2015 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Howard Yu, IMD Business School

Howard Yu

Professor of Strategic Management & Innovation

IMD Business School


Howard Yu_IMD

At just 35 years of age, Hong Kong native and Harvard educated, Professor Howard Yu is IMD Business School’s rising star. Young and insightful, enthusiastic and highly energetic, Yu brings a fresh perspective to East meets West. Innovation and disruptive innovation are his focus areas in research and, with award-winning case studies and dynamic classes, he seeks to show the world how to keep one step ahead of the game in business. His research looks at technological innovation and how companies go about producing it. He has also examined how Western companies, such as GE Aviation, IBM, Novartis and PerkinElmer, are making inroads into China and other emerging markets. At IMD, he teaches on more consecutive executive education programs than any other professor on the roster of faculty.

Age: 35

At current institution since: 2011

Education: Doctorate of Business Administration, General Management, Harvard Business School, 2011

Courses currently teaching: Strategic Marketing in Action, Advanced Strategic Management, Building on Talent

Professor you most admire: Clayton Christensen

“I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when” When I was still studying in Hong Kong as an undergraduate, and when I went on to Canada as an exchange student, I could really see how case method was practiced in a classroom setting. It was then that I thought orchestrating a case discussion in an amphitheater could be a lot of fun.

“If I weren’t a b-school professor” I would be an interior designer.

Most memorable moment in the classroom or as a professor: During an executive education program, I was one of two professors who taught a week-long program for a major company with $30 billion in revenue. We discussed disruptive innovation and what that meant in terms of the changing business landscape and long term implications for the company. Following discussion, an evening dialogue was planned where around 30 managers (my participants), had an opportunity to interact directly with the company’s CEO. In a bittersweet surprise, it was clear that the participants had grabbed on to what they learned during the day and relentlessly questioned their CEO’s current strategy. No matter how the CEO explained and rationalized the firm’s strategic direction, my participants just wouldn’t let go. I kept my mouth shut but thought I would surely be fired on the spot for inciting such an unmitigated confrontation. But the senior leaders later told me that it was exactly the kind of open and frank conversation that the company needed and I’m proud to continue to work in the same program.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? It’s most rewarding when my students write back and describe how they took concepts that we had discussed in class and deployed them in their own work, sometimes resulting in new product introductions or major project initiatives. It’s happened a few times with former MBA students and these are the moments that make me most proud.

What do you enjoy most about teaching? I enjoy the unique and eye-opening atmosphere. It’s extremely interesting to work with managers and students that come from industries where the context is vastly different from what I currently know. For example, some of the my most enjoyable teaching experiences have included working with an African telecom company that focuses almost exclusively on countries that Western counterparts have shunned; a high-end machineries maker whose technologies are at the breaking point of nano scale; and a major bank from the Middle East where Islamic banking law must be obeyed.

What do you enjoy least? Delivering standardized off-the-shelf content where there is little room for creativity.

Fun fact about yourself: Born and raised in Hong Kong, I did a stint in the U.S. and am now living life in Europe. My friends back home called me the ultimate cliché!

Favorite book: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Favorite movie: Big Hero 6 – yes, I still love cartoons!

Favorite type of music: Smooth, Lounge, Electronic – i.e., the stuff that’s a bit like elevator music…

Favorite television show: “Friends” – yes, that remains from when I first discovered the great American industry of sitcom TV.

Favorite vacation spot: Currently, Interlaken, Switzerland because of its majestic landscapes.

What are your hobbies? Running food fairs and flea markets and hosting meetups.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have” Idea labs around the world where professors, designers, startup entrepreneurs and corporate venture groups could all come together and work and brainstorm side by side.

Students say…

What’s it like to be in Howard’s class? Being in Howard’s class is a lot like being in a microwave – intense, full of energy and one fells switched on! Howard has a very strong presence when he presents. The drive that he has and momentum that he creates when teaching is truly unique. Compared to other professors one also feels that he not only masters the topic and has very broad knowledge of business cases, but his cases are somewhat more recent and relevant than the usual MBA examples of most of other professors. I found his classes very relevant and the lessons learnt transferable not only to real life but also other industries in general. Personally, I have found his classes the most relevant to my after-MBA life and took benefit of what Howard tonight me.

– Jakub Jancovic, MBA ’12

Being in Howard’s class was great because he was able to take a complex situation and break it down into a compelling narrative. The atmosphere he created in the class encouraged students to roll up their sleeves and dig into the discussion together with him. His class truly was an example of what an interactive 2-way discussion should be like.

– Alex Chao, MBA ’13

What makes Howard’s teaching style so valuable is his strength in presenting complex business situations and identifying tricky dilemmas. Around those, he manages to weave compelling stories with surprising insights, without myopically focusing solely on strategy or innovation topics. I appreciate how he was able to build up his arguments and present the underlying business theory / curriculum without becoming bogged down in details, regardless of the complexity of the case. Howard was guiding us through one of his business cases about a personal computing company and the evolution of its innovation, sourcing, branding, partnering and outsourcing strategy throughout its years of strong growth in a highly competitive global market. I vividly remember how Howard slowly and surely demonstrated how the company progressively – and not entirely intentionally – hollowed out its technology and product development competences, with detrimental consequences to its ability to keep up with new trends. He kept me glued to the lecture, watching the story unravel and the company face the consequences of its short-sighted actions. Involving an audience emotionally is something that few cases do well, and Howard is among the professors who can exploit such a case perfectly for didactic effect.

– Isaak Tsalikoglou, MBA ’13

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