Creativity meets performance best sums up the central theme of Aleksandra Klein’s research. Having gained valuable practical experience in management consulting and finance, as well as in social business and entrepreneurship, she worked as an Associate at Deutsche Bank Inhouse Consulting after completing her studies. But the call of academia was too strong to resist, so Aleksandra changed tack. She was recently appointed Assistant Professor in Accounting, joining us from WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, where she was Assistant Professor at the Institute for Strategy and Managerial Accounting at the Department of Strategy & Innovation.
Aleksandra’s research and teaching focuses on management accounting and control systems. She is interested in their impact in cross-disciplinary environments and creativity-driven and innovative sectors, and has a soft spot for more unconventional settings, such as emerging enterprises and companies undergoing change, such as mergers, acquisitions and restructuring, or even crisis situations, e.g. as a result of COVID-19. “I mostly look at the psychological and behavioural implications of these systems, i.e. how they enable organisations and their people to reach their full potential, or how they can hinder them from doing so”, she explains. “I also study their effects on team creativity, group and organisational resilience and fairness and inclusion.”
While digitalisation has been high on the agenda for some time, it has been spurred on by the ongoing pandemic and the recent geopolitical developments. A hot topic in Aleksandra’s area of expertise is the digitalisation of the finance function, and that of the management accounting and control role in particular, as she explains: “One of the research projects I’m working on looks into how the use of advanced analytics in the strategically integrated risk management function reinforces an organisation’s adaptive capacity, one of the major constituents of organisational resilience. The main findings point to the crucial role top management plays in emphasising the significance of digital transformation, and, thus, making the use of advanced tools and techniques in risk management work!”
Why is it such a topical issue? “Management accounting is an important function, in the sweet spot between top management and the rest of the organisation. Perhaps because management accountants are typically good with numbers and analytics, they’ve taken digitalisation so much for granted that they’ve forgotten to explore what it really means. As a result, the management accounting function has fallen behind. Others, such as marketing, have made much more progress towards true digitalisation, so much so that management accounting’s pioneering reputation is now at stake. It needs to up its game, otherwise it risks losing its relevance.”
If you don’t catch up, you will cease to exist. This is not only true for digitalisation, but also for another issue that is close to Aleksandra’s heart: the modern workplace, i.e. inclusive and fair working conditions. “Together with my colleagues, I’ve just finalised a paper on how contemporary performance management can help organisations become more inclusive and fairer, e.g., by reducing the gender pay gap. Like digitalisation, inclusiveness and fairness are no longer nice-to-haves. It’s what the younger generation, the managers of the future, demand from their employers. Organisations of all types and sizes are increasingly aware that a few well-chosen buzzwords in an annual report or on a website don’t suffice and that it’s time to act!”
Why did she decide to join Vlerick? “For a number of reasons, really”, she says. “Its reputation as a leading business school, the job content, the career prospects and so on. But what swung it for me were the people and the Vlerick spirit. It probably sounds cliché, but when I met some of the faculty, they all seemed so professional and diligent, and at the same time so warm and welcoming, with this positive can-do attitude. I felt there and then that I’d just wanted to work with them.”
As well as teaching on our Masters programmes, focussing on digital applications in management accounting, Aleksandra will be actively involved in the Centre for Financial Leadership and Digital Transformation. “It’s something I’m looking forward to as it ties in nicely with my expertise and interests. With my research and teaching I hope to be able to contribute to the reputation of the School and its highly ranked programmes. I’m keen to further develop the Centre together with my colleagues, and to help financial professionals and organisations in their efforts to become more agile in order to succeed in today’s turbulent times by embracing digitalisation.”
Before joining us, Aleksandra held various academic positions in renowned European business schools. She has also won several prestigious teaching and research awards. And this is not surprising. Asked what makes her tick, she answers without hesitation: “Witnessing someone getting an aha moment! There is nothing like the realisation that you’ve explained things in a way they’ve understood. I want to make someone’s eyes sparkle, knowing I did something right. I love to see it in my students, but also in my kids, my family, my friends. The exchange of energy during these light bulb moments is extremely rewarding and fulfilling.”
At Vlerick, with its diverse mix of students and faculty from all sorts of backgrounds, Aleksandra will be in her element. As an ethnic Russian born in Latvia, she was exposed to a multicultural environment from the start. And having studied at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, catering to students from the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, she learned from a young age to get along with people from different cultures, with different perspectives and personalities, values and beliefs. “When I moved to Sweden for my Masters, I found myself in an even more colourful setting, as we were 40 students from 20 nationalities. And I loved it, it was quite an invigorating experience. Being in such a diverse setting forces you to take into account cultural differences and try to find common ground. It definitely helps you develop into an open-minded and tolerant person.”
Various exchange programmes took her to Austria, Russia and Spain. “All very fascinating places”, she recalls. “I enjoyed each one of them, but I was particularly enchanted by Austria, with its surprising mix of cultures and influences from neighbouring countries. It was there that I met my husband-to-be.” After her studies, she ended up in Germany, working at Deutsche Bank at a time when the organisation was going through turmoil. Although she enjoyed the challenge, she decided to give in to her desire to pursue an academic career and returned to Austria, more specifically to Vienna, the city that had so captivated her and where she’s since settled. “My having worked and lived in so many different environments probably explains why I have a penchant for studying and researching rather unusual settings”, she says.
While her family continues to live in Vienna, Aleksandra’s job is in Belgium. How is she going to manage? She shrugs and says: “It’s going to be a balancing act, but Vlerick provides the needed flexibility. Few business schools are so entrepreneurial and pragmatic, and I mean that in a good way. At Vlerick it’s the result that counts, not the hours spent on site.” Smiling, she adds: “And I have my personal support network. My husband is very understanding and my parents regularly come over to stay in Vienna, so we’ll be fine. I’m lucky to be able to count on a strong social network. But when you’ve moved as often as I have, it’s all the more important to have invested in such a support system.”