2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: David Matsa, Northwestern (Kellogg)

David Matsa

Associate Professor of Finance

Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

David Matsa is an unabashed quant. A McKinsey alum who holds a Ph.D. from MIT, Matsa admits that his favorite book is Mostly Harmless Econometrics . He even shares that he discovered his classroom destiny when he became “enchanted by the concept of demand elasticity in calculus class in the 11th grade.” But you don’t have to be a quant to appreciate Matsa’s courses. Make no mistake: Kellogg students deeply appreciate his mastery of teaching.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Matsa is in demand. His seminar, Contemporary Issues in Business and Society, ranks among the most popular electives at Kellogg — and for good reason. This tour-de-force turns the traditional finance classroom on its head. Forget labyrinth models and frameworks. Instead, think thoughtful discussions that focus on how current events shape finance and corporate governance…not the other way around.

Matsa brings a poet’s sensibility to high finance, concentrating on big vision topics like how unemployment insurance expansion helped to stem the housing crisis or how business practices have been re-shaped by the growth of women in the c-suite. In a world where research amplifies teaching, Matsa’s work has given his students a more practical and informed view of how theory manifests itself in their daily work.

Age: 39

At current institution since: 2006

Education: Ph.D., Economics, MIT, 2006

List of courses you currently teach: Corporate Finance, Contemporary Issues in Business and Society

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I am researching interconnections between the mortgage and labor markets during and following the recent recession. One project shows that unemployment played a larger role in the housing crisis than was previously understood, so much so that the federal government’s expansions of unemployment insurance unwittingly avoided 1.3 million foreclosures between 2008 and 2013—two-thirds more foreclosures than the two largest mortgage assistance programs—the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP)—combined. Another project finds that the housing market crash lowered many homeowners’ prospects for career progression by trapping them in underwater mortgages. These workers were less likely to seek employment requiring relocation, applying instead for lower level jobs nearby.

Professors you most admire: I admire and am intellectually indebted to my doctoral supervisors, Nancy Rose and Josh Angrist. They are first-rate economists with incisive empirical instincts and tremendous dedication to and patience with their students.

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…I was enchanted by the concept of demand elasticity in calculus class in the 11th grade.”

“If I weren’t a B-school professor…I’d wear a suit more often.”

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

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: Students’ faces after their “ah ha” moment when the intuition of corporate finance finally sticks

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Within my teaching, I am most proud of my seminar class. The class, which I designed from scratch, challenges students to grapple with difficult conflicts between business and society in a corporate governance context. Many students come away reexamining their world view and better able to articulate persuasive arguments to their peers, in the process developing deep bonds with each other and—when I’m lucky—with me.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? Getting to know such amazing, accomplished, and insightful MBA and doctoral students

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Writing exams

What is your favorite business-themed movie and what is the biggest lesson that MBA students could gain from it? I show scenes from “Barbarians at the Gate” in class. The movie effectively illustrates how debt can be an asset.

What is your favorite company and why? McKinsey & Company because of its culture and the obligation to dissent

Fun fact about yourself: In high school, I competed in DECA (a business competition) in the category “Vehicles and petroleum marketing.”

Bucket list item #1: Scuba diving

Favorite book: Mostly Harmless Econometrics

Favorite movie: The Shawshank Redemption

Favorite type of music: Anything I can sing along to.

Favorite television show: Watching sports with my kids.

Favorite vacation spot: Matangi, Fiji

What are your hobbies? Spending time with family and friends

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…small classes, steeped in rich discussions, in buildings as beautiful as Kellogg’s new Global Hub.”


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