Meir Russ

Posted on May 1, 2010 :: Face Time
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

on knowledge as an asset

Knowledge is an important business asset and a crucial component of business strategy. That’s the premise of a book recently published by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Associate Professor Meir Russ. A native of Israel, entrepreneur, frequent world traveler and an early champion of New North, Inc., Russ sat down with Insight editor Margaret LeBrun to discuss the importance of knowledge assets in business.

Knowledge management is an academic field that is dealing with ideation and technology as an asset. It’s a very complex asset because it resides in peoples’ minds and it resides in databases and company manuals and procedures. More and more companies realize they have this asset that they don’t know how to manage or measure.

For example, think of succession planning, which is something the human resources people are managing. You want to capture the knowledge of the person who is about to leave, and you want to transfer this knowledge to someone that is going to replace her or him in the position, and you want to do that in a more effective, efficient way.

Another example is new product development. You can acquire this knowledge internally or from the outside. A third application is the issue of alliances, joint ventures or partnership. Companies today have to collaborate along the supply chain in order to get into new markets. What we found in research is that the partner that is learning faster is the one that is acquiring the upper hand in the relationship between the partners.

If you are a sophisticated company, you will realize that if you are managing those three different aspects separately, you don’t have any strategy. So like in any other area, you can do that stuff intuitively but then you are not effective, efficient or you duplicate your efforts, you waste time, you waste money, you don’t share or collaborate. So companies are developing knowledge management strategies.

Even small companies need a contingency plan. What happens if the entrepreneur is hit by a truck and will be in the hospital for a month? Most small companies do not recover – exactly because they do not have a contingency plan or knowledge management plan that allows them to operate if bad things happen. When you are managing a small or medium-sized business, you should spend 5 percent of your time on knowledge management strategy and 10 percent on your business strategy.

At UW-Green Bay, I’m the chair of the graduate program for the master’s in management program. It’s one of the best kept secrets in the region.

I’ve been with UWGB for eight years. Before that I was in Columbus, Ohio, and before Ohio I was living in Israel; I have an electronic engineering degree and an MBA from Tel Aviv University. I was a member of an Israeli kibbutz and after working in the fields and growing alfalfa for a couple years, they asked me to look for a new business for them and to help them to move from the 19th century to the 20th century economy. I started a firm that makes high-frequency electronic devices (they go into flying radar for military planes both in Israel and America, and they go on microwave towers to help wireless telecommunication). I later did some business strategy consulting and I worked with a team that helped to develop an industrial policy for Israel. I was working in a think tank out of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I was responsible for their entrepreneurship program.

Business and nursing and education are really important, but what makes a difference for the future economy are those centers of excellence – a school of science or engineering, whether it’s in biology, computer science or materials. We don’t have engineering schools, so even companies that have research and development centers move them away. Federal investment in research makes a difference, but we get practically zero. If you don’t have those centers of excellence you cannot attract the money. We have to measure how much goes into research and development in companies here.

For companies here to be connected to the centers of creating new knowledge is really important. Because if they are not, we are running the risk of becoming a marginalized region. I have a sense of urgency about this and that is one reason I was so supportive of New North.

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →