There is near consensus about what these profs think is the worst part of the job: grading. As Ronald Wilcox, who teaches the marketing of financial services, at Virginia’s Darden School, puts it: “Grading papers is mindless. Numb. Bored. Self-Flagellation. Get me out of here!” There’s often another pet peeve admitted by few profs. Academic politics. Stanford’s Robert Sutton recalls a 90-minute meeting with 25 people devoted to the sole topic of how to regulate the office supply cabinet. “Of course,” he says, “no decisions were made but we all wasted a lot of time. I confess, however, that I wouldn’t sit through that meeting now. I have learned that when a meeting is overly political or overly boring, and I am not central, that it is better for me to just walk out–not just because it wastes my time, but because I am prone to say things I regret.”
Truth is, these professors are at the top of their game partly because they have risen far above academia’s internal politics to achieve pervasive influence in their chosen fields. They hail from the most prestigious business schools worldwide, yet their impact is in no way confined to the proverbial ivory tower. Instead, they’ve advised governments and organizations on nearly every continent on the map, thus making their ability to reshape the way we think about and do business—in one word—undeniable.
Tom Davenport of Babson College is one example. His research on leveraging consumer data as part of a company’s strategic plan pre-dates Google Analytics and other data management buzzwords we’ve heard. Davenport has authored 13 books on business analytics, some of which are the first texts ever written on the subject.
THE MOST FAMOUS B-SCHOOL PROFESSOR EVER? PROBABLY HARVARD’S MICHAEL PORTER
You can also add Harvard’s Michael Porter and London Business School’s Lynda Gratton to this list of game changers. Because of his thought leadership centered on strategic competitiveness, Porter is simply known as the father of modern strategy. In 2008, he received the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce for his contribution to economic development. He has spearheaded Harvard’s highly ambitious initiative to draw attention to policy changes needed to make the U.S. more globally competitive.
London’s Professor Gratton, meantime, has been recognized as the business thinker most likely to make a real difference over the next 10 years for her academic work in human resource management. In her latest book, The Shift, Gratton prophetically exclaims the future of work is already here as she hones in on five forces that will fundamentally change the way individuals view and engage in work over the next decade: globalization, society, demography, technology, and energy. In addition to The Shift providing a glance into the crystal ball of workforce management, there’s an app for it. The book’s app—available on iTunes—includes Gratton’s daily tips and advice for individuals seeking to shape their work futures.
Not all of the professors on this list had a meteoric rise from the first day they walked in front of a classroom filled with MBA students. Consider Pankaj Ghemawat, who now teaches strategy at Spain’s IESE Business School. To say Ghemawat’s teaching career got off to a rocky start would be putting it nicely. At just 23 years old, all but three of his students were older than he was at the time. He was visibly nervous as he gave his first lecture. He even reached a point where his vocal chords became paralyzed, leaving him in a state of near total paralysis. “All I could do was point a finger to signal which student would speak next.”
To make matters worse, Ghemawat says, “I was teaching the class Porter had launched. So the students weren’t too thrilled when they showed up for class and saw me instead of him.” The “Porter” Ghemawat refers to is the Michael Porter. Eventually, Ghemawat found his stride. He not only went on to teach at HBS for 25 years, he also became the youngest full professor in the school’s history.