Leyland Pitt: “A good relationship with students is crucial for a teacher”

Leyland Pitt: “A good relationship with students is crucial for a teacher”

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One of the most inspiring visitors at CERS this fall has been distinguished Professor Leyland Pitt from the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada. He spent a couple of weeks with us in Helsinki in October.


Leyland, tell us about your work: with what concepts or themes are you working right now?


I am really interested in computerized content analysis, especially of so called big data in the form of online text, and I am looking for different approaches for doing that. For example, I’m using the DICTION program with which we have looked at 6 000 job interviews by using linguistic analysis. The program lookis for example at different aspects of style, how people write, or adjectives or readability of text, for instance. I’ve also been using IBM’s Watson AI suite to look at how authors (of whatever kind) express their personality in the words that they use. This is done in terms of the so-called “Big Five” traits of personality, namely, openness of experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

For example, my colleagues have been comparing service reviews in Tripadviser and AirBnB. Methodologically, they use quite simple statistical comparison to show that people tend to write much more favorable reviews on AirBnb than Tripadvisor. The assumption is that it is because of emotional closeness with their hosts.


What are your earlier connections with CERS, and what projects did you have at that time?

Christian Grönroos invited me to visit back in 1996. Back then, I was one of the first marketing academics who started studying marketing and the internet. Along with colleagues we had published a paper in the Journal of Advertising Research that showed how you can measure the effectiveness and efficiency of online marketing efforts. Isn’t it interesting how those basic principles haven’t changed at all, though the technology has changed enormously? The basic problem is still how to get people to find your web page, explore it, interact with it, hopefully purchase, and eventually to return to it to go through the process again.

Then last year CERS director Kristina Heinonen invited me to Hanken, so now I got an opportunity to return to Helsinki, for which I am very grateful.


You are a real cosmopolite. You were born in South Africa, lived many years in Australia and the UK, and since 2004 your home has been in Vancouver, Canada. You are also teaching constantly in different countries. That is a lifestyle, isn’t it?

My home is now in Vancouver, and there it will always be. I think Vancouver is almost a perfect place to live. But I travel a lot, that is true. I work with two doctoral programs in Sweden, one in Luleå, a program that we started from a scratch about sixteens years ago, and another one in the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, which we started in 2012. So I travel to Sweden 3-4 times a year.

In the recent past I have also taught on executive and MBA programs at schools such as RSM in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and in the Wirtschaftsuniversität in Vienna. I was also recently an Erskine fellow at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand (a country that I have a special affection for), and a visiting scholar at the University of South Australia.

Yes, sometimes it feels a bit exhausting with all the traveling. I used to be very good with jetlags when I was younger, but ageing is changing that a bit.


You are considered an excellent teacher. What is your teaching philosophy?

I don’t actually think of it as teaching, I think it as talking with people. I am a case teacher which means that I hardly ever do traditional lecturing. That is my philosophy. MBA students, who I mostly teach, learn actively, and more effectively, using case studies than they do by means of traditional lecturing. Cases are a great way to help people develop an opinion and articulate a point of view, and that is more important for them, I think, than accumulating and remembering lots of facts.

Another significant student group to me are my PhD Students. I know how important it is to get help when writing a PhD. I tell them that it is not my job to help you write your PhD dissertation, my job is to find the resources that enable you to do that. A good and confidential relationship with my students is crucial to me – you have to like your students, and they have to like you! I like mine very, very much, and I have been lucky to have students who also like me. I also let them understand quickly how fortunate we are to work in academia. That is a privilege that they must understand and value, and be excited about.


What else, besides academic work, is important in your life?

I don’t have any hobbies, but there is one thing that both my wife and I love: snorkeling! We travel to Hawaii at least once a year. It offers us perfect autumn.jpgrelaxation from work. Moreover, I like cooking and wine, and wine research, too. Actually, I have just become the Editor of the Journal of Wine Research. And my favourite grapes? I would say Cabernet Sauvignon of the reds, and perhaps Chenin Blanc of the whites. But wine is like music to me, I like it all!

I use to say that I can play all musical instruments badly. I played in a dance band a long time ago – I played keyboards, and we made a pretty good living. Then there was a long pause with my amateur musical career, until three or four years ago. I had a PhD course in Stockholm, and used a Harward business case on distribution strategy in the Met Opera in New York. It turned out that there was an opera singer, in my class. From that course on, we have played together whenever I teach that case. He sings, and I play the guitar. He has a beautiful voice. More recently I also played bass in an informal Bruce Springsteen tribute band.

I also enjoy seeing how my two daughters are finding their way in life. My older daughter took a Master’s in Arts Management on a wonderful joint program through Southern Methodist U in Dallas, HEC in Montreal, and Bocconi in Milan. She is currently working in marketing for a theatre company in Vancouver. The younger one is following me in academia and is currently enrolled in her PhD in marketing at KTH in Sweden. She has just had her first really good journal article published. I’m very proud of them both!


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