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Professor Jocelyn Evans

Professor Jocelyn Evans

Jocelyn Evans: An Economist Investing in Understanding
By Drew Schepler

Developing countries have often been overlooked when it comes to the study of economics. With countries like India and China dominating headlines, many developing countries, especially those in Africa, only make financial headlines when another "corrupt" official is sacked for accepting a bribe.

Dr. Jocelyn Evans, a finance professor at the College, encourages the media to dig a little deeper before they label African officials corrupt. "If you don't take into account the cultural aspects of things, you will not succeed," Evans said.

Evans is one of the most published and highly distinguished members of the finance department at the College of Charleston.

She has spent much of her research career looking past the headlines, and trying to truly understand how leadership at the corporate level functions at home and abroad.

Much of Evans' research abroad has focused on lending practices in the tiny African country of Ghana. On the continent of Africa with 60,000 separate tribes speaking more than 2,000 unique languages, it is often difficult for foreign corporations to succeed.

Evans maintains that in order to succeed in a country like Ghana, where the majority of the population lacks a high school education, outside corporations must hire local leaders to help convince citizens that a good or service is beneficial to their society. Most people in Western culture would call this a bribe, contends Evans.

"From our perspective they are corrupt," she said, "The local tribal leaders function as politicians, and in our society, if we saw a politician taking money, we would scream, 'That's corrupt,'" Evans said, "In those countries (as opposed to the US) it is quite legal to take money. My research is showing that sometimes these people play a vital role in the economy."

Since the early 20th century and the beginning of globalization and international trade, foreign investors have had a harder time succeeding in Africa than on any other continent. Many foreign investors have blamed this on faulty lending practices in African nations, where much of the money goes to friends or family of lending agents.

"Direct marketing in Ghana does not work," Evans said. "The people go to their tribal leaders for answers and guidance (the opposite of Western democracies). So, in effect, these leaders are providing a service that they should be paid for." Evans argues that rather than label these types of practices faulty, outside eyes should realize that this is an acceptable way of doing business in tribal societies and international agencies, like the World Bank, should regulate these practices rather than ban them.

Above all, Evans advocates cultural understanding. She maintains that, in order to succeed, a foreign corporation must tailor its products to the people of the country, not vice versa. Cultural understanding is something that Evans tries to convey to all of her students by encouraging them to learn from the mistakes of global corporations in foreign environments; a concept which she has her students study in her Evaluations class.

Dr. Frank Hefner, the Department of Economics chair, acknowledges that in a banking and finance class, that is no easy accomplishment. "Simply trying to teach students how to read a balance sheet on a bank statement is mind boggling," Hefner said.

In an increasingly globalized society, the need among American students to understand cultural business practices by American students, and the future business leaders of an international society is constantly increasing.

"I would like to see people taking cultural issues seriously, those in financing, marketing and managing," she said. "How they adapt their strategies to a society. Developing countries are the high growth areas in the world, and to ignore them, you would be behind the eight ball. Believe me, people in China aren't ignoring them-they're in Africa right now. We don't do as much business there, partially because we don't understand them."

In addition to helping foreign investors, Evans feels like there is a lot American economists can learn from a country like Ghana, especially when it comes to the media's overly quick condemnations of corporate CEO's.

"If you want to know about experimenting, wondering what corporate governance systems work, than what you can do is go to a country that is just starting off," she said. "As developing countries industrialize, their behavior becomes closer to ours."

Much of Evans' research also focuses on compensation packages for corporate CEO's, an area that has been widely scrutinized by the media, due to the fall-out from corporate scandals like Enron, Halliburton and Tyco. Evans has found that, in order for a well-known or sought-after CEO, to take on the task of repairing a floundering corporation, e.g. GM or Ford Motors, that CEO must have certain incentives in place to "make it worth their while" to take on such a risk.

"To run a billion dollar company is not easy," Evans said. "The media is starting to critique every little thing these CEO's are getting. But we don't know enough about what makes people do things, it makes us quick to judge."

With the exception of extreme cases, like Enron or Halliburton, Evans has found that so-called "golden parachutes" for CEO's are a necessary incentive to attract talented executives to troubled areas of the economy. Many CEO's would not take on the challenge of re-building a firm without some safeguards in place. This, in turn, would hurt the economy by bankrupting companies and eliminating jobs.

Perhaps the most common thread, throughout all of Dr. Jocelyn Evans' extensive and interesting research is the idea of understanding. She looks beyond the typical labels and headlines, and tries to find what is at the core of an issue. Whether it is at home or abroad, Evans is the first to question and the last to judge.

Jocelyn Evans graduated from Barat College, located in Lake Forest in Illinoisin 1981 with a B.S. in business administration. She went on to earn her M.B.A. from Washington University and her Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina. To date, Evans has written more than a dozen published articles, and received numerous awards, including the Best Paper Award at six separate professional conferences.