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Faculty Research Explores the Micro and Macro

Published: 10/15/2005

David Hawkins began writing a case on eBay, he knew research was going to be a tall order. The case was to explore the measurement and role of free cash flow in financial analysis. The problem: "Nothing had ever been done on that before," said Hawkins, the Lovett-Learned Professor of Business Administration.

The job fell to Baker Research Services (BRS), which provides faculty, doctoral students, and RAs with research assistance, specializing in data retrieval and analysis. The seven-member team is accustomed to a wide range of requests—everything from "In 1850, how long did it take a steamship to travel 100 miles?" to "Please calculate and analyze betas for the U.S. household durable goods industry for 1990-2005."

For Professor Hawkins, Business Information Analyst Kathleen Ryan was able to dig up eBay SEC documents, background on the PayPal merger, and a review of the academic literature on using free cash flow as a performance measure. Hawkins' case, "eBay Inc.: Internet Success or Fairy Tale?", provided new insights into how financial analysts and executives can study financial statements.

The team also helped Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at HBS, with his long-running research on entrepreneurship and emerging markets worldwide. "Much of the value-added they brought was in helping integrate hand-collected databases that I had put together from disparate sources in the mid- to late-1990s from fifteen countries, and updating them by integrating this information with standard databases," says Khanna. That data served as a foundation for a large number of cases, papers, and other research on the topic published over the years.

Through BRS, faculty and doctoral students have access to research support that is almost unheard of at other universities, which contributes to Harvard Business School's recognition as a world-class research organization. "Groups like ours, with professional degrees, institutional knowledge, and long tenures, are rare," says Sarah Eriksen, Associate Director of the group. The result is that HBS researchers can spend more time thinking and analyzing their work rather than worrying about data management, vendor contracts, and data quality.


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