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New Ivey faculty: Elena Antonacopoulou

  • Communications
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  • Oct 19, 2021
New Ivey faculty: Elena Antonacopoulou

Ivey welcomes 12 new faculty members to campus! To help you get to know our new colleagues, we asked each of them a list of questions about their academic – and personal – interests.

Get to know: Elena Antonacopoulou

For Elena Antonacopoulou, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted more clearly than ever the world’s interconnectedness. That’s why she’s excited to bring her expertise in strategic change, organizational learning and resilience, and crisis management to Ivey as a new Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Strategy. In her role, Antonacopoulou will engage Organizational Behaviour doctoral students in a module focused on practising reflexivity as an integral part of understanding our impact. She will also deliver to HBA2 students a module on the future of work and how to manage high-performing teams. Antonacopoulou has a PhD from Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, and a Masters degree from Kent Business School, University of Kent. Before joining Ivey, she held full-time faculty professorial appointments at the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Warwick in the U.K.

Q&A with Elena Antonacopoulou

What is the most important thing business executives can learn from your research/area of expertise?

If I had to summarize my body of scholarly work in one word, it would be, “Gnosis,” the Greek word for knowledge. My focus is to understand knowledge management processes in organizations, and perhaps more so, how to navigate the unknown. This includes advancing learning (theory and practice at the individual, group, and organizational levels) and critiquing the relationship between learning and knowledge and the capacity to change. This focus has predisposed me to explore issues that fall under the term VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) – disruptions, crises events, and crucible moments – what we have come to accept as the norm. As a result, my expertise is in helping individuals, teams, and organizations to practise strategizing and shifting from solutions (based on probability and plausibility, which exploit existing knowledge) to finding their way. They do this through reflecting on the meaning/essence of their purpose and impact by exploring potentialities and generating possibilities. Overall, this involves strategic renewal and organizational learning.

But more critically, I look at the leadership that underpins such efforts to build capacity for resilience (across levels and units of analysis) through action choices founded on practical judgment. This focus has propelled new learning and leadership development approaches that use art-based methods. I am delighted that this work aligns with the agenda of the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Leadership Institute. As a member of the Institute, I’m committed to contributing to its work in demonstrating the impact of leader character in serving the common good. This new impact measure is also emerging as the focus of the World Economic Forum’s 5th Industrial Revolution.

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

I was born and raised in the Republic of Cyprus, a small island (9,251 square km) in the eastern Mediterranean. It is often referred to as the island of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. I’ve been told my mother is a descendant of royalty from the Kingdom of Idalion, an ancient city in Cyprus. The geographical position of Cyprus has enriched its history and customs, as well as political instability, with the presence of multiple ethnic groups. These groups, which cohabited the island over the centuries, through their diversity embedded in it a wide variety of customs and food. Cyprus combines Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Greek cuisine to name but a few. Everyone is welcome in Cyprus. I would characterize the people there as embracing a mentality that is the opposite of xenophobia (fear of foreign/unknown).  I call it xenophilia (friend of foreign) because the people are very hospitable and welcoming. In Cyprus, the Greek, Turkish, and English languages are all widely spoken. I grew up in Nicosia, the capital and largest city of Cyprus.

My Greek-Cypriot identity fuels my passion and love for life, especially in moments that involve the sun, sea, and mesmerizing sunrise and sunsets at different ends of the island. I enjoy the amazing food and the endless conversations with friends on the meaning of living a good life. Discussing philosophy in a coffee shop is one of the popular pastimes. I’ve lived most of my adult life – 30 years – in the U.K. My British identity fuels my axiology for nature, long walks, and my acceptance that rain and the elements are part and parcel of just being present. My affinity with heavy winters is limited, despite my exposure to Nordic countries as a result of my research collaborations with the military. I must admit that experiencing a heavy winter is one learning experience I am looking forward to as I start a new chapter of my life in Canada. Learning to ski is also high on my list. It’s never too late, right? Especially when you are hunting the Aurora, which is on the top of my bucket list! 

Who have been your strongest influences in life?

I was lucky to have recognized from a young age that I have come close to what refined humanity looks like in my engagement with ordinary people and especially in my travels around the world. I don’t have a single role model I can call upon, but I can list several precious moments with individuals in my life or those I met in my life’s journey so far. This is why I remain awakened to what every moment can bring in my interaction with any living creature, not just humans. Other human beings have shown me through their life choices what is possible. While I wouldn’t necessarily seek to emulate them, I have come to appreciate the richness and significance of character as a key characteristic of those who make a difference in other’s lives. I have come to appreciate this even more in my role as mother to two boys who remain my biggest educators! And it would be an omission for me not to mention how much I value my ecological entanglement and hence, my relationship with the natural world and its influence on my life. I love trees. I adore the sea and its mystical world. And then there is Dexter, my 11-year-old Maltese who, despite being a rescue dog, was welcomed into our family life three years ago. Dexter has rescued me more times than I care to admit, every time he takes me out for long walks – especially during the recent lockdowns. 

What led you to your career?

My hunger for learning! I am a learning scholar because I am consciously a lifelong learner by choice. I am happiest when I learn. In that learning there is as much pain as there is joy and fun. This commitment to learning is what has placed the unknown as the underlying essence of what being a scholar means to me. It is also why I do research and feel the need to share the knowledge through my teaching engagements or develop new knowledge through a range of activities that bring people together to explore. I’m speaking as someone who loves connecting people and transcending boundaries. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

My ultimate relaxation is Latin dancing or going for long walks in nature. 

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I understood how to embed abduction in my research practice when I studied and became a certified coach. I appreciate the way coaching practice fosters what I have come to recognize as another intelligence, which I call CORE Intelligence, or CQ. CORE stands for Centredness, Oneness, Reflex, and Energy. I feel there is a lot that can be done to extend IQ and EQ in advancing human flourishing. And while it will take time to embed CQ in the curriculum, I hope that we find ways of cultivating alongside sensibility and sensitivity, sentience, which is the capacity to feel our way into situations and interactions with each other, especially if we truly trust the process. 

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

One Moment in Time by Whitney Houston and Uprising by Muse. My music taste is eclectic and I can shift from rock to classical genres or to international music, or to just attending to nature’s sounds in the flick of a finger. After all, music runs through our body, if we care to listen.

What book would you recommend to others? On the personal side?

Life of Pi by Yann Martel and any of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, e.g. How to Love and How to See, are enriching in different ways. 

On the business side?

Francis Fukuyama’s books, The End of History and the Last Man and Identity, both offer valuable insights about the system that we have constructed and the role of human dignity that we must learn to preserve. We have not captured this idea in mainstream business books, which for me begs the question: What is the business of business?