2016 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: James Choi, Yale School of Management

James Choi Yale

James Choi

Professor of Finance

Yale School of Management

How’s this for real world application of business academia research? Studies about behavioral finance from Yale’s James Choi has resulted in 401(k) plan design changes at many companies across the U.S. And it has even influenced pension legislation both here and abroad.

Professor Choi is a behavioral finance expert whose research spans behavioral finance and behavioral economics, household finance, health economics, and sociology. He has investigated such topics as the influence of racial, gender, and religious identity on economic preferences, investor ignorance of mutual fund fees, and the effect of deadlines and peer information on savings choices. His work on the need for increased financial education, demonstrating that educational materials can help individuals make better informed investment decisions, was recognized by TIAA-CREF. In 2011 he received TIAA-CREF’s Paul A. Samuelson Award for Outstanding Scholarly Writing on Lifelong Financial Security.

Age: 39

At current institution since: 2005

Education: Ph.D., economics, Harvard University, 2005; A.B., Applied Mathematics, Harvard University, 1998

Courses you currently teach: Corporate Finance; The Executive (a capstone course in our core curriculum where students have to take multiple disciplinary perspectives for each case study)

Professor you most admire: There are so many whom I deeply admire that I don’t want to slight anybody by picking just one. But I don’t think there would be anything amiss about giving special recognition to my Yale colleague Andrew Metrick, who was my undergraduate thesis advisor at Harvard and without whom I would have never become a professor. Andrew’s intermediate microeconomics course was legendary among Harvard undergrads of my generation for the quality of its teaching, and today, he is doing some of the most important work in the business school world by creating programs at Yale to educate students, central bankers, and financial regulators on how to prevent and deal with financial crises. Andrew exemplifies Yale SOM’s mission to educate leaders for business and society.

“I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when…I had been a management consultant for a few months out of college and realized that I neither wanted to be my firm’s partners nor my clients.”

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

Most memorable moment in the classroom or in general as a professor: Dancing with 25 Yale MBA students in a trashy nightclub at 4 A.M. in Chile.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Early in my career, I published research showing that having to opt out of saving for retirement results in more saving than having to opt in. This finding has changed the design of retirement savings plans for tens of millions of people in the U.S., U.K., and New Zealand.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? Being around smart, energetic people every day and being able to engage with them in the world of ideas.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Writing problem sets and tests.

Fun fact about yourself: I had a huge crush for years on the woman who would later become my wife, but I thought that she was so out of my league that I acted like I had no interest. Finally, she had to make the first move. I’m a very lucky guy.

Favorite book: Among those I’ve read in the last few years, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand.

Favorite movie: Cinema Paradiso

Favorite type of music: Progressive house

Favorite television show: I haven’t owned a TV since 2005. The last TV show I got into was the X-Files.

Favorite vacation spot: Iceland

What are your hobbies? The process of getting a Ph.D. has a way of squelching hobbies. But once upon a time, I was a pretty serious classical pianist. I have recently been trying to learn golf, mostly unsuccessfully.

Twitter handle: I don’t do Twitter

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…twice as many faculty as it does today.”


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