CHANGE HOW THEY VIEW THE WORLD…AND THEMSELVES
In fact, the ‘Best & Brightest’ MBAs often shared that their favorite professors were never afraid to challenge how they viewed their world. In fact, it was a key piece of their job description. For INSEAD’s Marie-Renée B-Lajoie, Henning Piezunka was able to push her past her own self-induced and self-limiting views in a way that was neither threatening nor embarrassing.
“I took his class on new business ventures and had the privilege to develop a venture idea focusing on micro health insurance for the emerging middle class in Nigeria,” Lajoie says. “Professor Piezunka took the time to help us learn about the process and challenges of building a new venture, but also reflect on why, personally, we seek to do so. His teaching style was interactive, but also extremely direct. I can’t count the number of times I had to answer “I don’t know” to his poignant questions. He brought out our vulnerability as learners, to highlight our knowledge gaps, while stimulating our curiosity. This is a rare skill that I profoundly admire.”
Through this, they are often able to nurture positive, permanent change among their students. That was the case for U.C.-Berkeley graduate Dan Fishman, whose growth was accelerated by Cameron Anderson, who taught Power and Politics of Organizations. “He is a unique mix of brilliance, humility, and clear-eyed realism,” Fishman explains. “I learned heaps from him about how and why people act in particular ways in business and in life. I also was able to turn a mirror on myself and gain a better understanding of my own habits and flaws. This will serve me well as I work to start my own business and help employees thrive.”
FACILITATORS, ENTERTAINERS AND MOTIVATORS
Another hallmark of great business professors, according to the ‘Best & Brightest,” was the classroom atmosphere they fostered. In David Ridley’s health care markets course at Duke, for example, Libby MacFarlane was struck by a classroom where students were active, curious, and respectful. Not surprisingly, it stemmed from how David acted as a facilitator. “His classroom is a place of thoughtful discussion, new ideas and critical thinking,” MacFarlane points out. “I appreciate his openness to new ideas, and love that he often jots down notes from our discussions to integrate in his own research, or just to look up and investigate more.”
Indeed, business professors wear many hats these days, including scholar, consultant, mentor, and advocate. In the classroom, they are increasingly expected to be something more: an entertainer who keeps students engaged before the coffee kicks in. Few do it better than Vanderbilt’s Richard Willis, says Imogen Aelwen Roberts, who was a Dean’s Scholar at Owen. Let’s just say he adds some flair to variable, fixed, and period costs in his managerial accounting course.
“He brings so much personality to his class,” Roberts says. “He tells anecdotes, keeps us up to date with the latest celebrity gossip and gives fashion tips. At 8 a.m,, it makes a difference to have someone who is so engaged and entertaining! Outside of class he is just the same, a warm and intelligent person who is invested in the success of his students.”
Most of all, the most successful professors view their students as individuals instead of a class. As a result, they tailor their teaching to individuals. Such flexibility is the calling card of Dartmouth’s Peter Regan, who is best known for holding the school’s “math camp” for incoming first-year students from non-traditional business backgrounds, which touches nearly a quarter of Tuck students. Regan’s steady and patient hand was a boon for Whitney Flynn, who’d studied the sciences in college and worked in sales and marketing after graduation.
“He inspires students to take ownership of their learning goals, which he acknowledges will be different for everyone,” Flynn says. “He is also a master of adapting his instruction and assignments based on a students’ individual needs.”
BRINGING A PERSONAL TOUCH TO THE CLASSROOM —AND BEYOND
In the end, MBAs will remember their favorite professors for who they were and what they did as much as what they learned. More to the point, students will never forget how much they cared or the times when they lent their support. This measure is where U.C.-Berkeley’s Cort Worthington, who teaches leadership communication, left his mark on Jen Fischer, the recipient of Haas’ “Confidence Without Attitude” Award at commencement.
“Cort leads by example and demonstrates the power that comes from balancing strength and warmth when addressing a crowd,” Fischer shares. “He also takes a sincere interest in all of his students. He runs the school’s most rigorous training program for graduate student instructors (GSIs) so that they can best pass on his teachings through individualized support to each student. I was honored to be selected as one of his GSIs, and valued his time as my personal coach. He has been very generous with his time in mentoring me and encouraging me to pursue opportunities where I can best play to my strengths.”
The class of 2016 also revered professors who carried a zeal for life — and treated their work more as a mission than a job. At Washington University, Sergio Chayet’s passion for his students came across in actions big and small according to Allison Campbell, who completed Chayet’s core operations course as well as completed Global Management Studies programs with him in Japan and Colombia.
“Sergio is passionate about his classes, and invests heavily in his students and his PowerPoints,” Campbell says. “He memorizes all his students’ names, and on the first day of class, he lists each student one by one. He is also passionate about his curriculum, which showed in his dedication to each class. With no operations experience, I found his examples could relate heavily to my previous work experience. I have a marketing concentration, but Sergio taught me the importance of understanding the details of each business transaction.”
ROLE MODELS WHO MAKE THE CAMPUS GO
If there is one quality that unites the best professors, it would be that they always go above and beyond for their students. They are continuously seeking out new ways to better teach and support their students. They are seemingly everywhere on campus —and everyone has a story about them. At Duke, that person is John Graham, a corporate finance professor. Jessica Davlin, a former White House aide ticketed for Microsoft, can’t say enough good things about him.
“Not only is he a brilliant teacher and makes complicated subject matter easy to understand and digest, but he also made it a point to go out of his way to make sure students don’t struggle,” she remarks. “John is one of the most approachable professors I know and he truly cares about his students. He makes an effort to get to know people outside of the classroom and is often found sitting with students during “Fuqua Friday” events each week. I’ve also enjoyed getting to know John outside of the classroom through community service work. He has co-led Fuqua’s largest service event, Stop Hunger Now, for five years, and does a terrific job engaging faculty to make this a true Fuqua community event. His genuine passion for helping others, coupled with his down-to-earth demeanor, is inspiring and he makes those around him better.”
By doing all that, professors like Graham become more than simply teachers and mentors. They also act as leaders and role models for business students often searching for a path and identity. At New York University, Dolly Chugh serves as a role model for Ronica Reddick, an aspiring film distributor — and for good reason. Chugh has already developed into the type of person that many students want to be. “As a professor,” Reddick observes, “she embodies everything you want in an educator: razor sharp intelligence, a deep love for teaching and a willingness to open up to her students, modeling the behavior we need to adopt to succeed as professionals.”
This is just a sample of business professors who helped develop the talents and shape the values of this year’s “Best & Brightest MBAs. Here are other professors who were honored by the Class of 2016 for epitomizing the best in graduate teaching.