Business and Economics

Phd defences Faculty of Business and Economics

Forthcoming PhD defences and past PhD defences in the archive

Forthcoming PhD defences

8 September 2021: PhD Defence Markose Chekol Zewdie (Department of Engineering Management)

Markose Chekol Zewdie

  • Wednesday 8 September 2021 - 4 p.m.
  • Supervisors:

17 September 2021: PhD Defence Masoud Moharami Gargari (Department of Transport and Regional Economics)

Masoud Moharami Gargari

  • Friday 17 September 2021 – 4 p.m.
  • Supervisors: Thierry Vanelslander & Kenneth Sörensen
  • Online PhD defence

30 September 2021: PhD Defence Cristian Buzeta Riquelme (Department of Marketing)

Cristian Buzeta Riquelme

  • Thursday 30 September 2021
  • Supervisors: Nathalie Dens & Patrick De Pelsmacker

15 October 2021: PhD Defence Ana Isabel Loureiro Lopes (Department of Marketing)

Ana Isabel Loureiro Lopes

  • Friday 15 October 2021 - 5 p.m.
  • Supervisors: Patrick De Pelsmacker & Nathalie Dens

Online reviews and how to manage them: effects of eWOM and webcare on consumer responses and business performance

Sharing our opinion about a product, service or brand is part of our experience as consumers. Online reviews are, therefore, an essential element of businesses' day-to-day interactions with consumers and are gaining territory in influencing their decisions. Using multiple research methods (conjoint analysis, experiment, systematic literature review and a machine learning approach), this thesis focuses on understanding the influence of different online review characteristics on consumer responses and the effects of webcare strategies (responding to online reviews) on consumer responses and business performance.

Looking into which cues influence the perceived usefulness and credibility of an online review, we find that argument strength is the most important and star rating the least important review characteristic influencing perceived credibility of an online review. Given the importance of review arguments, the second study focuses on finding if and when positive reviews can overcome the impact of negative ones. An experiment testing the nuances in the negativity effect shows that even when most reviews are negative, consumers still make positive brand evaluations if the positive reviews focus on different arguments (versus repeating the same argument) and are on a ratio of at least 4 positive reviews out of 12. Considering the importance of online reviews in influencing consumer decisions, this dissertation also proposes a framework for webcare to be used by practitioners and in further research by analyzing the literature published on the topic over the last 20 years. Finally, we find that engaging in webcare positively influences hotel bookings. After analyzing review and booking data and testing different machine learning classifiers to identify webcare strategies, we find that the webcare strategies that have a positive effect on bookings are directing reviewers to a private channel, being defensive, offering compensation and having managers sign the response. Webcare strategies to be avoided are apologies, merely asking for more information, inviting customers for another visit, and adding informal non-verbal cues. Expressing gratitude, personalizing, and having staff members (rather than managers) sign webcare does not impact future hotel bookings. These findings can help hotel managers to optimize their webcare strategy for better business results and develop automated webcare.

24 November 2021: PhD Defence Eleni Moschouli (Department of Transport and Regional Economics)

Eleni Moschouli

  • Wednesday 24 November 2021 - 4.30 p.m.

Past PhD defences 2021

An Inquiry into the Market Acceptance of Circular Plastics - Loïc De Weerdt (7/07/2021)

Loïc De Weerdt

  • Wednesday 7 July 2021
  • Supervisors: Steven Van Passel, Tine Compernolle & Simon De Jaeger


Closing material loops and reducing resource extraction is considered to be the foundation of the circular economy that delivers environmental gains. Today, certain materials with large environmental impacts, such as plastics, are placed high on the circularity agenda.

In this thesis, the market acceptance of circular plastics is analyzed. Firstly, the current – mostly linear – market for plastics in the European Union is analyzed. We find that market failure and uncertainties lead to postponed and scaled down private investments in recycling facilities for plastics. As a consequence, we conclude the failing and uncertain market needs government intervention. Secondly, potential government interventions that alleviate the market failure and reduce the present uncertainties are analyzed. Government intervention can be either incentive-based or regulatory-based. The Flemish government already acts as an incentivizer. For more than two decades already, a tax is levied on the incineration of plastic waste. We find that this tax reduces industrial plastic waste generation, but fails to elicit investments in recycling facilities.  Regulatory-based policies are expected to gain in importance in the pursuit of a circular economy. Indeed, in the European Commission’s latest circularity action plan, a policy to mandate the use of recycled plastics is signaled. Mandating the use of recycled plastics can enable the circularity of plastics effectively. However, it would also generate a shock wave on the market, especially because, i.a. the implementation time of such a policy is uncertain. We investigate how firms can invest optimally in the use of recycled plastics under the presence of policy uncertainty.

We conclude that the European market will be able to successfully adopt circular plastics. However, stimulating policies, both incentive-based and regulatory-based, turn out to be essential in this adoption process. Therefore, there will be a need for a combination of policies in order to prevent the incessant mass single-use consumption of plastics, which harms the environment.

Unlocking lock-in: accelerating socio-technical transitions to sustainability - Amalie Bjørnåvold (29/06/2021)

Amalie Bjørnåvold

  • Tuesday 29 June 2021
  • Supervisor: Steven Van Passel


Achieving global sustainability goals will require cleaner and cheaper technologies. Public policy is central to achieving these goals and, in turn, ensuring a quicker pace of change. A major obstacle lies in the fact that technologies cannot be considered isolated entities: they are embedded in a powerful social context of cultural, organisational and institutional systems. This intertwining of different elements is referred to as a socio-technical system.

This thesis discusses how socio-technical systems have, over time, allowed locked-in configurations to emerge, referring to a combination of systematic forces that perpetuate unsustainable infrastructures embedded in society. Such lock-ins can inhibit innovation and competitiveness of low-carbon and sustainable technologies, and this thesis looks to concrete solutions for unlocking them. Vital to this objective lies better understanding preferences, intentions, and behaviour of actors involved at each stage of technological development to improve public policy design. A discrete choice experiment – a quantitative non-market valuation method – was, therefore, a core method used to model preferences of key target groups. Target groups considered in the four components of the thesis include i) industry players, ii) policymakers, iii) farmers, and iv) the general public in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The thesis seeks to establish how both economic and regulatory instruments can be leveraged to overcome lock-in. One conclusion sees that implementing an efficient environmental tax regime – an economic instrument - requires balancing political feasibility and public acceptance considerations in line with tax and environmental policy. Results indicate that public acceptance for environmental taxation increases with earmarking. Another conclusion highlights the importance of taking behavioural and habitual considerations into account – both when considering policymakers’ investment decisions, and farmers’ decisions to adopting agro-ecological practices when responding to regulatory instruments. Overall, policy design should emphasise a more continuous and systemic approach to innovation and technology policy on the road to accelerating socio-technical transitions to sustainability.

Political behavior in the social media age: a data mining approach - Stiene Praet (18/06/2021)

Stiene Praet

  • Friday 18 June 2021
  • Supervisors: David Martens & Peter Van Aels


​The storming of the United States Capitol in January 2021 dramatically illustrates the impact of social media on society and political outcomes. The new reciprocal relationships afforded by digital media have reshaped the way political information is produced and consumed, and challenge some of the established theoretical insights in political communication. At the same time, the digital revolution also offers new opportunities for empirical research. By leveraging the information captured in digital traces, we can expand our understanding of political behavior in a way that was simply unimaginable a mere decade ago.

In this PhD thesis, I collect and analyze social media data to explore the opportunities of data mining, text mining, and network analysis techniques for political research. The first part studies elite polarization with a large-scale comparison of political Twitter networks in 12 countries. In addition, a more in-depth study of party communication in Belgium is performed. In the second part, I analyze political polarization in non-political domains using Facebook-like-data in Belgium and the United States. I find that political polarization and partisanship are dependent upon the social network, institutional context, and individual characteristics. To mitigate polarization, I suggest lifestyle domains in which most cross-cutting interactions are present.

This thesis shows that social media data provide a unique and rich source of online behavior but also come with ethical, technical, and methodological challenges. Therefore, joint efforts between social and computer scientists are needed to convert the enormous empirical potential into valuable insights.

Socioeconomic and environmental impact of expropriation of agricultural land for urbanisation in Ethiopia - Wubante Fetene Admasu (27/05/2021)

Wubante Fetene Admasu

  • Thursday 27 May 2021
  • Supervisors: Steven Van Passel & Amare Sewnet Minale


Globally, incorporation of agricultural lands into the urban boundary has been a common phenomenon. Governments use various alternatives to access the required land, including land expropriation procedures, which refers to the compulsorily taking of land from the landholders without their consent by paying compensation. In Ethiopia, the urban population is growing rapidly which resulted into an increase in the demand for urban land for housing construction, public services provision, and infrastructure developments. As the Ethiopian constitution prohibits sale of landholders, governments, at various levels, have been expropriating land from the surrounding farmers to meet the demand for urban land. The general objective of this thesis is to improve the understanding of the impacts of local land deals for urbanization on socioeconomics of farmers and the environment. The findings of this thesis revealed that there are gaps in the current practices of land expropriation for urban expansion that should be improved. The results showed that the compensation paid to the affected farmers is found to be economically inappropriate, i.e., not enough to restore the affected farmers’ livelihoods, in contrast with the land laws that allows a compensation amount that would put previous land users in a better or the same wellbeing as before the land expropriation. In addition, it is indicated that the land expropriation process does not take into account the value of ecosystem services, which are benefits obtain from the land, and important for the wellbeing of the society. We conclude that while land expropriation is an important tool to obtain land from the landholders when it is needed for public purposes, the practices in the study area show it is adversely affecting the socioeconomics of farmers and the environment.

Consumers Luxury Perception and Purchase Intentions in the Islamic Market - Nermain Al-Issa (19/04/2021)

Nermain Al-Issa

  • Monday 19 April 2021
  • Supervisor: Nathalie Dens


Although the Islamic market offers a sizeable potential for luxury brands’ expansion, there is relatively little knowledge about Muslims’ motives to purchase luxury, in particular. A growing stream of research on Islamic advertising and marketing highlights the need for a customized approach to the Islamic market. Thus, this dissertation aims to assist global luxury marketers targeting this market to know what triggers Muslims’ luxury purchase intentions.

The dissertation first offers a systematic review of the existing literature on Muslims’ luxury perception and consumption, and the extent to which they are driven by religion or religiosity. An integrated framework of luxury buying intention antecedents is proposed. Stirred by the identified literature gaps, a cross-cultural study with 600 Muslims in Kuwait and the UK is conducted to contrast the impact of perceived luxury values on consumers’ purchase intentions between these two markets. Then, we zoom in on Kuwait, a potential under-investigated luxury market, to better comprehend the influence of religiosity and AGCC on Muslims’ perception of luxury values.

Muslims’ luxury purchases are motivated by luxury perfectionism, extended self, hedonism, materialism, and conspicuousness. In contrast, luxury uniqueness and sustainability discourage Muslims’ luxury purchases. Cultural differences in the importance of luxury values in Muslims' buying intentions are also observed. The impact of the perceived conspicuousness is greater in Kuwait than in the UK, whereas the effect of materialistic and hedonic values of luxury on purchase intentions is significantly greater for Muslims in the UK than in Kuwait. Across the two countries, perceived personal values exert a significantly greater effect on luxury purchase intentions than perceived social values. Besides, more religious consumers more strongly value luxury perfectionism, extended self, materialistic, conspicuous, and sustainable values. AGCC enhances Muslims’ perception of all luxury values understudy and as societies become more global, the value of luxury as an extension of the self should increase. The findings can help luxury marketers devise more effective (country-specific) branding strategies congruent with target consumers' identities.

Assessment of Electric Residential Microgrids in the EU Context. Role of energy storage, interactions with the main grid, and policy scenarios - Iolanda Saviuc (26/03/2021)

Iolanda Saviuc

  • Friday 26 March 2021
  • Supervisors: Herbert Peremans & Steven Van Passel


As decentralized electricity generation plays an important role in the reform of the energy system in the EU, electric residential microgrids merit an assessment of their position and potential. The work on this dissertation focuses on the synergy between the development of microgrids that are powered by PV panels, and the adoption of energy storage, with the aim to identify shortcomings and propose solutions. Techno-economic assessment indicates that, for a microgrid that aims to maximize its self-consumption, the electricity pricing mechanisms that are current practice across the EU are detrimental to the economic viability of using energy storage. Case studies and simulations in Belgium, Greece, Denmark, Italy, Finland, Spain and Germany show conclusively how existing tariff structures (Net-Metering, Time-of-Use, Feed-in Tariff, with or without the option of a Capacity tariff) are suitable for stimulating renewable generation, but not storage. Another underlying reason that affects the economic viability of a residential microgrid in the current context relates to the technology losses, which cannot be compensated by electricity pricing mechanisms.

Having established the need for a different approach in order to improve the economic viability of microgrids with storage, this work investigated whether a form of direct support to the microgrid operator can be envisioned. A cost-benefit analysis revealed that the benefits coming from decentralized energy generation toward the main electricity grid can be compared with the cost of including and operating energy storage, and therefore a direct support from the network operator and the public can be justified in order to attain the economic viability of a microgrid with storage. This way, the electricity network can benefit from an increased number of flexible, enriched microgrids within the system, the microgrid operators are incentivized to include energy storage, and the society contributes towards a sturdier energy supply with more engaged prosumers and less polluting emissions.

Entrepreneurial diversity: a career motives’ perspective - Ilse Daelman (19/03/2021)

Ilse Daelman

  • Friday 19 March 2021
  • Supervisors: Ans De Vos & Wouter Van Bockhaven


Even if non-economic motives are recognized as important drivers in the entrepreneurial process, the mainstream entrepreneurship literature still predominantly associates ‘ambition’ with economic motives, and measures ‘entrepreneurial success’ mainly by economic growth and profit. These are remarkable observations in an era where people increasingly take charge of their careers, looking for fulfillment of personal needs and motivations, while at the same time aspiring to contribute to sustainable value creation. Building upon career theory frameworks, this dissertation investigates the heterogeneity in entrepreneurial motives and assesses the potential associated with different entrepreneurial types.

In the first study, nineteen women business owners were interviewed with a view to generate new insights for the entire population. In order to measure the entrepreneurial career motives that were derived from the qualitative study, a new scale was developed in the second study. Validity and reliability of the scale were examined, and its dimensionality was assessed by conducting exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis on 1804 survey responses. In the third and final study, cluster analysis helped distinguish three types of entrepreneurs who are not primarily economically driven. These were subsequently compared with the traditional necessity and economically driven opportunity entrepreneurs in terms of career motives, ambition, entrepreneurial orientation, career attitudes and career outcomes. Interestingly, the largest group, labeled ‘Comfortable entrepreneurs’ were found to be less ambitious than the traditional necessity entrepreneurs. The second group of ‘Reliable entrepreneurs’, typically mature, showcasing solid entrepreneurial orientation and pursuing stable growth, hardly differ from the traditional, economically driven entrepreneurs when it comes to ambition and the will to invest in business growth. The highest ambition of all entrepreneurial types is demonstrated by the ‘Purposeful entrepreneurs’, who similarly outperform their peers in terms of entrepreneurial orientation. In addition to wanting to develop themselves and grow their company, these primarily non-economically driven entrepreneurs are highly concerned with making a positive contribution to society.

Based on these findings, a plea is made to embrace the richness in the entrepreneurial landscape, to further deepen our contextual understanding of entrepreneurial motivations and adopt a more integrated view on success and value creation.

Power, social values and their role directing 'the orchestra of heuristics' in social dilemmas - Loren Pauwels (22/02/2021)

Loren Pauwels

  • Monday 22 February 2021
  • Supervisors: Carolyn Declerck & Christophe Boone


Understanding when and why people cooperate is fundamental to understanding many of the phenomena that characterize human societies – from unconditional kindness to corruption; from perfect compliance with the rules to a full-blown tragedy of the commons. One well-established way to study this core question in Behavioral Economics is to zoom in on social decision-making itself via controlled laboratory studies. Such research has shown that decision-makers often solve complex social problems by way of mental shortcuts, triggered for example by the presence of (irrelevant) social cues, or offered by individuals’ deeply rooted social values.

Yet, to this day many factors known to influence social decision-making are still mostly studied in isolation. Therefore, this dissertation set out to investigate the heuristic effects of several factors – power, eye cues and social values – on key facets of cooperative behavior, with attention for the possible interplay between these factors in steering social decision-making. Importantly, while power imbalances are such a prominent aspect of our social context, the impact of power on social decision-making remains grossly under-studied. Hence, a second prominent question in this dissertation is: how does feeling powerful influence the choices a person makes in social interactions? Moreover, a third important goal of this dissertation is to shed light on some of the underlying layers of the decision-making process that can offer invaluable insights: emotions (via objective FaceReader measures) and brain activation (via functional neuro-imaging techniques). The presented dissertation investigates these questions by combining multidisciplinary methods in 3 controlled laboratory studies.

One of the overarching findings of this dissertation is that higher subjectively experienced power has an overall negative main effect on several key facets of cooperative behavior (trust, reciprocity, costly punishment, and fairness preferences). Interestingly, one study revealed that power’s effect on fairness preferences also depends on a person’s social values – and that this finding is paralleled in differential brain activation. Yet, our studies also reveal that we should not expect the same interactions to hold in all situations, and that different mental shortcuts may operate in parallel at the same time.

Essays on explicit and implicit motives, entrepreneurial orientation, and behavior - Radityo Putro Handrito (21/01/2021)

Radityo Putro Handrito

  • Monday 18 January 2021
  • Supervisors: Johanna Vanderstraeten & Hendrik Slabbinck


This dissertation investigates the relationship between motive dispositions and entrepreneurial intentions, orientations, and behaviors in an emerging economy. To do so, we collected data from 176 SME owners and 410 students in Indonesia during 2018 and 2019 and conducted four empirical studies. In four empirical studies, we examine how the entrepreneurs’ implicit and explicit motive dispositions are related to the internationalization of SMEs, the sustainability orientation of the SMEs, and the Long Term Orientation of the SMEs. In addition, we also tested how implicit and explicit motives of students are related to their intentions to establish a social enterprise. We used advanced methods, both to assess implicit motives and to analyze the data, including Tobit regression models for curvelinear and polynomial effects, surface analysis and simple slope analyses. Our results show that implicit and explicit motives explain a unique portion of entrepreneurial outcomes. They also provide novel insights into how Western entrepreneurship theories are implemented in a developing country.

The first empirical study focuses on the internationalization of SMEs. The study shows that an entrepreneur’s implicit need for achievement, in combination with her/his risk perception, plays an essential role in SME internationalization. More specifically, we found a U-shaped moderation effect of risk perception on the relation between implicit need for achievement and internationalization. That is, for entrepreneurs with a high need for achievement, the level of internationalization of their SMEs is at the highest when risk perception is either very low or very high. In conclusion, an integrated and complex view of the entrepreneur’s motives and risk perception are indispensable to better understand firm internationalization.

The second empirical study showed that the environmental orientation of an SME is simultaneously affected by both the implicit and explicit motive dispositions, need for power in this case, of the owners. Different from our hypotheses, the results depict that divergent levels of implicit and explicit need for power motivate entrepreneurs to orient their company toward more sustainable business practices.

The third empirical study confirms that entrepreneurs with a high implicit need for achievement tend to focus on the long term consequences of the behavior of their SMEs. Yet, we find that this long-term orientation only takes place if the achievement motivated entrepreneur beliefs that the country’s institutions are well regulated and supportive for entrepreneurial activities.

The fourth empirical study shows that students with a strong internal locus of control (ILOC) have higher intentions to establish a social enterprise. We also find that this relationship is even stronger for students with a low-level of explicit need for power.

Finally, the last chapter concludes that the implicit and explicit motives of the entrepreneur are the essential factors for understanding various types of entrepreneurship.

Economic Feasibility and Influence of Nanotechnology in Health: Cost profile of Nanomaterials - Despoina Gkika (14/01/2021)

Despoina Gkika

  • Thursday 14 January 2021
  • Supervisors: Genserik Reniers & Pegie Cool


Impressive progress has been achieved in recent years in the field of nanotechnology and specifically in nanomaterials. However, the ever-growing number of nanomaterials poses a challenge in terms of financial, ethical and time resources. While the drive for nanomaterials improvements is present, a technology orientation is only a part of the answer. I acknowledge that the other part of the answer lies in the inclusion of the cost factor. Indirect costs of nanomaterials have never been assessed and this gap in knowledge can be perceived as a research opportunity and serve as the point of departure for this thesis.

Against this backdrop, a stepwise process was developed to study a group of health-related nanomaterials at a lab scale. The group will be further used to form a cost profile for the synthesis and physicochemical characterization processes, along with the accorded opinion of experts covering major stakeholder groups (academics, laboratories and policy makers). The process offers a comprehensive view of the knowledge management approach that was adopted, and addresses prominent issues of both financial and risk-related concerns, in an effort to improve strategic management and create a competitive advantage.

Reflecting from a technology science perspective, the first step consisted of searching granted patents from EPO and USPTO offices. Three attributes (title, abstract and claims) were extracted from the raw dataset during a 5-year period. The quantitative results revealed 23 health related nanomaterials in order to serve as a basis for further analysis.

Reflecting from an economic science perspective, the second step adopted the total cost of ownership (TCO) methodology, in order to trace the costs and create the cost profile for the synthesis and physicochemical characterization process from the aforementioned generated dataset. The process of TCO is discussed through three synthesis case studies and a physicochemical characterization one to support decision making. The quantitative analysis revealed that the most influencing parameters for synthesis are accident and labor cost. In contrast for the physicochemical characterization process where the most important determinant is labour cost.

Reflecting from a safety perspective, a cost benefit analysis for a safety investment was used to estimate corresponding costs and hypothetical benefits of financial losses due to nanomaterial related accidents during the physicochemical characterization process. The findings of this study offer a better understanding of the role of safety training in accident prevention and provide the theoretical basis to support manager’s decisions to invest in safety.

Organizational Learning in the context of IT Governance. An exploration of the Theory-Practice gap - Koen De Maere (4/01/2021)

Koen De Maere

  • Monday 4 January 2021
  • Supervisor: Steven De Haes


“Why is it that, despite the large amount of studies on IT governance, many professionals still fail to put these theories into practice?”

Nowadays, Information Technology (IT) has become crucial in the support, sustainability and growth of many contemporary organization. In addition, a growing number of these organizations is going through a Digital Transformation which requires them to invest in developing skills which are necessary to implement and exploit new technologies. This includes the skills required to realize highly efficient and effective IT governance.

The goal of IT governance is to establish appropriate control over an organization’s current and future use of IT.  As such, it requires the implementation of practices which enable the creation of IT business value and appropriate management of IT related business risks. Unfortunately, many organizations still experience difficulties in their journey to implement IT governance. Therefore, disparities exist between the normative best practices related to IT governance and the actual state of practice in organizations. In the academic literature, this problem is known as the theory-practice gap. While organizational learning has been widely suggested as an approach to reduce a theory-practice gap in general, there is a lack of research about organizational learning in the context of IT governance. In response, this study examines the theory-practice gap through the lens of organizational learning and proposes a model that can be used to analyse and resolve the problem. Lastly, we also examine how some concepts of organizational learning apply to the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). This includes the conditions which enable the CIO to create a learning organization.