Merli Reidolf, the new Director of the Department of Business Administration of the TalTech School of Business and Governance, has been in office since 1 May 2023. The research and development and teaching and learning activities at the Department of Business Administration - one of the largest departments at the university - cover various aspects of business administration, such as sustainable business development, knowledge and innovation management, risk and strategic management, marketing, supply chain management, financial accounting, personnel and performance management, digital society, international business and entrepreneurship. We have asked the new leader to speak about her challenges.
Please, could you introduce yourself?
I come from Järva County, Türi municipality, Estonia. I attended my first school years in one of the most beautiful manor schools in Estonia – Laupa Basic School, but I graduated from Türi Economic High School. I was admitted to Tallinn University of Technology to the bachelor's programme of Public Administration; I got a job here, and somehow, I have not been very far away from here. Meanwhile, I have smelled the air of the universities in Finland and Germany. I have held different positions at the Office of Academic Affairs and worked as the head of the Dean's Office of the School of Social Sciences. I started as a researcher at the Department of Business Administration and defended my PhD thesis in 2019. What is happening around me matters to me; therefore, I have led and participated in various activities, such as collecting donations for the Food Bank and organising several collective action days. In addition, I am also somewhat active in local politics. I follow the principle: where you see a fault, come and help.
You hold a PhD, and your research topics are focused on regional development, innovation and entrepreneurship development. Could you elaborate on these topics, please?
This is a broad and multifaceted topic, but I can give some examples. According to mainstream innovation theories, rural areas are not environments conducive to innovation, especially if only radical technological innovation is sought. But innovation is an interactive process that results in something new in the product or service of at least one company. Different resources and knowledge can serve as sources of ideas. Land and mineral resources, as well as empty buildings, can play a crucial role in developing products and services. During the COVID pandemic, those who owned space and emptiness could offer innovative tourism products, where meeting no one was an added value. By further developing your grandmother's jam recipe, jam production may arise, or the locals’ handicraft skills can contribute to the design.
Companies set different goals, not just doing the classic fast-growing business. Many entrepreneurs in rural areas see the value in providing jobs for themselves and the people living in the neighbourhood, which is more in harmony with nature. Opportunities must be noticed, and while supporting entrepreneurship, the entrepreneurs’ opportunities should not be harmed by different ideas while offering classic, perhaps even old-fashioned, solutions. The theory of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and our research that is based on it proves that no single component of the system is of key importance - a combination of different components and the coherence and correspondence to the needs of a particular region and business field matters.
You have said that your strength lies in setting your goals in motion. What goals need immediate implementation in the Department of Business Administration?
Our focus as a department is to support Estonia's international competitiveness through diverse teaching and learning activities and good research. Many things have already been initiated; my primary role is to see that the great initiatives would not stop, that the idea would turn into action and that the balance between different tasks would be maintained.
The university, as well as each academic unit, has three principal roles that are divided into many small activities. We must find a balance so that the goals set in education, research and serving society are met, but at the same time, our employees are healthy, happy, and satisfied. Cooperation is one of the best ways of getting different activities done at the individual, research group and department levels. Many activities require bringing people together within the department and with partners outside the department, both at the university and in society.
I am aware that the Department of Business Administration employs several world-renowned researchers, professors, and lecturers. How are things with recruiting new teaching staff and teaching? What challenges do you face; what is very well?
Our department is among the largest departments at the university, we do a lot of degree-level teaching, and we deliver about 200 courses a year, which makes 17 thousand contact hours per year, and 60-70 continuing education courses. Historically, we have been teaching-focused, so we have a lot of experienced teaching staff, but the succession planning process could be faster. Anyone willing to share knowledge, even students with no teaching experience today, could start as a teaching assistant and develop into a lecturer. Many of today's teaching staff have started this way. So, if you are interested in the path of a lecturer or an assistant, please let me know.
On the other hand, our research and development projects portfolio has diversified, and we are growing. However, this change also sets different expectations for existing academic staff and the need for new people, from PhD students to professors. An additional resource of new researchers focusing on science is also very welcome - it is an exciting time for doctoral students to enter the world of science - the classic fields of business administration are complemented by digital, sustainability, responsibility, and green transition - neither marketing, economic accounting, nor management can bypass them. There are no limits to the challenges and opportunities to make the world a better place.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Quite a large part of my free time is filled with volleyball. Wearing a TalTech shirt, I am a contact player on a team, and as a spectator, I cheer the players. I enjoy walking on different city streets and in the forest, playing board games, and going to the theatre. I have two daughters and a great family. I like an active lifestyle and good company around me.