UOW’s eldest graduate adds to the knowledge bank at 71

UOW’s eldest graduate adds to the knowledge bank at 71

Margret Schuller plans to never give up learning as she celebrates her PhD

“Don’t ever stop questioning or learning or being curious”.

That’s the advice to anyone of any age from 71-year-old Margret Schuller who is the eldest student to graduate during the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) July graduation celebrations (Friday 21 July).

German-born Engadine resident Ms Schuller arrived in Australia at the end of 1968 and has been a perpetual student, having attained her Bachelor of Science in Hamburg in 1966, before studying her Masters of Business Administration at UOW in 2002 and retuning to add the letters PhD to her list of academic achievements.

Nine years ago she established her own marketing and branding business, and using her background in science, offers her combined skills as a consultant in the medical field.

While continuing to run her business, Ms Schuller’s hunger for learning saw her invest seven and a half years of part time research focusing on ‘Knowledge transfer from globally dispersed subsidiaries to the parent company: A study of stickiness in a multinational organisation’.

Or as Ms Schuller puts it, “it’s how 'stickiness theory' explains what impedes global subsidiaries' beneficial knowledge from being transferred to the parent company”.

“Knowledge is a valuable asset for any organisation, including multinational companies. Knowledge transfer is an important process which helps organisations gain and sustain competitive advantage.

“Despite extensive research, achieving effective knowledge transfer remains a major challenge for many organisations. Tacit knowledge is particularly complex and often becomes “sticky” and thus slow and difficult to transfer,” Ms Schuller said.

In analysing the data gathered following staff interviews across a variety of levels, Ms Schuller said there were many stickiness characteristics that were the same when transferring knowledge from subsidiaries to the parent as when transferring knowledge from parent to subsidiary.

However, others were new and were more characteristic of knowledge transfer from subsidiary to parent.

“For example, outsourcing as a predictor of stickiness is seldom mentioned in literature. Outsourcing increases stress on subsidiary employees, might increase high staff turnover and decreases employee’s trust in management, consequently increases cognitive stickiness in transferring knowledge to the parent company.

“The implementation and management of processes, including “lean” processes, can diminish absorptive and retentive capacity.

“The study revealed that the parent company’s senior managers differ in their perceptions of what is occurring in the organisation compared to subsidiary and parent company employees.

“These differences affect knowledge transfer to an extent that could actually harm the company’s competitiveness,” she remarked.

Ms Schuller cited some key learnings from her research for managerial staff to achieve greater levels of business success.

“Executive officers and senior managers could learn from the findings how they might foster a culture that encourages a more effective knowledge transfer, which would allow CEOs to make better informed decisions and thus contribute to the organisation’s competitive advantage.

“Senior managers should evaluate their own perceptions against those of employees to become more aware of how well processes are really working, how some processes might not have the intended long lasting benefits, and how processes may negatively affect each other,” Ms Schuller added.

She said her decision to undertake a PhD was purely because she had a particular interest in the subject matter, not necessarily for the purpose of career enhancement.

“You learn skills and knowledge that you can apply in your private life and work life. It has helped me a lot with my English language, it does help thinking and questioning things better, it’s never wasted and it’s not just about the good feeling at the end.

“It doesn’t matter what you study, it’s beneficial and you learn something all the time. As I always say to people when I used to work in a research lab, I learnt so much in my younger years that I still apply today."

Margret Schuller’s formal tertiary studies may have concluded but her plans for the future involve maintaining an active mind.

“I am a person that never gives up, that’s just my personality. It has made me feel good at the end, that I achieved what I set out to achieve.

“Someone recently said to me: It might be painful to fulfill a difficult task that might help you to reach your goal, your dream. That pain only stays for a relative short time, however, the pain of giving up on your goal, your dream, that pain will stay with you forever.

“I will always study but not formally and I will always do that as long as I can, for my own personal interest and challenge.

“As Albert Einstein once said: Once you stop learning you start dying,” she said.