2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Alok R. Saboo, Georgia State University (Robinson)

Alok R. Saboo

Assistant Professor of Marketing and Assistant Director of the Center for Excellence in Brand & Customer Management

J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University

You can think of Alok Saboo as an accidental professor. Before he’d even finished his undergraduate computer engineering degree, he’d already been hired by a leading tech firm. Just one problem: the dot-com crash and delayed his onboarding. To make ends meet, Saboo took a job as a teacher…and hasn’t looked back since.  

It’s been a long strange journey for Saboo, who swapped coding for commerce. In the process, he emerged as a leading researcher. According to V. Kumar, Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Marketing, Saboo has already published in some of the world’s top scholarly journals, including Marketing Science and the Journal of Marketing Research. “Alok is one of the best scholars I’ve come across,” he adds.

Kumar isn’t alone in his praise. As a teacher, Saboo also excels thanks to stepping back to act as a facilitator who fosters teamwork and real world application of the content. “From the get-go, he was eager to learn about his students and was interested in personalizing his course content to their learning needs,” one former student writes. “He created this unique blend of lectures, project, simulations, and case discussions that not only reinforce longstanding Marketing concepts but also link them to latest in the business world. Creating engaging classes is Dr. Saboo’s forte. He not only exemplifies personal excellence but also encourages his students to bring out their personal best!”

Age: 37

At current institution since: August 2012

Education: Ph.D., Marketing, Pennsylvania State University, 2012; PGDBM (MBA), International Management Institute (IMI), New Delhi, India, 2004; Bachelor of Engineering, Computer Science, University of Mumbai, India, 2001

List of courses you currently teach: Marketing Management (MBA); Product and Brand Management (Undergraduate)

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research is inspired largely by prior experiences and driven by my interest in helping managers improve the effectiveness of their marketing decisions. I currently am investigating several marketing actions firms engage in, such as customer and innovation management. Although one hopes publicly traded firms evaluate the long-term consequences of their actions, my research reveals they routinely overlook long-term, often negative, consequences. Interestingly, my research suggests that even investors can hold such biases, sometimes obsessing over short-term outcomes at the expense of longer-term outcomes.

Professor you most admire: I have been really fortunate to work with and learn from Rajdeep Grewal (my advisor), V. Kumar, and Gary Lilien, all of whom deserve a lot of credit for shaping my career. It has been a dream come true to work with these leading marketing scholars.

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…I was probably destined to be one. I finished my degree in computer engineering in 2001, right in the middle of the dot-com crash. Wipro Technologies, where I was supposed to join after earning my undergraduate degree, postponed my start date, giving me a few months of downtime. As luck would have it, one of the engineering colleges was looking for an instructor. That semester in an academic environment was one of the most rewarding experiences I’d had thus far. After I finished my MBA a few years later, I knew exactly what I wanted to do in my life.”

If I weren’t a B-school professor…I would probably be a working for a large multinational (so glad I am not).”

One word that describes my first time teaching an MBA class: Overwhelming.

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: The time a student from rural China brought a gift from her parents to thank me for helping her graduate and secure a job in marketing. It made me realize the amount of influence professors have on students’ lives. Since then, I have always been cognizant of my responsibility in shaping their future.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? My first publication in Marketing Science was a real proud/happy moment. Leaving my wife and nine-day-old baby in India (not to mention a stable job) to start a Ph.D. program was not the easiest thing, but that paper made it all worth it. Right now, I am super excited about being featured in the P&Q “40-under-40” list.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? I genuinely enjoy being able to help so many young minds realize their true potential and love hearing from them how my class made a difference in their lives. As a marketing professor, it is exciting to see the twinkle in their eyes when I can help students see through the clutter and make sense of what is happening around them.

On the research front, it is great to be able to work on the problems you want, with the people you want, at the place you want.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Justifying grades to students who do not apply themselves throughout the semester and still expect good marks.

Fun fact about yourself: I can make some lovely cocktails.

Bucket list item #1: Hang gliding

Favorite book: I recently finished “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, which I loved. It is a brilliant summary of the biases that influence human decisions, written in a non-academic fashion.

Favorite movie: “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Matrix,” “Inception,” and “The Godfather”

Favorite type of music: Old Bollywood songs, classical, world music

Favorite television show: “Homeland,” “House of Cards,” and “Shark Tank”

Favorite vacation spot: Any place with blue water and white sand

What are your hobbies? Traveling, spending time with family and friends, listening to music

Twitter handle: @alokrsaboo

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would be…more affordable, inclusive, and less elitist so that all eligible candidates would have a reasonable shot at getting in.”

Students say:

Dr. Saboo’s approach towards teaching is to help his students become more successful. In addition to Dr. Saboo’s impressive research accomplishments, I would like to highlight his unique ability to bring academic research in classroom. For example, in the beginning of each class, he explains current business events using academic research findings and links them to the topic of discussion. He is passionate about teaching and excels in engaging students in classroom discussions and designing a high-quality course.”


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