Welcome to our new Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management
In September 2023, we welcomed Lebene Soga as our new Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management Practice at Leeds Business School. In this blog post, Professor Soga tells us all about his journey from Pharmacist to Entrepreneur, his research into flexible working practices, and being featured in the Wall Street Journal.
Welcome Lebene, can you tell us about your career journey to date and what attracted you to join Leeds Business School?
Thanks for having me. My first degree was in Pharmacy and I practised for nearly a decade before moving into academia. You might wonder why the big change from the world of science/medicines/healthcare etc. into social science or into the field of management and I would say that my insatiable curiosity is to blame for this.
In my practice as a pharmacist, I worked directly with patients in clinical care, in community practice, in pharmaceutical regulation, in pharmaceutical business i.e., medicines importation and promotion as a pharmaceutical representative, and finally in drug manufacturing. The single most important denominator for me in all those years of practice was dealing with people whether it was in the hospital or in the field or on the factory floor.
It was that realisation about the importance of dealing with people in my career that spurred my interest in wanting to understand the 'human side of science’ a bit more. This was particularly so when I became responsible for a large number of employees as a production pharmacist in a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm. I needed to manage projects efficiently, lead people effectively, and become an overall better version of myself.
I was already a leader in other ways but I felt I needed more. My hunger was palpable and so my journey into the social sciences began and I am still on that journey as a student of life! Aren’t we all? Whereas many of my colleagues pursued postgraduate degrees in areas of direct connection to pharmaceutical practice or healthcare, and rightly so! I chose another path. The rest, as you can see, is history. You might say this is the basis for the 'management practice' side of my title as a professor and you wouldn’t be wrong, although there’s a bit more to say on that.
Entrepreneurship, for me, was both practical and accidental. First, it was practical because at some point in my career I ran my own consultancy for pharmaceutical companies in Ghana - where I was born and raised. I also helped raise seed funding for a start-up I was part of.
Second, it was accidental in that I only truly discovered entrepreneurship when I started my PhD in Management at Henley Business School. Although my doctoral research was not specifically in entrepreneurship, I was asked if I could support students studying the subject and I agreed. Let me pause here to express my gratitude to Professor Andrew Godley who is currently at the University of Sussex. He carved my path into entrepreneurship and continues to be an inspiration for me; I believe in acknowledging the shoulders of the giants that have raised you.
After my PhD, I continued my work as an academic in entrepreneurship and management practice at Henley Business School until recently when I moved up north to join Leeds Beckett University. I decided to join Leeds Business School for a number of reasons, the most important being the incredibly positive impact they have on students and on the business ecosystem within the region. I am yet to see a business school with such drive and passion for students and the local economy. Kudos to us! The organisational culture at Leeds Business School is a highly supportive one and I am pleased to be part of this great university.
Tell us about one of your current research projects and how this opportunity came about?
The theory goes to be on the watch to cut off a researcher when they start talking about their research otherwise they will talk for all of England. But one of the interesting ones for me was when we decided to explore the concept of flexible working during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whereas most people chose to talk about the benefits of flexible working, my collaborators and I wondered what the other side of the story would look like? It is surely not all roses is it? Even the lovely roses in my garden have thorny stems and so we needed to look at those thorny areas about what we thought was an imbalanced view.
You will notice I am talking about the concept of flexible working as a practice and not necessarily working from home. Working from home or what we would call remote work is only one component of flexible working just to make that clear. In fact, I am an advocate of the idea of flexible working but I just wanted to ensure that we all had a balanced view of the concept.
Those discussions with my collaborators led us to the research project we called ‘unmasking the other face of flexible working practices’. We thought to use ‘unmask’ and ‘face’ as a sort of hope for the reader in a way, since the mandate for wearing masks was still in force at the time of our research. We knew one day masks would be a thing of the past. We identified the pitfalls of flexible working in a systematic review and published the paper as open access so that everyone would be able to see that other face of the concept, not just its benefits.
It was a lot of fun working with my really excellent colleagues on that research project. We found a lot more in that research but had to meet the word count requirements and so we continue to have these interesting conversations as we explore this whole idea of flexible work. There are other papers currently being worked on in that regard.
For entrepreneurship, one of the important outcomes of my research is the idea that an entrepreneurship ecosystem must not necessarily have all the components of an ecosystem to be successful. Success can still occur as long as the deficiencies in the ecosystem are acknowledged and other components somehow complement or make up for the missing bits. Example, a bat is unable to see like a human but is able to compensate for that through echolocation in order to navigate effectively. This is akin to how entrepreneurship ecosystems adapt in order to deliver successful entrepreneurial ventures. Ah, you said one of my research and here I am already talking about two! I’m shutting up now!
What are your research ambitions for the next few years?
If there’s ever a place to want to do research and enjoy it, it is at Leeds Business School. My meetings with my research active colleagues have always been fantastic and the opportunities to do primary research abound since we have excellent relationships with several entrepreneurial ventures within the region.
As a result I aim to engage in primary impactful research and to support colleagues as we undertake research with impact. Obviously every university’s goal when it comes to research is intricately connected to the REF. This is not any different for us as a university but I dare say that for Leeds Business School, there is something more in our DNA and that is to see real impact of our research on the businesses we serve and work with in the region. This is what the next few years hold for me and I would encourage all potential PhD students who wish to work with me at Leeds Business School to have this at the fore of their mind.
What has been your career highlight to date?
This is a very easy question because marrying my wife has always been the highlight of anything for me! I could not have achieved anything in my career without my dear queen by my side and that’s for sure! And you know as a researcher, you desire your work to be meaningful to the relevant people. We publish all these papers in academic journals and hope that our insights would make an impact on the world of work, for the everyday manager, for the entrepreneur wanting to move their business forward, for the employee in that organisation, for that leader who’s at wit’s end, for the leader wanting to transform their business and so on.
Accordingly, it fills us with immense satisfaction when our research is picked up by other outlets that are not necessarily considered 'academic’ but arguably have a longer reach to the aforementioned people we want our research to touch. It was therefore a great delight for me when I was profiled in the Wall Street Journal a couple years ago for one of my outputs. That, and other mentions in non-academic outlets has always been a welcome highlight for me.
Can you tell us something about yourself that we may not know?
Yes indeed, those who know me tend to believe I'm an extrovert with my bubbly self because a lot of what I do is public-facing and engaging with several people and so on. Of course I love people. Believe it or not, I personally think I am an introvert as I love to simply be on my own, to recharge from deep within me, and oh my, how I cherish those moments, add Beethoven and Johann Strauss please!
I am also a pastor, a church planter, and a Christian podcaster. You are very likely not going to receive a reply to an email or a phone call on a Sunday! And oh, I like a good laugh, most people probably know that already! Many of us are too serious we forget the little things that make us human.
Professor Lebene Richmond Soga is Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management Practice at Leeds Business School (LBS), Leeds Beckett University, Academic Director of the LBS Centre for Entrepreneurship & Knowledge Exchange, and a Senior Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy.