Bauer Management & Leadership Researchers Explore “Normal Uncertainty”

Study Looks at Personality Types Impacting Uncertain Times in Business

Published on September 13, 2019

Photo: Assistant Professor Nikhil Celly

Assistant Professor Nikhil Celly

For years, multinational companies wanting to do business in China and elsewhere in Asia have had offices in the financial hub of Hong Kong.

Well-known corporate and financial giants such as IBM, Morgan Stanley, KPMG, Deutsche Bank and others are among the largest workforces (top 75) in the city. ExxonMobil, Chevron and other energy companies have had offices there since the 1960s.

But protests sparked by growing pro-democracy sentiment have closed bank branches and the airport and prompted travel advisories this summer. The stock market has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in market value since June. With no resolution with China in sight, it’s the kind of situation that can cause firms in Hong Kong to consider downsizing or leaving the city altogether.

Bauer College Assistant Professor Nikhil Celly taught in the Hong Kong University MBA program for six years prior to joining the Department of Management & Leadership. And much of Celly’s research concerns downsizing, one of the most widely used strategies for businesses during times of uncertainty.

In a 2012 study, Celly and other researchers looked at how the type of an industry can impact the long-term impacts of different types of retrenchment, such as workforce reduction, the selling of assets, or some combination.

A study in progress, led by Bauer Assistant Professor Shih-Chi (Sana) Chiu also of the Department of Management & Leadership, and Celly, looks at leaders’ personality types and how that can impact decisions made during tumultuous times.

Such research provides valuable context for corporate decision-making, but is less helpful in successfully predicting how volatile situations such as the one unfolding in Hong Kong will ultimately impact business there.

“Things are very fluid and potentially contentious,” Celly says. “Some of the less established companies that don’t understand China as well, may be more likely to leave Hong Kong. Others may wait to see what actions the well-established firms take, and even seek to mimic them given the political uncertainty. But truthfully, it’s really hard to say, given the unusual circumstances with so many unknown factors.”

Research, he says, can be useful in predicting outcomes in times of ‘normal uncertainty,’ or when it’s business as usual. The current situation in Hong Kong seems to be one in which politics trumps business, Celly says.