Kevin Groves, interview with a Visiting Professor

Interview de Martial Bellon

Kevin Groves is a Professor of Organization Theory and Management at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. He’s a visiting professor at EM Strasbourg this semester. This interview was conducted by Kevin Mac Gabhann, member of HuManiS research center and Director of International Relations at EM Strasbourg, who was very pleased to ask him questions about his most recent studies.

Hi Kevin, could you tell us more about your professional background?
I started my career in the professional services consulting industry with Towers Perrin, which was a predominantly human resources HR consulting firm at the time. After that, I had a series of other strategic planning and professional service opportunities.

All that experience led me to complete a formal PhD program and training at Claremont Graduate University, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College.

Alongside my courses and research studies as a Professor at Pepperdine University, I continue to engage with the business community in various assignments. Usually, my consulting work aligns with my research interests that are already quite business-oriented.

What are your main topics of research?
I would like to mention three primary research themes. The first is centered on succession planning or succession management capabilities. Oftentimes, it is viewed as something very episodic so it is an understudied, underdeveloped field from a research perspective. I’m mostly working on drafting a formal set of practices around succession planning that companies can implement as a long-term strategy.

The second focuses on transformational or change-oriented leadership. This topic relates to my dissertation research, which was on the impact of charismatic transformational leaders and driving large-scale organizational change. For example, how organizations can be more thoughtful about the kinds of leaders and the change-oriented models they are developing.

The third research stream is around what I call “emergent leadership capabilities'', which are factors when it comes to identifying executive or leadership potential. Especially during black swan events like the current pandemic, we have to think differently about who is likely to be successful in future leadership roles.

What is your most significant contribution in terms of research so far?
I would say my book “Winning Strategies: Building a Sustainable Leadership Pipeline through Talent Management & Succession Planning”, which was published in 2017. It is essentially a compilation of my empirical work, casework and applications in industry around executive management and succession planning.

As scholars, we often try to influence practice and industry to varying degrees through publications, presentations and traditional academic outlets. But there’s a bit of a realization that to really have impact in practice, you have to find ways to go above and beyond the academy in terms of how you disseminate your work.

That is why this book was designed as a practical tool for executive leaders to give them insight on talent management practices and capabilities, how it can impact the business itself by showing different outcomes, but also analyzing good succession planning in multiple cases.

In your opinion, what are the most promising areas of research these days?
I think developing interdisciplinary projects to find some complementary perspective holds a lot of promises. For example, a lot of neuroscience studies in terms of leadership capabilities, such as emotional intelligence, demand partnership between scholars coming from the organizational behaviors field and those more focused on hard medical sciences.

Another interesting track is really being thoughtful about engaging with practitioners and the business community early on in the research conceptualization phase. It can be trickier because these projects can become challenges for the companies but will eventually help them re-examine their policies on important topics such as diversity, inclusion and equity.

What advice would you give to PhD students or young professors?
The tip I would give is thinking about becoming part of a research group with faculty colleagues in your school or outside that are really interested in sustaining a program over a multi-year period on a specific research stream that you can build upon. That’s important to get a sense of what really is going to sustain your energy and interest over the long term. In my opinion, collaboration is also a key factor for strong research outcomes.

Thank you very much Kevin for taking the time to answer our questions!

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