She's by the numbers but not by the book

A background in the classics helps finance professor Jillian Popadak examine the nuances of corporate culture.

When Jillian Popadak worked as a consultant for KPMG Financial Services, she wondered why, in academic literature, governance was often perceived as a good thing.

Her perspective was that regulations at a particular company were not one size fits all. “Government intervening often led to perverse outcomes,” she says.

Popadak, an assistant professor of finance, explores what corporations do and how corporations can make optimal decisions. “One of the areas I’m most interested in understanding is how things like corporate culture changes for good or bad when there are changes in regulation.”

She focuses on a range of areas, including empirical corporate finance, law and economics, corporate culture, corporate governance, financial innovation, and intellectual property.

Before teaching at Fuqua, Popadak worked as a visiting scholar in statistics with the International Database Group at the World Trade Organization and as a research assistant in International Finance at the Federal Reserve Board.

She credits her liberal-arts studies in undergraduate school with shaping her into an academic. The daughter of an art dealer and a librarian, Popadak studied classics and economics. She took art history and religious studies, with the goal of being self-aware.

“Part of becoming an academic is to question things,” she says. “You have to understand your relationship with the greater world out there.”

Some of Popadak’s most recent research examines how the corporate culture of firms are credited when they succeed and blamed when scandal hits. Executives say corporate culture drives profitability, acquisition decisions, and even whether employees behave in ethical ways, she reports.

“Executives overwhelmingly indicate that an effective corporate culture is essential for a company to thrive in the modern business world,” Popadak says. “We set out to determine what the mechanisms and corporate policies are that lead to effective corporate culture and how an effective corporate culture relates to outcomes such as risk-taking and long-term value creation.”

Corporate culture includes a company’s tone, operating style, standard of behavior, and even the “invisible hand” that guides a firm. They tended to characterize culture as shared values that guide employee decisions.

More than 50 percent of executives said corporate culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, the value of a firm, and growth rates. More than 90 percent of executives said culture is important at their firms, and 78 percent said culture is among the top five things that make their company valuable. But only 15 percent said their own corporate culture is exactly where it needed to be, and 92 percent said they believe improving their firm’s corporate culture would improve the value of the company.

Some assets are hard to measure. “I work with numbers but I tend to appreciate the intangibles in life,” Popadak says.

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