Questions for... Michael Parent
Michael Parent is a Full Professor of Marketing at the Telfer School. He was previously a Full Professor of Marketing and Management Information Systems at the Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Before that, he was an Assistant Professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University.
Much of your research explores themes at the intersection of marketing and management information systems. Can you elaborate?
My Ph.D. was in fact concentrated in these two disciplines. I’m very interested in issues relating to e-business, cybersecurity, and social media. From the companies’ perspective, without the data they obtain from online activities, they are unable to target their marketing efforts. There might otherwise be high marketing overhead to attract customers. The marketing costs are baked into pricing and people sometimes don’t make that connection.
If a company can use data get a read on a customer, that’s efficient. They can do that by mining your tastes, by compiling details about your consumption preferences. So from one perspective, online marketing does create efficiencies. From the customer’s perspective as well—if you are in the market for a good or service—there’s efficiency. Would you rather have 2 channels with 20 things you watch or 10 channels with 500 things you never watch?
What about the downside?
The prevailing wisdom is that nothing is private anymore. Because a lot of it is so bit-based, through cookies, through tracking, through click-throughs on ads, online marketing can become invasive. The retailer Target faced criticism three years ago after sending coupons for baby items to a teenage girl. By sorting data on her buying history, the company predicted with a high level of confidence that she was pregnant. They “knew her” better than her father did. He was naturally furious, and a backlash against Target ensued.
It is very easy to find similar examples where data mining infringes on norms of privacy. So there’s a question that continually arises about the appropriate balance between anticipating and responding to consumer needs and marketing in an effective and efficient manner versus invading somebody’s right to be left alone, essentially.
Can you also talk about your interest in governance practices at board level? Previously, you were director of the CIBC Centre for Corporate Governance and Risk Management at the Beedie School of Business.
I’ve definitely been interested in this area as an educator, as I teach across the country in the Directors Education Program, jointly developed by the Institute of Corporate Directors and the Rotman School of Management. However, I have also been interested in issues of corporate governance as a researcher. I have recently begun a project with a colleague at Telfer School, Professor Joanne Leck, for example. This research examines what we mean by diversity at the board level, and seeks to understand better the extent to which board diversity and firm performance are linked. The topic is especially timely, as it is the first year that public companies are required to indicate whether they have a board diversity policy in their filings. Under the OSC’s “comply-or-explain” rule, firms that have not set out a board diversity policy are required to explain why they have not.
Canada has a gender-equal cabinet for the first time. Can federal politics move the debate about diversity in corporate boardrooms?
I think it can, and certainly Trudeau’s response to the issue is a sign of the times. The explanation he gave – “it’s 2015”— is the perfect response. However, there is no doubt that important systemic obstacles will have to be overcome for the same to be achieved in the corporate world. The research is very preliminary, but indicates that that the reason cited for not having a board diversity policy seems to be “we don’t discriminate against anyone, for any reason, period; to impose any kind of a quota would be discriminatory.”
To say that theoretically is fine, but it’s complete hogwash when you look at the composition of the boards in Canada, which have been generally acknowledged to be “pale, male, and stale” (as one of my colleagues so memorably puts it). Our research tries to examine the institutional causes and the extent to which they could be challenged. Finally, we also acknowledge that gender is only one facet of board composition. So the project seeks to develop a more nuanced and fuller definition understanding what we mean by performance-related diversity at the board level.