Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Lee-Chin Family Institute Fellow
Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto
Business school is designed for “business as usual.” But what happens when the fundamentals are upended or the unexpected razes your carefully-laid plans? What do you do when your CEO is taken away in cuffs, a new technology leaves your business model outdated, or the economy slides into oblivion? This disruptive element is the topic of Rotman’s most popular MBA course: “Catastrophic Failure in Organizations.” And the man behind this one-of-a-kind course is András Tilcsik.
A Harvard Ph.D. and Rotman faculty member since 2012, Tilcsik is described as the “real deal” by students, who attach qualities like “approachable,” “passionate,” and “encouraging” to him. Considered a “stellar combination of inspiration and innovation,” Tilcsik’s hallmark is the ability to make events compelling, while peeling away the deeper lessons behind them. That’s one reason why he received the Rotman Graduate Business Council Teaching Award in 2015.
In fact, 2015 went down as a banner year for Tilcsik. He was awarded the Bracken Bower Prize by McKinsey and The Financial Times, given to the best business book proposal by a scholar under 35. He also carted off the Granovetter Prize for the Best Article and the W. Richard Scott Award for Distinguished Scholarship. His most recent research has been published by Administrative Science Quarterly and the American Journal of Sociology.
At current institution since: 2012
Education: Ph.D. in organizational behavior, Harvard, 2012; A.B. in economics, Harvard, 2005
Courses you currently teach: Catastrophic Failure in Organizations; Strategy and Economic Sociology
Professor you most admire: Frank Dobbin (Harvard) for his commitment to research that matters and for his selfless devotion to his students. And, among more junior scholars, my friend Sameer Srivastava at Berkeley.
“I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when…I gave my job talk at Rotman and realized how much I could learn from being part of an interdisciplinary research group.”
“If I weren’t a b-school professor…I’d probably still be an academic, or writer, of some kind.”
Most memorable moment in the classroom or in general as a professor: When results from my research were used as evidence in a congressional hearing.
What professional achievement are you most proud of? Receiving an award from my academic peers for research, from my students for teaching, and from the FT and McKinsey for a book proposal, all in 2015
What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? Learning from students who bring perspectives to my classroom from a wide range of professional backgrounds—from the private sector to government to nonprofits.
What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Having to assign grades.
Fun fact about yourself: I learned life lessons while serving on a coastguard rescue team in Wales (during high school) and while cleaning dorms as part of Harvard’s storied Dorm Crew (during college).
Favorite book: Disgrace by Coetzee, and Aranysárkány by Kosztolányi
Favorite movie: A Tanú (1969) and Indul a bakterház (1979)
Favorite type of music: I’m a musical omnivore, but I do have a particularly soft spot for the band Massmainia.
Favorite television show: Breaking Bad, while it lasted
Favorite vacation spot: Balatonszemes, a quaint little village by Lake Balaton
What are your hobbies? Drinking fine tea and eating fine chocolate, anthropomorphizing my dog, following the absurdist comedy group L’art pour l’art Társulat, and rooting for the Hungarian basketball club BC Körmend.
Twitter handle: @rethinkrisk (shared with my coauthor, Chris Clearfield)
“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…more courses that bring together rigorous research insights and real-world experiential learning, like Rotman’s Capstone Project or our Creative Destruction Lab courses.”
Students and faculty say…
“Catastrophic Failure was one of the best courses of my entire MBA program. The course was well thought out and well presented. The material was interesting, immediately applicable and completely relevant to today’s business environment. Prof. Tilcsik is exactly what I want my business professor’s to be, highly educated, experienced, and knowledgeable, yet also approachable and willing to teach/advise beyond the classroom. He stimulated my interest in the subject matter and made me want to learn!”
Katie Anne Pearson (’16)
“Tilcsik is the real deal: he’s a top-notch teacher while at the same time achieving an off-the-charts scholarly publication record. He teaches PhD, MBA and undergraduate courses for which he has received numerous teaching awards. As a 1st year assistant professor, he designed a new course, unique in all business schools, called “Catastrophic Failure in Organizations” which quickly became the most demanded course at Rotman, with long wait lists to get in. His book proposal based on this new course has received the Bracken Bower Prize for best business book proposal by authors under 35 from The Financial Times and McKinsey & Company. He contributes regularly to blogs and other opinion pieces, and his work has been covered by The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Economist, Forbes and many other outlets.”
Sarah Kaplan | Professor of Strategic Management
“I was in the inaugural class of Professor Tilcsik’s “Catastrophic Failure in Organizations.” a truly inspiring course that changed how I think about risks that organizations face today. Traditional risk management practices within organizations, although with the right intentions and brightest minds, tend to create a false sense of security for firms and make them more vulnerable to black swan events. In his course, I learned that the truth is black swan events are not unpredictable and definitely not unmanageable. I realized how crucial it is to embrace the possibility of failure, continuously ask ‘how can we fail’, take near-misses seriously to better manage the businesses and processes to avoid catastrophic failures in my organization, all are critical to my role as a Treasury Manager at TD.”
Jingqi Guo (’15)
“Prof. Tilcsik’s course “Catastrophic Failure of Organizations” brings a whole new dimension to the Rotman MBA program. The course appeals to future leaders who require the ability to prepare for, and manage the truly unimaginable (black swan events). Utilizing the worst disasters in recent history, in all manners of business — from aviation to natural resources to outdoor exploration — Professor Tilcsik provides invaluable insights and guides students to foresee and hopefully prevent disasters. In a world where the potential for catastrophic failure is exponential, Professor Tilcsik’s course should be taught in all business schools as a foundation for leaders. Professor Tilcsik is truly dedicated to his teachings at Rotman, and utilizes his own teachings in real-world applications as a consultant for many influential industries.”
Maggie Head (’16)
“Professor Tilcsik is one of the most dedicated professors I have ever met. He is passionate about both the subject matter he teaches and ensuring that he conveys it in a way that is both effective and captivating. He is creative and professional and actively solicits feedback from his students to improve the learning experience. He sets high expectations and takes the time to provide useful feedback as well as suggest further resources on the topic of interest. His course on “Catastrophic Failures in Organizations” is the best course I’ve ever taken, and that is truly saying a lot because I recent MBA graduate with two professional designations I have taken many many courses in my lifetime.”
Brooke Harvey (’16)
“Professor Tilcsik took a seemingly mundane and esoteric topic and enlivened it with compelling real-world examples. Imagine a course that uses examples ranging from Mount Everest to Deep Horizon to the 2008 stock market crash. His course was an excellent example of an educational experience that changes how you interpret and understand certain events in life. Professor Tilcsik provided the tools to effectively interrogate situations and to create plans to mitigate risks and their impacts.”
John Forsyth (’16)
“I had the good fortune of being in Prof. Tilcsik’s inaugural class of ‘Catastrophic Failure in Organisations’. The course was no doubt exceptional but what impressed me most was the professor’s pedagogy. The choice of cases, the delivery and the way he engaged students in thought and discussion were highlights making it the best course of my MBA. At a personal level, the professor was very approachable outside of class and met with me a couple of times to discuss my career and philosophy. He not only listened to me and gave valuable advice, but also helped me connect with another professor who he thought would be more helpful. These personal interactions have had a deep impact in the way I have approached my career and job search post MBA. Prof Tilcsik is a very humble, friendly and brilliant teacher.”
Deepak Parsa (‘15)
“Prof. Tilcsik is a stellar combination of inspiration and innovation, an expert in his field that has the humbleness of a student. His classes on catastrophes and management are ones that students can’t stop talking about, a rare feat not surpassed by any professor that I have encountered. Amazingly organized and considerate for his students’ interests and needs, he brings to life ideas that I never expected to encounter in business school. From disasters in space, to mount climbing expeditions, Prof. Tilcsik makes you think, in class and long after. This is a professor that is deserving of accolade.”
Ellen Chen (’15)
“András Tilcsik was a phenomenal professor and role model. As a student in his classes “Organizational Theory” and “Catastrophic Failure in Organizations,” I felt that Prof Tilcsik always tried to view the class from the students’ perspective and would spend extra time planning an engaging lecture. He once created a video that the class first thought was a YouTube video on the class topic, but then it went on to humorously reflect some of the course feedback and concerns, which Prof Tilcsik used as a gateway to discussing the issues. This small detail is reflective of the level of thought and effort that Prof Tilcsik invested in all of his teachings and interactions with students. It is Prof Tilcsik’s passion for teaching that has inspired me to continue in my academic career and to pursue further graduate studies.
Michelle Zee (’15)
“Professor Tilcsik is the nicest and most helpful professor I had in the four years at Rotman Commerce. He is one of the few professors who actually wants the students to do well, and will always take his time to explain every question carefully to them. He will even go beyond the course to invite his own network of professionals to come in for incredible speeches. I am very thankful to have a professor like him and I have learned a lot from him.”
Gordon Li (’15)
“Professor András Tilcsik was very approachable, friendly, and encouraging as a lecturer. He had a positive impact on Rotman Commerce students as he taught about the significance of social networks, organizational changes and innovation for organizations. I was fascinated to learn about structural holes, the strength of ties, open innovation as well as power and diversity in organizations. It was interesting to see how applicable theoretical concepts from this course were to realistic situations. In fact, Professor Tilcsik allowed us to gain a deeper understanding and insight into the structures and foundations of organizations and their people. Moreover, Professor Tilcsik held many engaging class discussions, where students had an opportunity to express their understanding and opinions in regards to class concepts. Hence, I found his lectures very engaging and insightful.”
Debija Annalingam (’15)
“Professor Tilcsik made his course extremely engaging by inviting various guest speakers and by presenting thought-provoking material that is applicable to both students interested in the corporate field and the research field. He takes time to get to know as many students as possible not only by name, but also by career aspirations. In office hours, Professor Tilcsik would personally suggest papers and email me with seminar speakers in fields that he thought I would be interested in being exposed to. RSM464 has been my favourite class to date because of how engaging the material was and how genuinely Professor Tilcsik cares about his students.”
Jenny Wang (’16)