It is that time of year once again when many of us drop whatever we are doing, pack our bags, and fly off to see those whom we have often not seen since the last long, cold nights of December. Together we overindulge in fine food and wine, and engage in vigorous and sometimes heated discussion on many subjects from politics and religion, to the state of the economy. Of course, I am talking about the annual conference of the European International Business Academy, or EIBA for short.

This year’s EIBA conference was hosted in the northern Italian city of Milan (the second most populous city in Italy after Rome) by the Politecnico di Milano School of Management. The venue was not quite as I had imagined it would be. Located some distance from the city centre, the area around the Bovisa campus was fairly stark and industrial, and the still city air carried a slightly acrid smell to it which a colleague identified as coal smoke. The route on foot from the hotel to the university took us through an underpass with an abandoned shopping trolley and flickering fluorescent lighting; a scene reminiscent to that of a post-apocalyptic film. The Politecnico itself is a collection of buildings I would uninformedly describe as “functionalist” in appearance.

Despite a bit of travel chaos caused by delayed and cancelled Finnair flights; Turku School of Economics IB was represented in each aspect of the conference this year. Riikka Harikkala-Laihinen presented her research, entitled ‘Beyond the checklist: Employee emotions and quality of interaction during cross-border M&A integration’, at the exclusive 31st John H. Dunning Doctoral Tutorial. At the 6th Danny Van Den Bulcke Doctoral Symposium we had Markus Laine with ‘Understanding sub-national location decisions of multinational enterprises’. Anna Karhu, in the International Business Review Paper Development workshop, and with Elina Pelto in the competitive track, presented their paper ‘MNE’s entry as a catalyst for change in the host industry’s institutional landscape: a case study in the Russian bakery sector’. We had four posters up at the poster plenary including Majid Aleem’s ‘Relationship development in global virtual teams over time’ (Actually, Majid’s wasn’t up – see aforementioned travel chaos), my own, (along with Milla Wirén and Peter Zettinig) ‘What is Rational Action in the VUCA World?’, Peter Zettinig and Katja Einola’s ‘Integrating doctoral research and teaching: a case from a Finnish business school’, and Markus Laine’s ‘Conceptual model of FDI sub-national location decision making’. Our Maria Elo and Peter Zettinig were panellists in the very interesting panel session on ‘Studying internationalization as a process: what more do we see?’ and Niina Nummela was a panelist in the “Novel ways of teaching and doing research” track’s ‘One size fits all? Key issues and common misconceptions in reviewing qualitative research in top tier journals’ . Finally, in the interactive sessions, we had William Degbey (in collaboration with Kimberly Ellis from the Florida Atlantic University) with ‘Enhancing cross-border M&A performance through diaspora networks’, Anna Karhu, Maria Elo, and Mari Ketolainen with ‘Industry Level Institutional Complexity and Multinational Enterprise’, Maria Elo (in collaboration with Xiaotian Zhang from the University of International Business, Almaty) with ‘Migrant and diaspora investors – Four outward Chinese cases’, and Riikka Harikkala-Laihinen, Melanie Hassett (Sheffield University Management School), Niina Nummela, and Johanna Raitis with ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall… Emotional reflections of a cross-border M&A in media’.

Before I had ever attended an academic conference, I imagined they would be stuffy affairs with bearded old men offering sagely lectures before monochromatically dressed audiences listening in rapt silence, until one of them would dramatically stand to ask an apposite question or break into an eloquent rebuttal. While there is certainly an element of that, for the average audience member such as myself, much of the time during the presentation sessions is spent trying to grasp just a fraction of the complex and often jargon filled discourse that the harried, sometimes jetlagged, presenter is trying to squeeze into his or her insufficient allotment of ten to fifteen minutes. If the presenter does their job well, they are rewarded with one or two elucidating questions, complementary comments, or constructive suggestions from those audience members who hold particular insight into or expertise on the topic at hand. If they do their job poorly, or if they are simply unlucky, however, they will be met with blank stares or a scattering of irrelevant or clarifying questions or comments. Coffee is the lifeblood of any conference and after every one-and-a-half hour parallel session a reinvigorating coffee break was held at which you were never far away from a freshly extruded Nespresso handed to you by one of the exceedingly polite catering staff. At a certain stage in the day, for those whose brains had flipped over in protest and refuse to accept any more knowledge, a reprieve could be found in the form of a small bar and restaurant serving beer, prosecco, and, of course, Aperol or Campari spritz, directly adjoining the building housing the conference rooms.

My personal inability to process the sheer amounts of information thrust upon me over the course of the conference led me down the path of questioning what the purpose of an academic conference actually is. Do these conferences provide any true benefit to society, or are they merely an excuse for overwrought academics to have a jaunt at (often) the taxpayer’s expense? Fortunately, this is a common topic of discussion after hours in whichever local establishment you and your colleagues happen to find yourselves ensconced. While, naturally, conferences offer an opportunity for individuals and institutions to promote, disseminate, and develop their research, much of the true value of conferences occurs outside of the formal programme. Despite the best efforts of coordinators, conferences are chaotic by nature, and it is said (I presume) that out of chaos comes creation. There is a constant churn of ideas and interpersonal interactions. Snippets of theory or the names of certain concepts and authors occasionally connect like missing jigsaw pieces to your own research which is ever present in the back of your mind. Serendipitous encounters with formerly unknown individuals often sow the seeds of new collaborations that will begin months or even years in the future. Other times, conferences simply offer a way for geographically dispersed colleagues to remind each other of their continued existence, which, again, increases the possibility for future collaboration and serves to maintain a globally integrated research community. Finally, and strangely enough, conferences provide the opportunity for you to connect with your colleagues closer to home, even those from your own department. Back home, our day to day lives and routines often don’t allow much time to actually sit and talk with our own direct co-workers, so, whether it be on a long taxi ride, at the bar in the hotel, or over some antipasti at a restaurant, conferences offer many occasions to sit and talk with colleagues at leisure which, in turn, generates new ideas and plans for research.

Back to the actual conference. Trying my best not to bore a fellow passenger (hailing all the way from Australia) on the bus to the gala dinner too much, I chatted with him about my pending doctoral dissertation and my opinion the nuances of qualitative versus quantitative research. His insights into how I should present my research were invaluable, and I filed them in the appropriate corner of my mind for later use. The dinner itself was held in the beautiful Palazzo del Ghiaccio, a large former ice-skating rink in the Liberty (or Art Nouveau) style. As can be expected from our Italian hosts, the food was exceptional, and we were serenaded (aria-d?) by a famous soprano in a very sparkly evening dress while a classical guitarist played the guitar. Speeches were speeched and awards were awarded and, at the tables, animated conversation flowed well into the night. Once all of the food and (more importantly) wine was gone, the dancing began with a star deejay (he may or may not have been a star, I am not particularly familiar with deejays). The following morning, as I fought against the effects of the previous evening’s festivities in the hotel lobby, I was generously offered a ride to the airport in a taxi with two colleagues from Vaasa University. Through the taxi window the clear fine day provided me with my final, beautiful impression of Milan – the snow covered peaks of the Pennine Alps rising majestically in the distance.

Jonathan Van Mumford

Doctoral Candidate