“It’s not every day you get the chance to paint on a blank canvas in your professional career,” says Laura B. Cardinal, Ph.D., the Endowed Chair and director of the SmartState® Center for Innovation + Commercialization at the University of South Carolina (UofSC), as she describes what it was like joining the South Carolina SmartState Program. While working as a strategic management professor at the University of Houston, Cardinal was pursued by many other universities who wanted to recruit her. Her expertise in corporate enterprises and her savvy commercialization know-how were highly sought after from many business schools around the country. Cardinal has more than 30 years of innovation management education experience.
“I was often recruited while at Houston, but decided to stay as it is a world class international city. We bought a house and planned to settle in for the long-run,” says the business maven as she recalled the journey. “It was the Endowed Chair offer from UofSC that piqued my interest. It was too good to pass up. I was very excited to lead this SmartState Center in my niche area. I loved the idea of being able to create and mold it into my vision. It could not have been a more perfect match!” Cardinal brought to UofSC her knowledge of business complexities in competition, technology, and knowledge economy workforces. She earned her Ph.D. in organizational studies from the University of Texas-Austin where she was a National Science Foundation grant recipient.
As the SmartState Center’s leader, Cardinal also plays an integral role in preparing next generation business leaders through her teachings. She is relentless in her efforts to groom thoughtful and courageous innovators of tomorrow. Part of this is evident in her legacy of successfully implementing a new certificate program at the Darla Moore School of Business called the Strategic Innovation Certificate. The program focuses on preparing working professionals and graduate students from all walks of life to successfully navigate rapid technological changes across industries to help companies and organizations remain competitive in their fields.
Any student in Cardinal’s class will tell you, her dynamic world is one in which she prefers to color outside the lines. In the classroom, she pushes boundaries and challenges conversations around hard topics with her students. Crafted with foresight and intention to help shape future business leaders, innovators, and “out of the box” thinkers, Cardinal’s student-centric certificate program is one that creates genuine dialogue and real debate that is unique to each student who experiences it.
Cardinal has paved the way for future generations to not shy away from the world of innovative uncertainty, but rather embrace it head-on with a full heart of gumption and perseverance—just as she did. Cardinal is in her fifth year at the Center, but her passion and drive for innovation began when she a young girl. Throughout her career, Cardinal has consistently challenged herself to grow and evolve personally and professionally.
“My passions are strategy and innovation,” says Cardinal. “There’s a messiness to it. It excites me and I love to find the see-saw of balance. That’s where my passion stems. You make big bets. You build it. And you hope that they come. We try to teach just that to our students and the companies with whom we’ve partnered. Part of how they do that is by talking with one another, brainstorming ideas, and challenging each other’s ideas.”
Within the SmartState Centers, Cardinal is doing just that. As a hub for business collaboration, it makes sense that the Center for Innovation + Commercialization also promotes conversations between SmartState Centers. Under Cardinal’s leadership, the Center has cross-promoted the successes of other Endowed Chairs and their achievements. It is Cardinal’s hope that these collaborative efforts will continue to take off as the Centers work to drive inspiration and innovation from one another. To further embody this commitment to cultivate state-wide linkages, the Center has been operating as “SC Innovates” since 2018.
As she continues to blaze the trail for women in innovation and commercialization, Cardinal embodies all that one would expect of an innovator—she is empathetic and curious, but also demonstrates the ingenuity and aptitude of a seasoned experimenter. Outside the classroom, Cardinal’s expertise focuses on the implementation of innovation goals and strategies and includes the effects of organizational control and coordination on innovation, R&D, new product development teams, product commercialization, and founding firm adaptation.
Cardinal’s expertise in managing innovation and R&D capabilities coupled with a deep understanding of the evolution of organizational control systems led to faculty positions at the University of Houston, Tulane University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Southern Methodist University. While at Tulane, Cardinal also was the director of the Burkenroad Institute for the Study of Ethics and Leadership.
“Anyone can come up with an idea,” says Cardinal. “It’s how you dare to draw it, color it, and bring it to life that sets you apart.”