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A model relationship for success

Deutsche Telekom Chair in Leadership and HR

Matthew S. Bothner is a professor of strategy and the Deutsche Telekom Chair in Leadership and HR Development at ESMT. Matthew Bothner joined ESMT in 2011 as a professor and the first holder of the Deutsche Telekom Chair. His current research addresses the measurement and consequences of social status in several empirical settings, including venture capital, professional sports, and higher education. His research has been published in leading peer-reviewed journals, such as Administrative Science Quarterly, American Journal of Sociology, and Management Science.

For many higher education institutions, chairs such as the Deutsche Telekom Chair in Leadership and HR Development play a key role in recruiting and retaining top academic talent. Bothner says that the Deutsche Telekom Chair was an important factor, among a number of other factors, in attracting him to ESMT in Berlin. “For me it’s a great honor to be supported by a top company like Deutsche Telekom. It offers an exciting opportunity to share insights from my work and get industry leaders’ reactions to my ideas.”

When chairs are established, the academic and the sponsor company sign a contract that clearly defines their relationship, and reaffirms the independence of the academic. While each relationship is different, Bothner saw the potential that a strong working relationship with Deutsche Telekom could bring to his research and teaching. He explains “the purpose of a chair is to free you up to concentrate on your research, but it’s also very important to build a relationship where you can both learn from each other.”

Bothner describes his relationship as being very warm and cooperative. In addition to teaching in a number of executive education programs for Deutsche Telekom, Bothner has had many one-on-one conversations with key leaders in HR, T-Systems (a division of Telekom), and T-Labs (the central research and development institute of Deutsche Telekom). He has provided advice in relation to Deutsche Telekom’s “Share Ground” initiative, and given keynotes at executive programs in Berlin, Bonn, and Budapest. In return, he gets to share his research insights with a roomful of experienced Deutsche Telekom senior managers and hear their reactions to his work.

His research focuses on social networks and on how networkdriven status affects performance. One aspect of his research that often draws a reaction is the contention that, at very high levels of status, status ceases to be an advantage: complacency and distraction set in, and status becomes a liability. Bothner found support for this idea, adjusting for “mean-reversion,” in professional auto racing and in golf: super-elite race-car drivers go more slowly, and their counterparts in golf perform less well on the green. In an article on this subject for Forbes magazine, he wrote about the risks associated with achieving extremely high status, noting that status “can play a large role in building a person up, whether in sports or in the corporate world, but it can play an equally important role in bringing them to their knees.”

The Deutsche Telekom Chair is an example of how industry and academia can work together and exchange knowledge from which both parties can learn and feed into their work. Bothner says that it has given him more practical insights into how social science theories play out in managers’ and executives’ daily experiences: “I learn about leadership and what it means to be a better leader. Just from watching key leaders at Deutsche Telekom and seeing their patience and drive – this has really helped me to improve my teaching tools and, I believe, to lead more effectively in my work.”