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Fink’s Research on Customer-Supplier Relationships Continues to Produce Results

January 26, 2009
By: Worcester State University News

When it comes to research, Bob Fink is no dilettante.

Ten years ago, he and two colleagues built a database from a survey that queried paper mill officials and their suppliers of process control equipment. When they developed the survey questionnaire, they looked at theory across multiple disciplines.

“We had three theories that we wanted to test,” Fink said of the survey, which garnered 350 responses to more than 120 questions about the customer-supplier relationship.

“We were initially interested in the customer-supplier relationship and wondered who gets the performance benefit when things go well in the relationship,” he said. “More specifically, when do suppliers get benefits from close relationships?”

Fink and his collaborators have certainly benefitted from their diligent analysis of this survey data.

So far, they’ve published eight articles in refereed journals in marketing, management, industrial and corporate change, and marketing theory and practice.

And there are more articles to come. Fink, who joined Worcester State seven years ago in the Business Administration and Economics Department, predicts they’ll have a dozen published articles before they’ve exhausted the data set.

What are some of the things they have learned? That knowledge transfer is a key to perceived benefits in the relationship. Customers principally get benefits from suppliers when knowledge is transferred.

“When suppliers show people how to use equipment to improve production, that’s when there’s a benefit,” Fink said.

Not all customers are interested in knowledge-transfer, however. Fink and his colleagues learned that smaller customers, those producing less than 250 tons of paper a day, were more interested in knowledge-transfer.

Larger firms, those that produce more than 1,000 tons of paper a day, can hire the knowledge they need, Fink said.

Time in the relationship is another factor.

“You’ve got to realize that it could take seven years or longer to establish a relationship based on trust,” Fink said. “These are organizational as well as personal relationships between suppliers and their customers, who run multi-million dollar businesses.”

A plant controller himself 30 years ago, Fink earned a doctorate in business administration from Boston University in 1995. This research project had its beginnings during his dissertation work.

It is clear that he has not tired of examining the survey data for more clues about the supplier-customer relationship.

One side benefit is that this work has given him a different perspective on the relationship between research and professional development. He uses the research project to keep current in the field by reading a variety of journals and by going through the editorial process with journal editors.

“Ten years ago, I didn’t see that research was a way to develop professionally,” Fink said. “I did consulting to stay current in the field.”

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