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Professor has a passion for digital technology — and German hip-hop

New ASU hire Julian Lehmann says digital technology is rewriting the rules of business and society


Portrait of ASU Assistant Professor Julian Lehmann.
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July 25, 2023

Editor's note: New Faces on Campus is a new monthly feature by ASU News showcasing faculty members hired in the 2022–23 academic year.

Julian Lehmann hails from a musical family, has released an album of hip-hop music and has a band but is secretive about its name.

He says they aren’t very good, so he will keep his day job.

Lehmann is an assistant professor with the Department of Information Systems at the W. P. Carey School of Business. He is considered an expert in his field — he helps businesses and startup firms create strategic value from digital technology.

The German-born academic is a new face at Arizona State University, hired last fall.

He has two goals while at ASU: conduct impactful research that supports ASU’s position as a global leader in innovation, and mentor students who wish to become successful entrepreneurs.

ASU News recently spoke to Lehmann to ask about his background, his path to academia and why he’s tight-lipped about his music.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Can you tell us a bit about your background — where you’re from and how you ended up in academia?

Answer: I grew up in Germany and joined ASU in fall 2022. My path into academia was not straightforward. After high school, I had a strong desire to work but I also wanted to continue learning. This passion led me to enroll in a program where I could study information systems while working as a tech consultant at (professional services company) Accenture. My initial engagement involved working with a prominent telecommunications provider, which I found immensely fulfilling. However, my aspirations shifted toward strategy consulting, which required me to pursue a master's degree and, ideally, a doctorate. So I applied to several PhD programs and secured a scholarship for a PhD program at the University of Cologne, where I got my master’s degree. So I was really trying to set myself up for a career in strategy consulting.

Unexpectedly, during a research stay in Australia at the Queensland University of Technology, where I was writing my master's degree thesis, I worked with a remarkable advisor. This advisor later moved to the University of Cologne and became my PhD advisor, and together, we embarked on a captivating research project. Our focus was on hardware ventures, exploring their journey from prototype to final product despite significant resource constraints. This experience opened my eyes to the thrill of conducting research and deepened my passion for the field. That was an eye-opener, and I discovered that I loved doing research. At that moment, I decided to pursue an academic career and have never regretted it.

Q: What is your area of research or academic focus? What are you most excited about regarding your research?

A: My research focuses on the firms that create strategic value from digital technology. Specifically, I explore how firms can reconfigure, enhance and replace their market offerings through the effective use of digital technology. ... What truly captivates me about my research area is the persistent challenges firms face in adapting to digital technology. These challenges encompass how firms interact with their customers, the redesign of their product and service offerings, and the adjustments required to align with the digital landscape.

My goal is to develop novel explanations and theories that shed light on how firms can harness the full benefits of digital technology. Unraveling these complexities and providing insights into effective strategies for leveraging digital technology is at the heart of my research endeavors. Furthermore, researching digital technology allows me to be at the forefront of the transformative force of our time, enabling me to understand its profound impact.

Digital technology is rewriting the rules of business and society.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to study this field?

A: I always had an affinity for technology. I built my own PCs and also a 3D printer. However, I realized the magnitude of digital technology’s impact when the emergence of groundbreaking startups like Facebook, Instagram, Apple and Uber began to reshape our daily experiences and how it challenged conventional notions of value creation and organizing. I was fascinated by these developments and felt compelled to delve deeper into understanding the unique properties of digital technology, how it differs from previous technological advancements and why it holds such immense potential to shape our lives in profound ways.

The sheer scale and implications of digital technology fascinated me. I wanted to explore what made it so distinctive and how it had the power to disrupt established organizations and industries. Digital technology is rewriting the rules of business and society. This transformation motivated me to pursue an academic career focusing on digital innovation and entrepreneurship.

Q: How do you want to see this field advance for the betterment of society?

A: The past decade has witnessed a profound societal transformation driven by technology and, with the rise of AI, this transformation seems far from over. I firmly believe that digital technology holds great potential to address the grand challenges we face today. From agriculture to transportation and resource management, its impact is already evident. ... In agriculture, digital tools and precision farming techniques have revolutionized productivity and sustainability. Similarly, advancements in transportation, including autonomous vehicles and smart logistics, have improved efficiency and mobility.

Digital solutions have also played a critical role in resource management, optimizing energy usage and promoting conservation. Recognizing the transformative potential of digital technology, interdisciplinary collaboration and rigorous research are essential to drive progress. Of course, this also requires policymakers to set ground rules that define the appropriate use of digital technology. We can strive for a more sustainable and inclusive future by leveraging digital technology.

Q: What brought you to ASU, and what do you like about the university?

A: Before joining ASU, I worked as an assistant professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where I had the opportunity to collaborate with exciting startup firms. I chose to join ASU because of the tremendous opportunity it offers to researchers studying digital innovation, both within the university and in the surrounding Valley. The Valley is experiencing an influx of major companies like TSMC, Intel and LG, attracting smaller suppliers and paving the way for innovative startups to emerge. Additionally, Arizona faces unique environmental challenges related to water consumption, creating a need for a whole ecosystem of innovative solutions.

This combination of factors makes the environment incredibly dynamic and promising. Maricopa County will be the birthplace of impactful innovations and the home to many new startups. The collaborative spirit, ample resources and shared commitment to addressing environmental challenges make this an inspiring space for researchers and entrepreneurs alike. ASU breathes innovation, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

Q: What would you like to accomplish at your college/school/department?

A: My goal is to conduct impactful research that supports ASU's position as a global leader in innovation. This means immersing myself in and working with the local startup community, learning from their successes and gathering insights on effective innovation strategies and uses of digital technology. Of course, I aim to apply those learnings and engage with relevant communities within ASU. 

In addition, I am also passionate about supporting and mentoring students who dream of being entrepreneurs. Working closely with these aspiring innovators, I'll do my best to help them fine-tune their ideas, design prototypes and navigate the wild world of entrepreneurship. I want to foster an environment where creativity thrives and students feel empowered to turn their ideas into real-life ventures. ASU already has this amazing entrepreneurial vibe and a tremendous network of mentors. I will do my best to support the next wave of Sun Devil innovators.

Q: What’s something you do for fun or something only your closest friends know about you?

A: My best friend and I started a band in high school. We've been trying to make music for around 15 years now. The only hitch is that he’s still in Germany while I'm here. But whenever we get a chance to be in Germany together, we prioritize meeting up and working on some songs. Our music falls into the Deutschrap genre, basically German hip-hop. Our songs mostly focus on our friends and should not be taken too seriously. We even produced and released an album 10 years ago and had a record release party in our student home.

Unfortunately, however, neither of us is blessed with natural musical talent, which is ironic considering my parents are musicians. Our songs, to be brutally honest, have yet to hit the mark. They’re horrible, but our lyrics are fun, and we enjoy the process of creating. So for now, I'm keeping the band name under wraps. It's a little secret I'm holding onto. Trust me, you're not missing out on much!

Top photo: Julian Lehmann is an assistant professor in the information systems department at the W. P. Carey School of Business. He helps businesses and startup firms create strategic value from digital technology. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

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