Let’s talk about you: what is your background, what do you teach, and what are your research interests?.
My name is Francesco Rullani, and at Ca' Foscari I teach courses on business strategies, with a focus on strategies linked to the digital revolution and its impact on society, from an ethical, environmental and social point of view. I am Director of the Bliss Research Centre - Digital Impact Lab, which we founded to investigate the digital revolution and its impact on the world. My research focuses on these topics: I combine an interest in innovation, especially digital innovation, which I have been nurturing since my degree dissertation on open source software (which I am still studying), with an interest in the role that businesses and the economy in general can play in promoting a fairer model of society, one that aims to solve social and environmental problems rather than aggravate them.
Tell us about your academic path.
I graduated from Ca' Foscari in Economics and then did a PhD in Economics and Management at the Scuola Universitaria Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, and arrived as a Post-doc at the Copenhagen Business School with a scholarship for management studies abroad awarded by the IRI Foundation. I then stayed there as a researcher for another three years. This transition (from economics to management) gave me the chance to become familiar with the powerful tools and formalised language of economics, as well as the more open and people-centred approach of management. I then had the chance to discover how this job works abroad, from Copenhagen to Stanford, where I was a visiting for a while, and at some of the best Italian universities: Bocconi (always as visiting) and LUISS, where I became an Associate Professor. I finally came to Ca' Foscari as a full professor, a year and a half ago, coming full circle, in a way.
What has given you the greatest satisfaction in your career?
Managing to work out the various tasks that are required of a professor: research, teaching, impact (which is wrongly called third mission, which gives a sense of 'residual' that does not do justice to its importance). Managing to publish papers that have a methodological rigour capable of withstanding peer review by the most prestigious international journals, taking those ideas, bringing them into the classroom to students, engaging them creatively to make them understand what is new and useful in those ideas, and on this building a conversation with the world outside the university, with the organisations and people who are in the field every day and make things happen, knowing that tomorrow they will happen in that way partly thanks to us. We don't always manage to do that (at least, I don't) but when it happens it is really a huge satisfaction.
Have you always known that this was going to be your path?
From a very young age, when people asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I would say ‘a scientist’, without having the slightest idea what that meant. It was the idea of 'poking around in the world' that fascinated me, of understanding how things worked. With my first experiences of political involvement in high school, this interest turned to social sciences: it became 'understanding how things worked ... in human beings'. And among social sciences, the one that seemed to me most capable of helping me understand the world seemed to be economics. Philosophy attracted me a lot, perhaps also thanks to a good teacher in high school, but it was economics that changed the world, I thought. Thinking about it I think it was all Marx's fault....
What do teaching and researching mean to you?
An older colleague, whom I hold in high esteem, once told me “we have the most wonderful job in the world: they ask us to talk to people, understand problems, create ideas, and decide for ourselves what to explore. Few other jobs give you this freedom to do equally interesting things while meeting people you can be useful to". You cannot understand the meaning of researching and teaching without imagining it in an active social setting: the scientific community is nothing more than a group of people constantly talking to each other and to the rest of society to find solutions to collective problems. Or at least that is what it should aim at, I think...