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2016 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Mary Brooke Billings, Stern School of Business

Mary Billings NYU Ster

Mary Brooke Billings

Assistant Professor of Accounting

New York University, Stern School of Business

Mary Billings lives by a simple philosophy: “Life is much more rewarding when you go all in.” And she has lived this mantra in her personal and academic lives. How deep is her commitment? After graduating high school valedictorian and earning a full-ride scholarship, she stayed home and worked in a factory and a foster home to support her family after her father’s death. Eventually, she paid her own way through Indiana University’s undergraduate program, graduating first in her class in just three years before eventually earning her Ph.D. in accounting there as well.

A former PwC consultant, Billings is described by students as a passionate and empathetic teacher who sets the bar high and inspires her classes to strive for greatness. The results speak for themselves: She was recently promoted to associate professor with tenure effective next academic year.

Age: 39

At current institution since: 2007

Education:

  • Ph.D. in Business, Major field: Accounting, Minor field: Finance, Indiana University, 2007
  • Master of Business, Major field: Accounting, Minor field: Finance, Indiana University, 2006
  • Bachelor of Science, Finance, Indiana University, 1998

Courses you currently teach: I teach the core financial accounting class to MBA students.  I also advise PhD students, often serving on their dissertation committees.

Professor you most admire:  My brother:  He may not research business-related phenomena, but he does study sports and I’m one of his biggest fans. In fact, he is my first co-author; we developed a model to predict occupancy rates of NCAA basketball arenas.

“I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when…I realized that a professor’s main tasks each day were to be curious, to ask questions, to think deeply and to inspire others to do the same.”

“If I weren’t a b-school professor…I would be a biographer. As an empiricist, I let historical data speak in my efforts to ask and answer interesting questions.  If I weren’t listening to data, I suspect I’d be listening to people telling their stories. I believe we learn a lot by understanding our past.”

Most memorable moment in the classroom or in general as a professor: My first NYU Stern graduation: I sat on the stage at Radio City Music Hall with my Stern colleagues thinking back to all of the big and small moments that got me to that seat.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Earning tenure at Stern. Have you met my colleagues?  They’re quite accomplished.  But, more important, they also happen to be truly remarkable human beings. At Stern, I cross paths with Nobel Laureates and Rhodes Scholars—some of whom have even learned to Indo Board in my office.  Seriously, I feel so honored and lucky to be a part of this team.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? I most enjoy encouraging and inspiring students to get the most out of their experiences – at Stern and in life.  This much I know to be true: Life is much more rewarding when you go all in. Indeed, the only times I’m truly disappointed in myself are those times when I know that I didn’t fully commit to something and, instead, I took the easy way out. Consequently, it gives me joy at the end of each semester when students thank me for being so enthusiastic and so committed. My students may not always finish my class eager to learn more accounting, but they often leave my class appreciating the dedication and spirit I brought to our time in the classroom together.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? I least enjoy fielding questions that begin something along the lines of “So on the test, will you make us . . . ?” I tend to answer those rather quickly:  “On the test, as in life, you do not have to do anything.  Indeed, you can turn it in blank.”

Fun fact about yourself: By luck and perhaps more than a bit of divine intervention, I entered the world a mere nine minutes after my best friend. In fact, we are mirror-image twins.  Everything on the right side of me is on the left side of her.  I am right-handed; she is left-handed.  (This helped us win our fair share of tennis tournaments as a doubles pair many years ago.)  I have a birthmark on my right side; she has that same birthmark on her left side.  Coincidentally, I live in NYC and she lives in San Diego.

Favorite book: Generally: non-fiction (biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, etc.)

Specifically: To Kill a Mockingbird, High Fidelity, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Open (Andre Agassi’s Autobiography)

Recently: When Breath Becomes Air

Favorite movie:

Classics:  Hoosiers, The Pride of the Yankees

Recently:  The Big Short

Favorite type of music: Rock (Springsteen, Mellencamp, Avett Brothers, Ray LaMontagne, Brandi Carlile), Alternative (Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, My Morning Jacket, Regina Spektor, The Tallest Man on Earth, Eels)

Favorite television show: ESPN SportsCenter particularly after an awesome performance by the Hoosiers, the Cubs, the Colts, Peyton Manning (as a Bronco or a Colt), Kara Goucher, Meb Keflezighi, Carli Lloyd or Serena Williams (and, oh yes, also after tough losses by the Cardinals or the Patriots).

Favorite vacation spot:

International:  Paris, France

Domestic:  Shipshewana, Indiana (nothing tops sharing Amish soft pretzels back home with my grandmother and the trip to/from often involves a stop in Chicago for a Cubs game)

What are your hobbies? Sports of all kinds (Currently, I have an Indo Board, a yoga mat and running shoes in my office), Reading, Piano

Twitter handle:  None

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…professors who cultivate an environment filled with a diverse population of curious and confident students, who jump at the chance to ask questions and who enjoy feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed by possibility most of the time.  People who change the world?  They tend to ask way more questions than they could ever hope to answer!”

Students say…

“It is a common understanding amongst my classmates that Professor Billings is exceptional amongst business school instructors. Her self-deprecating, Midwestern disposition immediately grounds her with students, creating a uniquely comfortable environment within which to ask questions. With a laser-like focus on consistency and organization as her guiding mantras, Professor Billings makes it easy for students to anticipate her well-crafted lessons. In each of these, she successfully cements key course concepts by clearly incorporating her research into real-world applications that students can carry with them. Professor Billings’ passion for teaching and the accounting discipline drives students to meet her high expectations for academic excellence, and it is because of this single-minded dedication to success that students leave her course better prepared than before to tackle the world’s challenges.”
Brendon Wall, NYU Stern MBA student

Empathy: “I have not had a professor in my life who can match Professor Billings’s empathy for her students. She knows that accounting can be an arcane or difficult subject for some and fosters an atmosphere of comfort and support for students.”

Academic Excellence: “Professor Billings is a leader in her field of research.  More than that, she is able to easily distill and convey the complicated concepts underpinning her work, to novices in the field. She frequently ties her research to more basic concepts in the class.”

Passion:“Professor Billings is able to animate the classroom and generate interest and passion in her students.  For example, I do not work in accounting at all, I work as a project manager in a software company. Her contagious enthusiasm inspired me to focus and grow in her class.”
Justin Petrillo, NYU Stern MBA student

“Professor Mary Billings has undoubtedly been one of my favorite professors during my time at Stern. I had the pleasure of being placed in Professor Billings’s Financial Accounting and Reporting class during my first semester, and she was able to make introductory accounting exciting and fun – no small feat! Her energetic, infectious style and passion for the subject matter came through to the students and made studying even the most mundane accounting topics enjoyable.  Professor Billings really cares about her students and, more than any other professor I have encountered, is willing to devote extra time and energy to ensuring that her students do well and leave her class with a basic understanding of financial accounting, regardless of their original level of familiarity with the topic.  We are incredibly lucky to have Professor Billings at Stern.”
Alexa Shotan, NYU Stern MBA student

“Professor Billings is the most organized and passionate professor I’ve had at Stern thus far. In my experience with her, both as a student and teaching assistant, I have always found her patience with students and ability to drive home concepts to complete beginners admirable.”
Mona Kelkar, NYU Stern MBA student

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