Meet UBC Sauder’s new faculty – Eddie Ning
At UBC Sauder, faculty members are more than just ‘professors.’ They 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. This year, UBC Sauder welcomes eight new lecturers and tenure-track faculty to the school. In the fourth of this series, we introduce you to Eddie Ning, Assistant Professor in the Marketing and Behavioural Science Division.
Where are you from, and what brought you to UBC Sauder?
I was born in China before moving to Los Angeles for high school. I went to UC Berkeley for college, worked for two years in the San Francisco Bay Area, then went back to Berkeley for my PhD. After that, I had a brief stint back on the other side of the Pacific, teaching at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business headquartered in Beijing. I came across an opportunity at UBC Sauder earlier this year and couldn’t resist the temptation to work at a world-class university and be closer to family. On my visit, I was blown away by the city’s beautiful skyline, abundant nature, and vibrant culture. My colleagues were incredibly welcoming. I knew then that UBC Sauder was a place I could thrive in.
What are your areas of research and how did you get into this field?
I use game theory to model competitive interactions between firms and consumers, with a focus on how emerging technologies reshape those competitive interactions. I first fell in love with game theory in college when I was studying for a degree in math and economics. I tried a few different things before getting my doctoral degree: I was a research assistant at university, then worked in industry, and later at the Federal Reserve Bank. Eventually, I concluded that marketing was the subject that most aligned with my interests.
What fuels your research – what prompted you to research this area?
In 2016, I watched the match live between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol. As an absolute beginner, I couldn’t comprehend what was happening on the board. However, I was intrigued by the possibilities. The event marks the beginning of a new era for which we must redefine which activities belong to humans and which belong to machines. I began to wonder what these new technologies mean for human decision-makers, and how they would behave differently in competitive settings. Those questions ended up shaping my research today.
What inspires you to teach?
To me, teaching and research are like the Ying and the Yang. It is hard to enjoy one without the other. Teaching forces me to organize what I have learned into a system, condense information into insights, and craft these insights into communicable bits. It is also incredibly fun to talk to students, to influence and be influenced by their creativity and energy.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered through your research?
Advances in data collection and algorithms allow firms to predict each consumer's preferences. Two products from such advancements that we are all familiar with are targeted advertising and personalized recommendations. But the line between a targeted ad and a recommendation has become blurred. In a new project with colleagues from Yale and KAIST, we show that a targeted ad acts like a “salesperson’s recommendation.” A salesperson’s recommendation can be persuasive, but consumers are aware that salespeople don’t always give honest recommendations. Similarly, better algorithms don’t necessarily result in more effective advertising because sophisticated consumers are wary of being exploited.
What do you believe is the future of your industry?
I don’t necessarily know what the future of marketing is, but personally, I’m most interested in observing how new technology shapes human interactions. Each new generation of consumers will think and behave differently because of the new technology they grow up with. Similarly, each new generation of business leaders targeting these consumers will think and behave differently because of the new tools that they are equipped with. Ultimately, marketing is more interested in humans than machines. But what it means to be human is continuously redefined by the machines at our disposal.
Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself?
I have officiated some weddings for my friends. I didn’t anticipate how much fun that it would be, and now I can’t wait to do it again. Unfortunately, all the couples that I married are living happily ever after, and I’m running out of friends to marry…. So I’m opening my service to the UBC community! Bilingual ceremony is my niche: if half of your guests speak English and the other half speak Chinese, I’m your guy. I can legally officiate marriages in most US states but not here in Canada….so, destination wedding, anyone?
What are you most looking forward to in Vancouver?
Even after being here for almost half a year, I’m still amazed by how beautiful the city is. I look forward to simply making Vancouver my home and enjoying all that B.C. has to offer. I’ve never been a hockey fan, but I’m sure that’s about to change!