Our Favorite B-School Professors of 2015

favorite professors of 2015

As undergraduates, many of us were anxious around our professors. We believed their grades controlled our fates. And their red marks were devastating reminders that we weren’t quite as smart as we assumed. Fast forward to business school and suddenly our teachers are no longer these distant authority figures. After spending years mingling with senior leaders, the awe fades and we realize that our professors are just like us. They adore Adele, spoil their children, and watch Friends re-runs like everyone else.

And it’s here when we truly appreciate great teaching. More than ever, we look to professors to simplify the complex and push our comfort levels. Through cases, cold calls, and coaching, we learn to ask the right questions and identify the right details. Their storytelling turns dry events into Shakespearian tales of corruption and redemption. And their support gives us the strength to bounce back from failure to tackle what scares us.

Teaching is often the most underrated part of the business school experience. In the long term, it can rank as the one of the most important. This year, Poets&Quants was fortunate enough to hear about those memorable professors who truly made business school into a transformational experience. Here are a few of their stories.

(Editor’s Note: These professors are not ranked in any order.)

Daniel Oppenheimer

Daniel Oppenheimer

Daniel Oppenheimer / UCLA (Anderson): Few people want to be labeled as the class clown…unless they’re up front teaching the course. And Daniel Oppenheimer is UCLA’s answer to Patch Adams. Here, Oppenheimer, who teaches both marketing and psychology, takes “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” ethos up a notch. In his classes, you’ll find Oppenheimer pranking students with nonsensical buzzwords. And his students return the favor, wearing costumes when giving presentations. “I don’t know where it became common belief in America that learning was work,” Oppenheimer admits. “The world is fascinating, so learning doesn’t have to be boring. It can be incredibly exciting.”

But Oppenheimer’s classes aren’t adult day care centers where students can take a break from the rigor of high finance and statistics. There is a method behind his madness. “I try to set up a situation in my classes where students feel safe taking risks,” he tells Poets&Quants. It’s a safe environment. And as long as we’re successfully articulating what needs to be said and gaining the skills that need to be acquired, let’s have fun.”

And his students certainly benefit from his unique approach. “As a psychologist, Danny shines a unique light on marketing,” writes one anonymous student interviewer, “underscoring just how interwoven the two fields are, and giving Anderson marketers a competitive advantage over those who are introduced to marketing in a more traditional way. Danny also goes above and beyond to make class exciting, interactive, and rigorous – and he goes out of his way to get to know his students inside and outside the classroom.”

Deepak Hegde

Deepak Hegde

Deepak Hegde, New York University (Stern): How is this for a memorable first class? Upon entering the classroom, Deepak Hegde was actually asked if he was a student. His response? “Yes, but not in the way you might think.” And that quote also summarizes Hegde’s teaching philosophy, which relies heavily on asking questions and developing a dialogue over lecture. “Students are both more likely to enjoy learning and to enjoy lessons by discovering it themselves.”

But Hegde, who is an assistant professor of strategy at Stern, does more than just teach models and modalities. He also prepares students for a life where they must sell themselves and defend their ideas. “This is the first class that I’ve taken…[where] I have felt comfortable sharing ideas and speaking up in class,” opines one anonymous student. “For this reason, I’m really grateful to Professor Hegde for indirectly instilling confidence in me by creating an intellectually safe environment for students in his class.”

As you’d expect, Hegde is down-to-earth outside of the classroom too, where he listens to Bob Dylan and watches the Big Bang Theory. You might even venture to ask him how he suffered injuries milking cows and juggling golf balls. But if you take a class from Hegde, be prepared to leave your ego at the door. “The single most important thing [to being a great student] is intellectual curiosity: the willingness to have an open mind, to listen to both what the professor says as well as what their classmates have to say, and being willing to change their opinion based on what they hear from the professor and the other students.”

Victoria Brescoll, Yale School of Management

Victoria Brescoll, Yale School of Management

Victoria Brescoll, Yale School of Management: You know that you’ve made it in academia when your research is used in a comedy routine. That happened to Victoria Brescoll, whose work on gender bias laid the groundwork for John Oliver’s punch lines on one episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” on HBO. However, Brescoll’s research isn’t about fun-and-games. Instead, it peels apart the layers of gender bias that leads to lower pay and fewer opportunities for women.

Beyond her research prowess, Brescoll is also a master teacher – who once had a class sing an original song in a capella to thank her. A former aide to Hillary Clinton who holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from Yale, Brescoll claims she loves “almost everything about teaching” and finds the rewarding part of her job when she has “really connected with [her students].”

And she often does this just by being herself. “Professor Brescoll always filled our classroom with great humor and positive energy,” writes Laurie Cameron Craighead (’16). “Through her fun yet stressful team-building exercises, she taught us that great advances could not be made without each member of a team using patience, calm, humility and the (lost) art of listening in order to work together.  Her warm and engaging demeanor not only caused everyone to seek her advice outside of class; but made her the perfect mentor for women seeking a youthful and creative leader.”

  • karma

    Jason: I study at Harvard (not HBS) and many profs here including Prof. Clayton Christensen are renowned for not only their research but also their stellar work experience.

    To give you an example, please read excerpts below on Prof. Christensen from HBS’ website

    “Clayton M. Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School; and is regarded as one of the world’s top experts on innovation and growth.

    Christensen has served as a director of many companies, and has advised the executives of scores of the world’s major corporations. These companies generate tens of billions of dollars in revenues every year from product and service innovations that were inspired by his research.

    Christensen, an experienced entrepreneur, has started four successful companies. Prior to joining the HBS faculty, in 1984 he and three MIT professors founded CPS Technologies, which has become a leading developer and manufacturer of products from high-technology materials.

    In 2000, Christensen founded Innosight, a consulting firm that uses his theories of innovation to help companies create new growth businesses. In 2007, he founded Rose Park Advisors, a firm that identifies and invests in disruptive companies. He is also the founder of Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank whose mission is to apply his theories to vexing societal problems such as healthcare and education.

    Professor Christensen was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Republic of Korea from 1971 to 1973; speaks fluent Korean; and continues to serve in his church in as many ways as he can. He served the Boy Scouts of America for 25 years as a scoutmaster, cubmaster, den leader, troop and pack committee chairman.”

  • Jason Wiu

    It is hard to take any one of these people seriously, they are simply talking heads and producers of research to have research. Honestly the divide between reality and business academic is grossly out of proportion, none of these jokers have worked in business or even ran a company. The days of listening to them or reading their mental mast ur ba tion is over, pontificators of business practitioners of nothing. Academics should be interacting with business in real time not via some journal or book they are writing. The whole industry has become one big fraud, they are like bad drug dealers pushing unproven theories. John Byrne has found his home again and spins this industry of machinations to keep a career, reality is business schools worth is seriously in question let alone ridiculously overpriced. The whole notion of business education needs disrupted.