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Professor Bob Pearce: Obituary

Professor Bob Pearce

Robert Desmond Pearce (1943-2018), known as ‘Bob’ to his friends and colleagues, joined the University of Reading in 1963 as a student in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. In 1964 John Dunning was appointed Professor of Economics and Head of the Faculty’s newly-established Department of Economics Upon his graduation in 1966 Bob was appointed by John as Research Assistant to work on international business research projects. Bob was a master of data and their sources, and he co-authored with John a ground-breaking volume on the world’s largest firms. Bob thought:” Why leave if you can do everything you want at Reading?  And he never left. A colleague recently commented: ‘We used to talk for hours about cricket, football, Bob Dylan, and multinationals.’ I could add ‘mountaineering’ and ‘the state of the economic profession’. Bob had strong views on a number of subjects; although he was a quiet person, he didn’t always keep them to himself.

Bob was one of the founding members of the Reading School of International Business. He helped to lay the foundations for a school of thought that has defined the discipline of international business and turned the University of Reading and the Henley Business School into a buzzing community of distinctive scholars. He was a staunch supporter of John Dunning’s ‘eclectic theory’, and after John’s untimely death became its principal exponent. Ever since his undergraduate days Bob had been committed to promoting the economic development of poorer countries, and through his study of international business he realised the crucial role that multinationals played in transferring technology to these countries. The key to economic development, Bob maintained, was to give the local subsidiaries of these firms the autonomy to adapt the firm’s technology to local conditions and turn the developing countries into export hubs, serving entire continents and even the whole world.   

Bob authored many seminal books (listed below), which were the result of years of dedicated research. Despite his quiet and reserved nature, Bob was at heart a team player, and he developed strong bonds of affection with both his colleagues and his many doctoral students. Bob nurtured his doctoral students, and co-authored books and papers with them. Many repaid him by achieving personal distinction in the international business field, as did other young scholars that he helped: Marina Papanastassiou, Ana Teresa Tavares Lehman, Julia Manea, Dimitris Manolopoulos, Dimitra Dimitropoulou, Fragkiskos Filippaios, Shasha Zhao, Evis Sinani, Bersant Hobdari, Asta Dis Oladottir, Yannis Basiakos, Yannis Bournakis, Si Zhang and Yuxuan Tang, among others.

Bob himself achieved great distinction, although it has to be said that his modesty, and his propensity to share the credit with others, was at variance with the more competitive behavior of many other academics. The university appointed him to a personal professorship, the Henley Business School invited him to deliver international ‘master classes’ and the Academy of International Business, the world’s leading professional association in the field, awarded him their prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. Sadly, this was presented in absentia at their Birmingham conference shortly before he died. But we know that Bob was justly proud of his award.

One former student recently remarked that 

‘His impact on my work has been enormous and has determined by academic career ...  He was my advisor my colleague, my mentor, my family friend.  Bob’s legacy for me as an advisor and teacher was among others to publish where is relevant and when is relevant, to be creative, and to own the work.’

Not all academics achieve greatness, and not all treat their students really well. Even fewer do both. Bob was one of the good guys, and did both. He will be sorely missed.

Mark Casson and Marina Papanastassiou     10/05/2018

Books published

With John Dunning The World’s Largest Industrial Enterprises, Farnham: Gower, 1980

With John Dunning  The World’s Largest Industrial Enterprises, 1962-83, Farnham: Gower, 1985

With Peter J.Buckley International Aspects of UK Economic Activities, London: Chapman & Hall for the Royal Statistical Society, 1991

With Satwinder Singh: Globalizing Research and Development, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992

The Growth and Evolution of Multinational Enterprise: Patterns of Geographical Growth and Diversification, Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 1993

With Julia Manea: Multinationals and Transition: Business Strategies, Technology and Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994

With Marina Papanastassiou. The Technological Competitiveness of Japanese Multinationals: The European Experience, Thames Essays, Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1996

Global Competition and Technology: Essays in the Creation and Application of Technology by Multinationals, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997

 (editor) China and the Multinationals: International Business and the Entry of China into the Global Economy, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1999

With Marina Papanastassiou. The Strategic Development of Multinationals: Subsidiaries and Innovation, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2009

With Si Zhang. Multinationals in China: Business Strategy, Technology and economic development, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2012

The Development of International Business: A Narrative of Theory and Practice, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2017

In addition Bob published many articles in learned journals and contributed many chapters to edited books.  

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