Sisters-turned-professors strengthen ties through joint research
Dr. Regina Bento (left) came to UBalt's Merrick School of Business in 1990 to teach management. Her sister, Dr. Lourdes White, arrived two years later, joining the accounting faculty.
Whenever Regina Bento and Lourdes White talk, whether about their work or families, the conversation is filled with joy and eagerness. These sisters can finish each other’s sentences, fuel each other’s passions and will take any chance they can to compliment the other.
What makes them unique from most siblings, however, is that their bond isn’t limited to family, but rather it’s deeply rooted in their academic passions and pursuits that stem from a childhood where education was held in the highest regard and led to distinguished careers as professors in The University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business.
“Nobody has known me as long as she has, and vice versa, in this world,” Dr. Bento said. “We share the same frame of reference, and we share the same stories.”
They also share authorship on a vast list of research papers and studies, a tangible example of their ever-growing and exceptional bond.
Together from the beginning
Bento and Dr. White were born in Rio de Janeiro, six years apart. Both came to the United States to pursue their doctoral degrees and even chose the same city for the task. Bento earned a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and White received a Doctorate of Business (D.B.A.) from Harvard University.
They kept following each other over time. From Cambridge, White followed Bento’s lead again to California where Bento took a faculty position at the University of California. White would take a position at the University of Southern California. A few years later, in 1990, Bento joined the Merrick School of Business and White followed in 1992.
“Regina saw the opportunity for me to join the accounting faculty at UBalt, and that would be not just an opportunity to be in the same city, but to be in the same school and work together,” White said.
The sisters worked in different departments in the business school—Bento had joined the Department of Management and International Business—but quickly started working together on research efforts that intersected their respective fields. Their first joint research venture, published in the Harvard Business School Press, examined how incentive plans influence managers’ decision making.
How they approach their research closely resembles how they live: Bento takes the first step, usually identifying a potential topic—"She can smell an interesting topic from a distance,” White says with a laugh—and White folds in her expertise.
Throughout the process from blank page to concluding thoughts, they share ideas and build from each other’s research and work. The result is such a collaborative work that neither can really tell who wrote which part. That’s part of spending a lifetime together—a lifetime where education is a core value.
'We are our curiosities'
Their shared love of learning comes from their parents.
“Our parents weren't able to finish high school,” Bento said. “They were both extremely smart. They were among the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life, and completely dedicated to education, but they just didn’t have the money.”
Their mother was a teacher, professionally for a time, and to her girls always. When they had a test in school, she would handcraft her own review booklet to help them prepare.
Even when they were older, their parents would always ask them to share about their days, Bento said, “in that kind of ‘What wonderful things you were exposed to today,’ or ‘What attracted your curiosity today?”
Today, both women approach their research topics with similar enthusiasm and curiosity.
“We are not just our areas, we are our curiosities,” Bento said. “Life is very short. I think another thing that has been true for us is not writing about something because others are writing about it, or there is a market for it, we write for what interests us, what makes us curious.”
They also hope their findings can have an impact, White said.
Murray Dalziel, dean of the Merrick School of Business, knows that goal has been met many times over.
“Drs. Bento and White are scholars whose research is relevant and impactful,” he said. “The relevance of their research is so important, especially their work on ethical decision-making. Their expertise goes beyond publishing great research. They bring their perspectives to the classroom and offer our students a better sense of what to expect from responsible leaders.”
Bento, too, has also won the University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ Faculty Award, the system’s highest honor.
White said finding topics they could explore together was easy. Her area of behavioral accounting involves examining how accounting information influences management behavior, especially decision making, and smoothly correlates with Bento’s interest and expertise in organizational behavior and management.
A common thread
They have continuously built from their previous works, going from incentive plans to performance measures, and from there to the Balanced Scorecard, a work that explored the tension between shareholder value maximization and corporate social responsibility.
“It’s the issue of, you can't just use financial measures of performance, you also have to use non-financial measures, because financial measures just say what happened with the company. Non-financial measures, like customer satisfaction or delivery on time, help you predict performance, they drive future performance,” White explained.
She deemed the subject her favorite of all their research efforts, and their colleagues appreciated it, too, naming it the best research paper in the business school in 2017, published in the prestigious Journal of Business Ethics (JBE), which has been named by the Financial Times one of the most influential in the business community.
Studying social responsibility steered them toward research on sustainability and later risk management, biases in performance evaluation, and, more recently fraud and ethics. The step into ethics was influenced, in part, by White’s husband, Alfred Leo White, who taught in UBalt’s Division of Legal, Ethical and Historical Studies. They also did extensive joint research with Bento’s husband, Alberto, now an emeritus professor, who taught in the business school’s Department of Information Systems and Decision Science.
“The common thread hasn't changed in all those years—it's all about being human,” Bento said.
How people appear may seem logical and rational, she explained, but underneath, everyone is human and those psychological, sociological, anthropological and other nuances affect behavior.
“That's why I think it’s so important that we keep asking ourselves when things are presented to us in 2023, as rational, logical, of course, that we then step back and we question those assumptions.”
Being at UBalt has given Bento and White more freedom to delve into any topic, even ones outside their immediate departments. They haven’t had that at other universities where they have taught. UBalt offers a community they haven’t experienced elsewhere, they agreed. That’s largely why they’ve stayed over the decades, collectively seeing hundreds of students earn their MBAs.
“The kind of student we have is a student who knows why they are here,” Bento said. “Regardless of their socioeconomic background, there was a reason why they picked this school. They take it seriously. They often are balancing a career, family, school, and they know what it costs them, that kind of education. …
“This is the kind of school that our parents, if they had gone to college, they would have come to, and they would have valued it so much.”