Our Favorite MBA Professors Of 2016

After earning her HBS certificate, Tyra Banks tweeted this picture from the business school campus

Tyra Banks / Stanford Graduate School of Business: We’ve all heard the term, “Rock Star Professor.”  That’s the researcher who breaks out of the Ivory Tower and ends up chatting with a host on CNN or (even better) The Daily Show. Their books are printed in bulk. Between classes, they’re jetting off to Dubai or Davos to counsel the powers-that-be.

At Stanford, the “Project You: Building and Extending Your Personal Brand” won’t technically be taught by a rock star. Students will just have to settle for a supermodel, instead…and Tyra Banks, in particular.

Yes, you could call Banks a Renaissance Woman. Known for her modeling career with Victoria Secret and Sports Illustrated, Banks branched out her brand, becoming an actress, author, singer, business owner, philanthropist, and television host. In the process, she managed to finagle an executive education certificate from a nine-week program at Harvard Business School. In 2016, she teamed with Allison Kluger as a guest lecturer to help two dozen online students develop strategies to differentiate themselves through mediums like traditional and social media.

A publicity stunt? Maybe, but considering Banks’ track record (and bank account), those students would be wise to hang on her every word.

Anita Elberse of Harvard Business School is among the world's 40 best business school professors under the age of 40.

Anita Elberse of Harvard Business School i

Anita Elberse / Harvard Business School: Speaking of celebrity guest lecturers, you’re bound to get more than you bargained for in Elberse’s “The Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports” course. Targeted to executives in sports, film, fashion, music, and advertising, the course is designed to help students learn how to manage talent and make creative investments.

It also puts students up close and personal with celebrities themselves. Model Karlie Kloss, NBA All Star Dwayne Wade, and NFL receiver Brandon Marshall have all been students in the class. This summer,  actor Channing Tatum and musician LL Cool J dropped by as Elberse’s annual guest lecturers. “It can be a surreal experience in those small discussion groups [to be] talking about what LeBron James should do in a case study in a group with (his former teammate) Dwyane Wade,” says Elberse. “There’s really no substitute for that.”

Not surprisingly, considering the HBS pedigree, Elberse’s course is grounded in the case method. But forget those musty readings about Ford and Wal-Mart. In Elberse’s class, you’ll be reading about contemporary personalities like Beyonce on key issues like digital technologies. “We’re diving into what is now the most popular strategies in a variety of entertainment sectors,” Elberse specifies. “Not only are we looking at evidence to see why it works so well in certain settings but we’re also trying to get to the bottom on why that is the case – the underlying reasons for why these strategies work so well.”

Luke Williams in a lecture

Luke Williams / New York University (Stern): Just spend 10 minutes in Williams’ class — I dare you! He will turn everything you thought you knew about entrepreneurship upside down. Then again, maybe he is really turning it right-side up?

Williams is the executive director of entrepreneurship and founder of the Berkley Innovation Lab at NYU Stern. His mission: challenge any and all conventions. For Williams, entrepreneurship is a method of thinking, not a process of doing. He calls it innovation entrepreneurship and the goal is to disrupt as much as create. Contrary to conventional wisdom, he views the value of ideas in quantity more than quality. “Every idea that you have as a student enables you to purchase another idea. Even if your new idea, whether it is a product or service or a new business model, fails, it hardly means it is worthless. It’s going to lead to another idea. It’s going to take you down another path. You’ll combine that with something else. You learn something from every idea.”

Mind blown!

That’s just the start. Wondering who the real enemies of change are? Look no further than VCs, says Williams, who argues that they are “biased towards evolution rather than revolution,” which only enforces “conformity and continuity.” The other big obstacle? Business schools themselves, which he says views 21st century ideas through the lens of a 19th century educational model and a 20th century management process. “Too many business schools send a directive to their students that incremental change is safe and that disruptive change is fraught with danger, when in fact the opposite is true,” he implores.

The ravings of a cloistered academic, you say? In reality, Williams’ philosophies are grounded in a successful career that includes designing over 100 products and holding 30 patents. Like any great teacher, Williams is simply looking to unlock and magnify the potential talents of his pupils. “When students start believing that their fundamental purpose is to alter the status quo, rather than preserve it, their motivation and mindset starts to change,” he observes. “They begin to see opportunities beyond what others have defined as limits.”

Kellogg marketing professors Derek Rucker (left) and Tim Calkins at last year’s Super Bowl Advertising Review

Derek Rucker and Tim Calkins / Northwestern University (Kellogg): Forget the Super Bowl! Want to know where the real action will be on February 5th? That’s right, it’ll happen during those precious 30- second spots that advertisers will be shelling out $5 million dollars for. High pressure? No doubt! Indeed, the Super Bowl is the day when advertisers run their best creative. Some ads, such as Apple’s “Sledgehammer,” become cultural touchstones. Others, like Apartment.com’s “Movin’ On Up,” can spark a public relations firestorm that wrecks brands and leaves pink slips in their wake.

Sound like a perfect teaching moment? You bet’cha!

For 13 years, Rucker and Calkins have transformed Super Bowl advertising into a medium to illustrate the biggest truths in advertising. Why do some ads trend while others tumble? Well, there is an art to advertising, no doubt…but there is also a science. That science is encapsulated in Kellogg’s patented ADPLAN framework, a guide for showing what works and what doesn’t in advertising — and why! “They’re getting away from ‘This is a good or a bad ad to ‘This is how this ad is strategically sound in these areas and this is how it’s strategically weak in these areas, says Calkins.’”

That’s why on every Super Bowl, Kellogg MBA candidates gather to watch the ads together, scoring ads using the ADPLAN criteria and later debating the merits and shortcomings of the top ads (along with the industry trends reflected as a whole). In many ways, it is a dress rehearsal for the high stakes deliberations they’ll someday hold in evaluating their own advertising concepts and execution. “It gives you not only the questions to ask yourself, but the structure to actually have that communication with your creative partner,” Rucker emphasizes. “To me, that’s invaluable. I’ve seen it before, especially with people graduating, they don’t have the chops to feel comfortable with pushing back. ADPLAN gives them the tools to do so.”

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  • mink@american.edu

    The bicycle ride across the USA and the teaching at Kogod GSB were each wonderful experiences. Combined, it was awesome. I hope to find other great adventures for worthwhile causes that will enable me to share insights with Kogod’s emerging business leaders without being shackled to a desk. Send me your suggestions — your adventure that simultaneously permits me to continue teaching may be the new entry on my bucket list.
    FInally, special thanks to Jill Klein at Kogod for supporting my non-traditional classroom, Shirley Chow at 2U for her insights, and Marc Either for applying his incredible writing skills to tell this story.

  • Density

    Professor Detert is an outstanding teacher and resource. He challenges participants to think critically and brings an enthusiasm and passion that inspires students to put out their best work. I took one of his classes while he was at Cornell prior to his move to Darden and it remains one of my all time favorites, Take the opportunity to take one of his courses if you’re able. Cheers!