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This year, UBC Sauder welcomed six new full-time lecturers, tenured and tenure-track faculty to the school. At UBC Sauder, faculty members conduct impactful research that is changing how society views the world while also inspiring students to pursue their academic passions and become the thoughtful, values-driven leaders the business world needs. They are more than just ‘professors.’


In the sixth of this series, we introduce you to Ken Kikkawa, Assistant Professor, Strategy & Business Economics Division, UBC Sauder School of Business.

What brought you to UBC Sauder?
UBC Sauder has a wonderful environment! There are many great researchers in my field, and outside of research, I love the perfect combination of nature and urban areas in Vancouver.

What are your areas of research and how did you get into this field?
I study the economics of Trade. In particular, I investigate how people, firms or countries make trading decisions and explore their implications for the economy. I was attracted by this field because trade is everywhere in our daily lives - any economic transactions you do, or firms do, are in some sense a trading of goods and services. In addition to macro-level trade datasets, recently there has been an emergence of micro-level datasets that record how individual firms trade with each other, and this increased availability of data is expanding the field.

What fuels your research – what prompted you to research this area?
Doing research often involves facing setbacks, having no progress for days or weeks, and other stressful experiences - but it is natural in a sense, because we are asking questions which no one yet knows the answer to. Therefore, the feeling of accomplishment from the occasional progress in research that I make fuels me to keep going. In the field of trade, each of these small accomplishments are actually explaining what is going on in the real world.

What inspires you to teach?
I do a lot of empirical work in my research, and I believe that the importance of data is the same in areas beyond academic research. Whether making business decisions or policy decisions, it is extremely important to make these decisions based on real data and to study what is going on in society through the lens of this data. Through classes, I would like to provide students with opportunities where they can have a hands-on experience with data.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered through your research?
One of the datasets I use for my research records how every single firm in Belgium is buying and selling its goods from other firms in Belgium. In other words, I can see the entire firm-to-firm production network in the Belgian economy. With this dataset, we found that while only a fraction of Belgian firms are directly importing goods from abroad, once we take into account that firms can also "indirectly import" by buying goods from a Belgian importer, then almost all the Belgian firms are importing goods directly or indirectly! This finding, which says that international trade affects a much larger set of economic agents than we previously thought, opens up to much more new research and has many policy implications as well.

What do you believe is the future of your industry?
With the availability of new datasets that allow us to investigate peoples’ and firms' economic activities at a very granular level, I believe that the field will become more data-driven. But of course, more and more information does not necessarily mean one has to take into account all of the data in the analysis. Theoretical work will also be needed as we have to think about questions like: which dimensions of this granular information are relevant for the question in mind, and which ones are not? I believe that these combinations of new data and data-driven theories would be very important in the future.

What are you most looking forward to doing in Vancouver?
I'm looking forward to the many trips I plan to take to enjoy British Columbia’s natural beauty, including the gardens around campus, parks around downtown, and trips to Vancouver Island and beyond.