- Feb 19, 2020
Ivey’s PhD Program in Business Administration is a full-time research-based program designed to develop scholars and to place graduates at high quality research universities around the world. Our PhD candidates are showcased at conferences around the world, and regularly featured in top-tier academic and industry publications.
To help you get to know them, we’ve asked them about their academic and personal interests.
Get to know: Andrew Sarta, PhD candidate
Andrew Sarta, HBA ’03, grew up in Richmond Hill and completed Ivey’s undergraduate business program. Before returning to Ivey for his PhD, he worked at McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Limited where he led the development of menu and product strategies. He is also a founding member and an Executive Director for Dads for Daughters in STEM, a not-for profit organization that empowers parents and caregivers to engage their children in science, technology, engineering, and math activities. He spoke to us about everything from gardening and making tomato sauce to his latest research on what influences organizations to adapt.
Q&A with Andrew Sarta
1. What attracted you to Ivey’s program?
Selecting Ivey for my doctoral studies was not a difficult decision. As an HBA alumnus, I credit Ivey for a lot of my professional success and was very aware of the strong research credentials of the faculty. I was attracted to the possibility of working with leading scholars that had overlapping research interests to my own in an environment that I knew would prioritize student development.
2. What is your research focus?
I research how organizations adapt to new and ambiguous changes occurring in their environments, with a specific focus on novel technologies that pop up around organizations. Within this space, I focus specifically on anticipatory decision-making and why some organizations seem to continuously observe and adapt to new technologies earlier and more effectively than others. As a result, my work examines where organizations place their attention and what causes that attention to shift in new directions, especially when there are multiple perspectives on how technologies will evolve.
I find the emergence of FinTech to be a fascinating phenomenon, so I do a lot of research in this space. I’m currently spending most of my time looking at the rise of robo-advisors (automated financial advice) and the challenges that artificial intelligence pose to traditional financial advisors.
3. Why is that area appealing to you? What big problems/issues need to be addressed?
I have always been fascinated by decision-making. Some of the organizations I’m looking at in my research are huge and complex, yet can still remain relatively nimble through their actions. We often think of anticipation as prediction, but it does not need to be characterized in this way. A series of small and continuous actions is also a form of anticipation. Obviously, most things cannot be anticipated, but there are certainly elements of change that can be expected. I’m fascinated with how organizations see these expectations differently.
The research in this area has spent a lot of time understanding what prevents organizations from adapting, mainly in classic tales of disruption. More work is needed to understand how organizations may be biased toward action in a way that is effective for adapting. In financial services, this becomes particularly important given how central banks are to the economy. Careful and methodical action by both startups and incumbents will ultimately lead to more effective competition that benefits the well-being of clients for these organizations.
4. How do you see your research making an impact?
My research hopes to shed light on organizational decision-making and how a world with huge volumes of information stresses decision-making more than ever. Understanding how the attention of organizations ebbs and flows in these environments can be immensely helpful to decision-makers by identifying how attending to changes in different ways influences actions in different ways. Attention that shifts toward technology because a competitor acted may prompt a very different response than attention that shifted because of a change in regulations. Understanding the differences will have implications for how much value an organization contributes, which ultimately determines its adaptiveness and ability to provide employment in society. There is an old literature stream that suggests that organizations need to be a little foolish to be successful – my work builds on how that foolishness emerges.
5. How do you see research as an aid to business improvement?
This depends a lot on what is meant by business improvement. I like to think of how well organizations meet (or match) the environments they operate in as a form of improvement. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the most profitable, but focuses more on how well organizations align to the needs of both their markets (the value created through products and services) and society (the value created through being a good corporate citizen). Since I think of adaptation in this way, I liken it to improvement. Academic research, therefore, can play a role in how we think about business improvement beyond just the profitability aspect. We have really great, high-quality research that helps us to explain both performance-related improvements as well as the impact that organizations have socially. In my mind, the best way to influence practice is to use this research to find new ways to think about what it means for businesses to improve.
6. What previous experience prepared you for this?
Well, I’m not sure anything truly prepares you! I will say that I knew I wanted to be in academia right after I graduated from my undergrad. I always loved the idea of being on campus, surrounded by so much potential and knowledge. I did have a long pit stop before pursuing a doctorate, though. I spent 11 years in a large multinational organization writing and implementing innovation strategies. I have seen, and participated in, the challenges associated with proposing and implementing innovation strategies in a large, complex organization. My employment experience certainly informed my research interests. I also think I discovered within myself that I wanted more freedom of thought than I experienced in industry, so there was a lot of contemplation and thinking that went into pursuing an academic career. I’m not sure I would consider that as experience, but it certainly prepared me mentally for a goal that I wanted to pursue.
7. Where did you grow up and what was it like there?
There is nothing particularly exciting about where I grew up. I was born and raised in Richmond Hill, Ont., which is about 30 minutes north of Toronto. Even though we were so close to a big city, Richmond Hill was mostly undeveloped farmland. The community was largely made up of Italian immigrant families, which includes my parents, so we were very family- and community-oriented. We knew all our neighbours and, despite growing up in Canada, we retained many Italian traditions and customs.
8. Who have been your strongest influences in life?
My parents were certainly the strongest early influencers in my life. They were hard-working, but also very curious and intelligent, all while continuously stressing the importance of education. They were constantly learning new things about the world, whether it was through the news cycle or classic works of literature. I certainly absorbed much of my current mindset from them.
These days, my wife inspires me every day. She is relentless in pursuing her goals, both professionally and personally. I do not know anyone more sure of her values. I also see this in our two daughters, whose influence on me is immeasurable. Their curiosity and innocence certainly remind me of what is most important in life.
9. What do you like to do outside of the PhD program?
The PhD program doesn’t give you a lot of extra time, but, outside of it, I spend most of my time with my family. My daughters both love to skate – something that I have done since age four – so we often go to a local outdoor rink in the winter for a few hours. Any time I get to spend with them is always the most valuable.
10. What might someone be surprised to know about you?
Probably that, while we grew up just outside of Toronto, we carried on some really old Italian farming traditions. When I was growing up, we had both a huge vegetable garden and a chicken coop for fresh eggs. To this day, I still love to garden and I try to maintain a small vegetable garden (much smaller than my grandfather’s though!). Every September, we can still be found harvesting tomatoes and preparing jars of tomato sauce the way my grandparents did when they first came to Canada. I probably have more than 50 jars of homemade tomato sauce in my house right now.
11. What is the most played song on your playlist as of now?
Well, I don’t have much control over my playlist any more. That went to both of my daughters who just shout out songs for me to play. At the top of the list would be Here by Alessia Cara and Shake it Off by Taylor Swift. Those two are pretty much played on repeat.
12. What book would you recommend to others? Why?
I honestly wish I had more time to read outside of the classic organization theory works that I study within the program. A book that I read in the past and would recommend is The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, which is a really interesting read on the financial history of the world – from prior to the Medici all the way through to the early 2000s.