Faculty feature: Meet Ted Khoury

Please give us a brief overview of your academic and professional background.

I started out in mechanical engineering and received a B.S.E. from the University of Michigan and then went on to do an M.S.E. from the University of Texas at Austin in biomedical (mechanical) engineering. I worked for a few years at Motorola in Austin in semiconductor test-related engineering and then joined Advantest, a large Japanese test equipment supplier in Chicago. It was in that role that I was managing a lot of research and development work and collaborations with suppliers — ironically, one prominent relationship was with the company that engineering school donor Fariborz Massieh had started. My role was to create a means to enter a new market for semiconductor test “consumables,” so it required a lot of inventing. 

Between those first two companies, I had amassed 42 patents and well over 70 international patents in other countries in about seven years. It was my job to invent, and I loved the challenge. I was also travelling a lot to Europe, Japan and Silicon Valley. It was a great way to see the world, and I’ve always loved working across cultures. A couple of years into the job, I was put more into managing teams, and this prompted me to get an MBA by night, which I did at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I focused on entrepreneurship and filled a chunk of credits with independent research working for professors on papers, etc. I went on to work for a nanotech startup in Dallas at the director level next but eventually found my way into solo innovation management consulting. I found I didn’t particularly like how political the consultant role often was inside companies,and that’s when I decided to go for my PhD in Organization Studies. It was four intense years at the University of Texas at Dallas, and when I finished, I took my first appointment at Oregon State University. In 2011, I joined Portland State after three years in Corvallis. 

What do you enjoy most about teaching in The School of Business at Portland State?

I love our students. They bring such worldly and interesting perspectives to the table. I’ve spent a lot of time both on urban campuses and in college towns, and I realized how much I appreciate the diverse mindsets on metropolitan campuses. Although Portland lacks a great deal of diversity within the city, the campus brings the valuable diversity from within the greater metro area and beyond, and I really thrive off this presence. 

I’ve always felt like an underdog in many ways, having grown up in a small town in Michigan with very few people of color and very little ideological contrast. My father was a refugee who had to flee his home and lost everything as child in Jerusalem, Palestine and immigrated to the U.S. to work his way through school to eventually become an artist and professor and my mother was the first born in the U.S., growing up in working-class Detroit. Their journeys had a big impact on how I identify with others, including my students. That narrative of strong work ethic, and prioritizing creativity and intellectual curiosity has always been a driving force in my work. It’s deeply embedded in me, and I see those qualities (and stories) reflected in our students. I hope that they see that I see every one of them. 

I would have to say that I am also very appreciative of the creative freedom I have to integrate themes of activism, social justice and critical thinking into the courses I teach. These values cannot be taken for granted when teaching in a business school. In strategy and entrepreneurship, we draw from a complex mosaic of social sciences, where I tend to favor a sociological view of the world. The ability to bring this into the classroom alongside my research has allowed me to find more meaning in my work. I am thankful for the openness to these important themes.

What classes do you teach in our graduate programs?

I taught the Mgmt 526 Social Innovation Field Study course, which takes an in vivo approach to designing social innovation interventions in settings with phenomenological aspects that differ from life in the U.S. The course takes place in Colombia, where we learn about social innovation as it is conducted in large government institutions, utilities, non-profit organizations, universities and entrepreneurial start-ups — really at all layers of an ecosystem. Colombia is a beautiful and rich context to study how social innovation can unfold in a post-conflict setting. There’s so much to learn from this environment and, different from other international trips, the students are tasked with more hands-on engagement and true cultural integration. They design interventions targeted at an organization that we adopt during the trip. It was my favorite classroom to teach in.

My research deals with how interventions, particularly those that are entrepreneurship-oriented, can matter in developing and/or post-conflict settings. I also have worked a lot with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the European Commission, among others, to teach and consult on various approaches to entrepreneurship-based interventions. I don’t wholly believe that entrepreneurship is always inherently good and am skeptical of the neoliberal energy that fuels a lot of such interventions.

What are you passionate about in your work?

I love the intellectual chase posed by my research and losing myself in a big mess of data in order to surface some meaningful contributions to theory and practice. I also love the challenge of finding meaning in such research to offer relevance to practitioners. I don’t believe that the more introverted world of publishing journal articles and the extroverted role of teaching should be separate and am always looking for ways to engage curious students with the non-obvious or nuanced worlds of research to expand their critical thinking capabilities. For instance, I really love when I get a question from a student that I don’t know how to answer. In that moment, we’re on a collaborative chase together to try and figure out what the answer could be and why that is.

When you are not teaching, what do you do in your free time?

I’m never sitting still with twin daughters in high school and keeping up with home life, but I try to spend time painting and drawing or playing my bass and oud as much as I can. I have a few collaborative music projects that have found some momentum but during the pandemic phase, they’ve all been on hold. I hope they can come back as I really need these escapes for mental health! Beyond those passions, I love backpacking and hiking, and I’m gradually rekindling my love for mountain biking. I love yoga too but am really bad about doing it outside of a guided practice.

You recently wrote a journal article on whether venture capital is socially responsible. What are the business implications of your findings?

I think being at a place like The School of Business at PSU, we often take for granted how others may miss the importance of social responsibility. In the case of the study, I found that entrepreneurial firms that are guided by venture capitalists (VCs) for their funding, governance influence, operating guides, etc. will tend to be more investor-oriented, at the expense of other important stakeholders. When a firm grows up, just like with a kid, there are chapters of its life that can leave an imprint and those imprints can sharply guide how they operate later on. Imprinting can happen from various sources. We are imprinted by our parents (for good or bad) or the environment in which we grow up, and the success or result of imprinting is particularly dependent on how vulnerable we are during that chapter of life.

There are conventions in which VCs engage with their target firms and this leads to habits forming of how companies operate. When such firms become public, it is about shareholder supremacy in their priorities, which presents a very narrow view of the stakeholders a firm should be accountable for. These public firms with a history of VC-backing, as compared to those without such a history, tend to not invest in socially responsible initiatives in their operations. That is sad to hear, especially when some of the biggest companies and employers in society came from VC-backed origins and operated accordingly. The good news is that VCs connected to public pensions or those with a sustainability theme or niche do not have this same outcome. The other piece of optimism is that eventually, most of these VC-backed firms improve their corporate social responsibility initiatives. It just takes them longer to figure out how and whether to do it. So, it really matters who you take your money and guidance from as a start-up, since it can play out detrimentally for others — directly or indirectly in society — for a long time beyond your period of engagement with the investor.

What does “redefining business” mean to you?

To me, it means finding out when to throw out or refine some of the mindsets, practices and frameworks that are traditionally institutionalized inside a lot of business school curriculums. Clearly, we can do so much better than history’s precedent, and that begins with ongoing and critical reflection of how we arrived at where we are today. A big part of this is The School of Business’ emphasis on experiential learning. It is great to be at a place that prioritizes this and has indoctrinated it within its culture and pedagogies. It is often hard to appreciate the value of experiential practice as a student when you are in the moment (of yet another group project), and then you are in your first or second new position and realize that you have so much more confidence in yourself and your capabilities compared to peers and colleagues. At a place like The School of Business at PSU, where we come from such a strong heritage of collaborating with the surrounding community and prioritizing client-based consulting experiences within the curriculum, it allows us to stay current and agile with our stakeholders’ ever changing needs and redefine how student development can serve communities in a more meaningful way.

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