The Terry website and magazine devotes a lot of attention to faculty contributions that impact students, the field of research, and the reputation of the college. However, an essential part of the college experience is a student’s personal path to acquire knowledge.
The “In Their Own Words” series examines some of the more personal paths of faculty at the Terry College. Answering a single question, the professors and lecturers share a breadth and depth of experiences that, while unique, are also universal of the journeys of prospective and current students and alumni.
In Their Own Words: Sundar Bharadwaj
How did you get into research?
I grew in a town called Madras where the bleeding madras tie-dye comes from. My family was not very well off, but education was very important and seen as a route to success. I come from a family of academics.
My grandfather was a teacher. My mother has eight siblings and three of them are professors and all have PhDs from the U.S. in the areas of statistics (Stanford), economics (Wisconsin) and business (Harvard). My wife is a professor at Emory’s business school. My brother is a finance professor at Towson.
The first time I came to this country was for my PhD. I had a background in econ, math, and stats as an undergrad. When I got to my MBA program right after my undergrad it was sort of the thing to do back then.
I took a marketing class, but I thought it wasn’t a fit. I came from a background where for every question there was one right answer. To study a topic such as marketing where there is more than one right answer to a question was challenging to accept.
It took me a while to accept that there were multiple paths to the same goal. I was getting really frustrated with the marketing class and had decided I really couldn’t do this anymore. During this time, my marketing professor summoned me to his office. He was a really interesting professor who eventually was in the faculties of University of British Columbia and Oakland University in Detroit.
We had this wonderful conversation and his response to my discomfort with marketing was to think of marketing as a challenge where people are dealing with these shades of gray. He advised me to tolerate the ambiguity and inspired me to think and approach marketing and business problems differently.
I had to do two internships for my MBA and after that conversation, I chose marketing-oriented internships for both. I analyzed competing channels of distribution in one and examined packaging strategies in another.
Both experiences were wonderful and I learned about managing brands, managing channel partners, managing a sales force, and delivering business performance, I faced a number of business challenges for which there were no easy answers.
Those cumulative experiences influenced me to pursue a PhD in marketing. It was completely alien to my prior education, but it made a huge difference to reorient my thinking and building new skills especially in statistics and econometrics.
Most fields are either left brain or right brain focused, but marketing requires both capabilities. Marketing is the absolute appropriate blend of doing very analytical, data driven, quantitative things with a creative presentation of information to different audiences.
Berkeley professor and Google’s chief economist Hal Varian says marketing is the new finance, because of the availability of such rich real-time data from companies and customers. You just need a chance to use the data and come up with creative ideas.
My work experience has helped me focus on research issues that are relevant to business and my PhD training has helped me address them rigorously. It is this beautiful balance of analysis and creativity that makes it very attractive to anyone getting into the field.