S. Tamer Cavusgil: Opening Doors for the Next Generation

Opening doors for the next generation
GSU endowed chair supports students in honor of life-changing Fulbright

When a Georgia State University student takes his or her first international airplane flight, S. Tamer Cavusgil expects that student’s life to change. That’s what happened in 1970, as his journey to the United States led to an acclaimed academic career in international marketing. The opportunities that sprung from that first trip motivate him today as a professor, mentor and donor.

“I would have been a rather ordinary person if I had stayed,” Cavusgil says as he recounts his first flight.

At age 23, had graduated from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, capital of his home country. His father, a civil servant, had moved his wife and five children 17 times. Cavusgil had earned one of four Fulbright Fellowships for Turkish citizens in 1970, and as he left for the University of Wisconsin, he possessed only basic information of the United States.

“I had heard English spoken on the Voice of America, and I knew about John Wayne and American Indians, and of course, the military power of the United States,” Cavusgil said.

In adapting to the United States and many other subsequent cultures, the trait he relied on the most – and what he seeks to instill in others – is deep curiosity. Curiosity, he believes, transcends judgment, bias and prejudice. It provides force to break out of one’s shell into a greater understanding of humanity.

“The norm for a country is not good or bad, it’s just what they are,” he said. “Try to be understanding. Try to not judge them for what you think they should be. Don’t fall in the trap of seeing people as dirty, lazy or not polite. A deep curiosity is the essence of successful understanding of cultures.”

Cavusgil never forgot the impact of the Fulbright, what he calls “one of the best returns on investment of any program created for Americans and foreigners.” The funding helped him secure his M.B.A. and Ph.D. in an era of looming globalization.

At GSU, he has become a giver of funds, to the S. Tamer and Judith A. Cavusgil Scholarship, most recently awarded to students William Brown and Carmen Fife. The couple also fund the S. Tamer and Judith A. Cavusgil Faculty/Staff Award.

“I often reflect on what would have happened if I had not had the Fulbright opportunity,” Cavusgil said. “I would have not been able to touch so many young people, to have an impact on their future.

“I cannot overemphasize the importance of a modest contribution to the next generation. Sometimes it’s funding, or wise advice. Sometimes, it’s access to an event or an introduction to a new business community that helps a student find a job. Often, advancement does not happen unless someone opens the door.”

In his doctoral work in 1975 to 1976, Cavusgil examined the attitudes of 200 Midwestern business executives who generally demonstrated little curiosity about the opening of China and other international markets. It was an era when many businesses subscribed to a provincial attitude.

“I was baffled by their lack of interest and their uncomfortable feeling about travel and other languages. It was as if they were doing well enough in America and didn’t want to be bothered,” Cavusgil recalled. “Competition was around the corner and arriving rapidly, and I knew that this attitude was going to be a big weakness.”

He plunged into emerging global markets, and his scholarship led to research and teaching around the world. He has published more than 200 refereed journal articles, and is the senior author of the widely used textbook, International Business: The New Realities (2nd Edition, Prentice Hall).

At GSU, Cavusgil serves as the executive director for the Center for Business Education and Research (CIBER) and the Fuller E. Callaway Professorial Chair and Director of the Institute of International Business. (The Callaway family was one of the South’s leading cotton and textile manufacturers and founded Callaway Gardens.)

Each year, Cavusgil takes a return trip to Turkey for a Maymester course. In 2012, he taught “Media, Journalism and Business in a Global World,” an interdisciplinary course with GSU journalism professor Shawn Powers.

“He opened our eyes to Istanbul and what Turkey has to offer,” said participant Ivanka Skovardanova. “He brought us guest speakers who were his previous students. They talked about government restriction of the Internet and free speech. He helped us realize that Turkey is striving to be a modern country but still has government issues that need to be changed.”

“The experience showed me how I need to brand myself, whether I want to be in local, national news or international news,” said Areyonne Johnson, an aspiring broadcaster. “At CNN Turkey, we saw people work behind the scenes and on air. We heard their stories and how they got there, how passionate they were and how they felt restrained by the government. We heard all types of perspectives.”

Last month, Cavusgil received the American Marketing Association’s 2012 Excellence in Global Marketing Research Award, for co-authoring a groundbreaking 2002 article “The GMS [Global Marketing Strategy]: A Broad Conceptualization of Global Marketing Strategy and Its Effect on Firm Performance.”

“It’s very meaningful because my co-author is a former Ph.D. student of mine, and this is an early reward for him,” Cavusgil said of Shaoming Zou, now of the University of Missouri. “I feel like what I have done as a mentor has paid off with what my younger colleague has achieved. That multiplier effect is a thrill.”

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424