Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Case Studies in Agribusiness: An Interview with Ray Goldberg

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Case Studies in Agribusiness: An Interview with Ray Goldberg

Article excerpt


In a recent article published in Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin titled "What's the Big Idea?" (Emmons, Hanna, & Thompson, 2012), a timeline was presented highlighting the 20 of the most significant advances in the 100 year history of the school. Among these landmarks--which included such luminaries as Mayo's pioneering industrial research, Porter's work on strategy, Jensen's agency theory, and Christensen's disruptive innovation--was listed the 1957 publication of A Concept of Agribusiness by Ray Goldberg and John Davis. This work not only coined the term agribusiness, it also introduced the concept of viewing the production, distribution, and consumption of food and fiber as a commodity system--a forerunner to today's value chain and supply chain analysis.

In addition to being a co-inventor of the field of agribusiness, Ray A. Goldberg (George M. Moffett Professor of Agriculture and Business, Emeritus at HBS) holds another important distinction. According to his HBS web page, he has authored and supervised the development of over 1000 case studies on various private, public, and farm cooperative firms and institutions in the global food system. Informally, at least, that makes him the most prolific producer of business discussion cases in the history of HBS (and, quite possibly, in the world).

Still active, Goldberg continues to write and teach. Most recently, this teaching has included seminars at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, an undergraduate course at Harvard College, and an executive agribusiness seminar conducted by HBS. Because of the extraordinary impact of he has had on the agribusiness field, and the important role that case studies have played over the course of his career, he seemed like the idea person to speak to about the manner in which case studies can be used for informing.


The interview that follows was conducted by the author on 24 October 2012. Prior to the interview, Goldberg was sent the list of questions. The interview itself was then recorded, and an initial transcription was made using Dragon System's Naturally Speaking software. This transcript was then cleaned up by the author, and sent back to Goldberg for his approval and minor edits. A similar round of draft and approval was followed for the paper as a whole, prior to publication.

The Interview

Q1. When did you develop your interest in agribusiness?

I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, the son of person who had a farm, developed a grain business and a seed and feed business in the Red River Valley. I was the youngest of four children and the only boy so I spent a great deal of time with my father and I developed my interest and love and appreciation for agriculture at a very young age. I remember going to work when I was 10 years old and have worked in the field of agriculture ever since. So I started at a very young age and that interest was always reinforced, not only by my immediate family, but also by everyone I ever met in my academic and business career.

Q2. So perhaps you can tell me where the term agribusiness came from?

John Davis and I spent many hours trying to figure out what we should call the food system domestically and globally. Because both of us were trained as PhDs in agricultural economics, we recognized that agricultural economics cannot cover the business world, that the farmer was just as much a businessman as anybody else, and that we really should encompass the whole value-added chain. So we decided that we had better put business into the title--so we called it agribusiness.

Q3. The idea of a commodity system keeps cropping up in agribusiness. Could you explain what it means and how it relates to today's widely used concepts of supply chains and value chains?

Yes, I'd be happy to address that question, but to address it properly I have to explain what a concept of agribusiness includes and why a commodity system became important to that concept. …

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