher capstone project. During my time in India, I was impressed by the consistent positivity among the various people with whom I spoke.
by Stratos Kamenis (MALD 2017)
The massive exodus of the Syrian people has led to a refugee crisis in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have made the long journey across Turkey and then to Greece, putting their lives in danger in the hope of finding a better future in Europe. In 2015, more than a million asylum-seekers took refuge in Europe, with another 500,000 following in the first half of 2016. A deal was struck between the European Union and Turkey in March aimed at limiting the number of migrants and regulating migration by establishing EU-administered camps – the so-called hotspots – on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, and Kos, from where the majority of migrants enter Europe.
Refugee boats arriving to the shores of Lesvos (August 2015)
The island of Lesvos found itself under the spotlight of international media as the central entry point to Europe. Some 600,000 refugees and migrants have passed through the island over the past 19 months. After a year of coping with the crisis without aid from international organizations, the impact on Lesvos’ 85,000 permanent residents has been significant. To their credit, the locals have been gracious hosts. Their sense of tolerance and solidarity has been praised by major world figures including Pope Francis, Queen Rania of Jordan, actress Angelina Jolie and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Their humanitarian efforts have earned them a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
by Domoina Rambeloarison (MIB 2017)
By 2020, the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is expected to reach $220 billion. Broadly speaking, the term refers to contracting business functions and processes, typically related to information technology (IT), to a third-party service provider. It encompasses a range of activities that include customer service work, data entry, digitization, financial accounting, and other higher value-knowledge processing such as content development, legal services, engineering design, and data analytics. I developed an interest in the sector in the Francophone world after noticing a wave of IT/BPO firms establish offices in my home country, Madagascar.
Teamwork in a Malagasy BPO/IT office
Curious to know more about the sector’s potential impact on the country’s economic base, I traveled to Antananarivo with support from IBGC. I interviewed the managers of four BPO firms, ranging from a large French subsidiary to a Malagasy start-up. I also met with the national information, communication, and technology (ICT) regulatory body, the ICT industry association, the tech hub, and one of the main four telecommunication companies. I learned what attracted these firms to invest and how they overcame the challenges of operating in a low-income country. More importantly, the interviews helped shape my views on how an IT/BPO sector could contribute to economic growth through investment and job creation.
by McKenzie Smith (MIB 2017)
In their 2016 Investor’s Survey, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) reported that 99% of respondents are meeting or exceeding their impact targets, whereas 89% would say the same for financial returns. As with many statistics, this near-perfect success made me wonder about the anecdotes behind the numbers, and the conversations that followed with professors, peers, and practitioners in the impact investing space formed the foundation of my capstone.
Recent research by the GIIN shows that impact data drives business value through five key channels, and other work has focused on just how impact investors are measuring impact. Still others argue for the use of impact classes to bring clarity to how we discuss impact, but few have focused on best practices for actively managing impact performance. As my conversations evolved, my list of questions grew.
by James Kochien (MIB 2017)
“Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real.”
Quick, what’s the world’s largest media company? If you guessed The Walt Disney Company, you’re wrong – Disney is No. 2, after Google, which hardly seems like a fair comparison. After all, over the past decade Disney has absorbed the Marvel superhero franchises, rebooted Star Wars, and put a new generation of princesses on the toy shelves of the world. All of the global top-5 grossing films in 2016 were Disney properties, totaling over $5 billion in sales. Disney parks saw 140 million visitors in 2015, over two times its nearest competitor. And after a string of expansions that left shareholders unsatisfied, Disney parks opened a new Disneyland in Shanghai, China, to great fanfare. No. 1 or not, Disney dominates the spaces in which it plays.
It is also a company with historical and cultural significance that makes its success somewhat surprising in the globalizing economy. It is founded in an “American” version of family values and prosperity.[i] Its films and parks traffic in a sort of watered-down multiculturalism with America firmly at the center, the proverbial passengers on the ship winding through the plucky, costumed children of “It’s a Small World.” Successful films drive attendance at themed park attractions, and successful attractions nurture new film franchises. It’s a tight synergy that allows Disney to charge a premium for its parks and merchandise.
by Justin Erickson (MALD 2017)
My research is based on identifying economic development policy priorities for Honduras at the country level. Low income countries like Honduras might benefit by strengthening the rule of law, improving infrastructure, or maintaining macroeconomic stability. However, I am interested in what Honduras should do first. What should be the economic development priority of the country right now? E.g. What is currently constraining higher levels of income growth? This is particularly important for Honduras because it is facing a demographic “window of opportunity” in the upcoming years. This will be a period when the ratio of the working age population to total population is projected to reach its peak.
As part of answering my research question I went to Honduras to interview business owners and investors. I focused on businesses in industrial parks that operate in free zones. Free zones provide exporting companies certain tax benefits. I was curious to find out what other benefits industrial parks provide, and what businesses are doing to overcome barriers to development.
I met with businesses in Choloma, San Pedro Sula, and Tamara. I met with a very large clothing manufacturer, a large services-export business park, and a medium size manufacturer, respectively. I also met with the Honduran National Port Authority from Puerto Cortes, the largest port in the region, as well as professors at the Technical University of Honduras (UTH).
by Alisha Guffey (MIB 2016), Nemmani Sreedhar (MALD 2016), and Rajiv Nair (MALD 2016)
In the summer of 2015, we conducted research to understand media consumption patterns in economically poor areas across India. We found that there was an acute shortage of local content with respect to current affairs across India. This was true even in areas where television and internet penetration was high. We realized that it was business economics that did not allow media companies to spend resources to collect local information, as the costs to do so was more than the revenue that could be generated through advertisements broadcast to a local, generally poor, audience.
Focus group screening of Rshmi
With support from the Harvard Innovation Lab and MIT Media Lab, we designed a concept that could reduce the costs of local content generation drastically while providing a platform to unheard voices. The concept involves crowd-sourcing content through commonly used mobile phones and curating this content based on relevance to a particular location. The Institute for Business in the Global Context at the Fletcher School supported us with funding and guidance for launching a pilot of our concept in the tribal area of Attappady in South India during summer 2016.
After reaching India, we scheduled meetings with all major stakeholders to get buy-in for our project. We met the Chief Secretary of Kerala (top bureaucrat in the state), Tribal Minister of Kerala, elected leaders of both National Parliament and regional legislative assembly, local government offices, and the District official handling Attappady region. Additionally, we also met community leaders from the hamlets that constitute Attappady. To tackle the issue of communicating in local languages, we recruited two students (Prasad and Bharathan) from the tribal community to assist us.
by Nadim Choucair (MALD 2016) and Thomas Flynn (MALD 2017)
With no warning, Banque du Liban, the Lebanese central bank, issued Circular 331 in August 2013. If you believe some people, the idea for the Circular came directly from the mind of BdL’s governor, who conceived of it while flying from New York City to Beirut. Others say that it was created at the behest of the Lebanese banks to allow them to invest some of their reserve capital. Whatever the case, the Circular — designed to spur economic growth and create more and better paying jobs — seeks to foster a “knowledge-based economy (KBE).” Essentially, the Circular is a guarantee scheme which encourages Lebanese banks — an economic pillar of the country, yet very risk averse — to invest up to 4% of their capital, amounting to at least $400 million, in startups, incubators, accelerators, and venture capital firms.
The “buzz” surrounding entrepreneurship in Lebanon is palpable
In summer 2016, we went to Lebanon to answer the question: Given the context of Lebanon, is Circular 331 the most effective way to improve access to finance and therefore to help create a knowledge-based economy?
Lebanon’s economy has struggled since 2010, its political institutions are ineffective, and its infrastructure is weak. The rise of the Islamic State and the war in Syria have scared away foreign investors and tourists, particularly those from the Gulf. Lebanon’s traditionally strong real estate and tourism sectors have subsequently faltered. Instead of focusing on these traditional sectors, the Circular builds on the wave of tech entrepreneurship, and corresponding support organizations, that emerged in Lebanon in the mid-2000s.