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Meet Haitao Yu, Ivey PhD candidate

Feb 3, 2020

Haitao Yu

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:
Haitao Yu, PhD candidate

Haitao Yu grew up on the Tibetan Plateau. Before coming to Ivey, he studied at HEC Paris in France and University of International Business and Economics in China. Yu spoke to us about everything from surviving the 2008 Sichuan earthquake at age 19 to his latest research on how people’s feelings about where they come from influence the decisions they make, especially in regard to sustainability practices.

Q&A with Haitao Yu

1. What attracted you to Ivey’s program?

When I was applying to a PhD program, I reached out to a few friends who were doing their PhDs in some leading institutions in North America and Europe. All their voices converged to Ivey as the ideal school. Apart from Ivey’s global reputation, there are some specific reasons:

First, given its global leading role in business sustainability research, I believe Ivey is the best school that matches my research interest. Ivey has an institutional environment that is invaluable for my research on sustainability. The Centre for Building Sustainable Value brings interdisciplinary research to the School. It is the home of the Network for Business Sustainability, which is a platform where global sustainability researchers collaborate with practitioners. The Centre also hosts the annual Sustainability PhD Academy and Sustainability Research Conference. These initiatives offer an ideal platform to present my work and discuss the research frontier with doctoral students, renowned scholars, and practitioners worldwide. 

Secondly, I intended to focus on qualitative methods, and Ivey has the best capacity to support that. I have been very fortunate to be supervised by Professor Tima Bansal, an international sustainability and qualitative leading scholar. I also work closely with Assistant Professor Diane-Laure Arjaliès, who has spent more than a decade conducting ethnographic work.

2. What is your research focus?

I investigate the mechanisms of space and place that guide or limit organizations’ actions in addressing sustainable development issues between the global and local. To understand that, I conduct ethnography with two organizations embedded in two communities – one on the Tibetan Plateau and one in Indigenous Canada. The organizations have developed unique strategies to foster economic prosperity, while preserving their natural and cultural heritage in a globalizing world.

3. Why is that area appealing to you? What big problems/issues need to be addressed?

As a member of an ethnic minority (Qiang) from West China on the Tibetan Plateau, I have worked in the field of business and sustainable development in China, France, Cambodia, and Canada in the past 10 years. I feel a strong sense of belonging to the place where I originated, but I also think I'm global.

My doctorate thesis contains a question upon which I have always reflected: In a globalizing world where the boundaries between local places are reduced, how can organizations maintain a sense of place and contribute to sustainable development between the local and global?

4. How do you see your research making an impact?

My work addresses an important question because recent scientific research indicates that a dynamic equilibrium between the global and local processes is a key mechanism to maintain this resilient system of the planet space within which sustainable development can operate. Current business practice and research, however, tend to be placeless and break this dynamic, which I believe is one of the major reasons why sustainable development is elusive.

5. How do you see research as an aid to business improvement?

In my experiences in Asia, Europe, and North America – societies with different development stages – I was shocked to see the unsustainable mass production and mindless consumption mode that took place in the Western world and is now repeating in emerging markets. I realized that how people and organizations think about and see the world matters a lot in shaping the world reality. Through my research, I aspire to offer alternative ways for people and organizations to think about and see the world.

6. What previous experience prepared you for this?

I interacted with extremely diverse people around the world before doing my PhD. I worked with entrepreneurs on community development in China and Cambodia, interviewed C-Suite executives in Paris, Zurich, and Shanghai, and initiated a social entrepreneurship project with my classmates in France – using bees’ olfactory systems to help detect disease for the urban poor. This project was presented in the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in 2014 and praised by Bill Clinton himself.

Through these experiences, I have developed strong interpersonal skills that allow me to operate in both developing and developed countries and generate insights from interacting with people regardless of their backgrounds. The skills turned out to be incredibly beneficial to me in conducting research both on the Tibetan Plateau and in a First Nation community in Canada.

7. Where did you grow up and what was it like there?

I was born on the Tibetan Plateau and spent the first 19 years of my life there until 2008 when an 8.0 magnitude earthquake took place in my hometown. Life was tough with limited resources, but my heart is still there because of the strong sense of community between family and friends.

8. Who have been your strongest influences in life?

My parents. They have been very resilient in bringing my brother and me up in tough times and they care about the community around them.

9. What do you like to do outside of the PhD program?

Watch documentaries, listen to electronic music, and dance.

10. What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I meditated the whole morning in a temple and partied the whole night on the same day a few year ago in Paris.

11. What is the most played song on your playlist as of now?

Crazy by Lost Frequencies and Zonderling

12. What book would you recommend to others? Why?

Originals by Adam Grant. Grant’s book appeared when I was considering doing a PhD. I thought it would be very cool and meaningful to become a business professor by reading the book. The book also inspires me a lot about how to overcome the hurdles to be more innovative.