2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Dong Liu, Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Dong Liu

Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior

Georgia Tech University, Scheller College of Business

Dong Liu loves stories. He loves to hear them…and he loves to deliver them. No surprise there: Before he became a business professor, he was a screenwriter with a soft spot for romance. In fact, his management philosophy was cemented when his boss killed his screenplay without notice — or explanation. “I decided then that I should strive to become a business school professor to train effective managers that are sympathetic and supportive,” he says.

That turned out to be a lucky break for students at Georgia Tech. His classes revolve around a simple maxim: “Fun and knowledge.” Like any good storyteller, his teaching style relies less on lecture and more on creative license, such as requiring students to choose a movie and hunt for the six different types of organizational behaviors reflected in a flick. “Dr. Dong Liu is one of the most influential, impactful professors I’ve ever encountered,” raves one of his highly appreciative students.

But it’s not all fun and games for Liu. He is also a world class researcher and writer, whose work can be found in the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. He is the author of one of the ten best-selling cases from Ivey Case Publishing and his paper on Event System Theory was one of two finalists for the 2016 Academy of Management Review Best Paper Award. In addition, he has collected Best Teacher awards at Scheller for both the executive MBA and full-time MBA student programs.

Age: 38

At current institution since: 2011

Education: PhD in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior, Foster School of Business, University of Washington Seattle (2011); MPhil in Management, Faculty of Business Administration, Chinese University of Hong Kong (2006); BA in English, School of Foreign Languages, University of Science and Technology in Beijing (2000).

List of courses you currently teach: EMBA Global Workforce Management, MBA Cross-Cultural Management, PhD Advanced Research Methods, Undergraduate Cross-Cultural Management, and Undergraduate Organizational Behavior.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I am studying what, how, and why life events may promote people to emerge as creative leaders in different types of organizations. I have found that romantic life events are a robust predictor of people’s workplace creativity across cultures.

Professor you most admire: It is truly impossible to just name one! I have been deeply inspired and empowered by Professors Xiao-ping Chen, Tom Lee, Terry Mitchell, and Anne Tsui, who are brilliant scholars and mentors to me, professionally and personally.

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…my boss killed my movie script that took me six months to write without giving any reason. I decided then that I should strive to become a business school professor to train effective managers that are sympathetic and supportive.”

“If I weren’t a B-school professor…I would probably still be a screenwriter specialized in cooking up romantic comedies.”

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

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: In my cross-cultural management classes, students do a team project to help Habitat for Humanity International with its global initiatives. I feel so proud of my students whose insightful suggestions have been adopted by Habitat for Humanity International to assist people in different countries to build a decent house to live. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing my students apply what they learned from me to resolve real-world challenges and support those who are in need of care.  

What professional achievement are you most proud of? The achievement I’m most proud of recently is my Academy of Management Review article (Morgeson, Mitchell, & Liu, 2015), which introduces a new organizational theory, Event System Theory. The theory presents a novel event-oriented perspective on investigating organizational phenomena and may offer unique theoretical and empirical insights in established research areas and spark new areas of study. This article is selected as one of the two finalists for the 2016 Academy of Management Review Best Paper Award.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? The best part of being a business school professor is the opportunity to develop the next generation of business leaders and hear them share a wealth of success stories with me.  

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Wearing formal suits

Fun fact about yourself: Before pursuing an academic career, I worked as a screenwriter. After I became an MBA/EMBA teacher, I realized that a number of business theories are vividly reflected in movies and TV shows. Therefore, to motivate my MBA and EMBA students to learn and apply management skills in a joyful fashion, I integrate a number of intriguing examples from movies and TV shows into my teaching.

Bucket list item #1: Make a film highlighting cross-cultural challenges and rewards for my EMBA and MBA courses.

Favorite book: How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s a compelling read that will help you better interact with people in both business and life settings.

Favorite movie: Silver Linings Playbook. I really love what Bradley Cooper said: “This is what I believe to be true. You have to do everything you can. You have to work your hardest. And if you do, if you stay positive, then you have a shot at a silver lining.”

Favorite type of music: Carrie Underwood’s songs

Favorite television show: Sherlock, because it demonstrates curiosity and discovery, the two most critical values cultivating academic success. Also, many scenes from Sherlock can be used for explaining organizational behavior concepts and theories.

Favorite vacation spot: Brazil

What are your hobbies? Swimming. One of my 2017 New Year resolutions is to beat Dong Liu’s record in the 500-meter breaststroke by over 30 seconds.

Twitter handle: Twitter? Why not find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or WeChat?  

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…” more opportunities for students to experience foreign cultures and explore international career resources and paths.

Students say:

“Dr. Liu is one of the truly great things about Georgia Tech! There may be no professor more invested in students benefiting from course material in their professional and personal lives. I looked forward to going to his class every week, which is not always the case after a full day’s work.During my graduating year, he met with me numerous times to provide candid and valuable advice on how to navigate job search, succeed in job interviews, and negotiate job offers. As a result, I was able to land a fantastic job!”

“As an evening student with a full-time job, staying engaged in classes after a long day at work is challenging. The effort put forth by the lecturing professor makes all the difference, and Professor Liu’s classes are always well thought-out and engaging. His class motto is “Fun & Knowledge” and our sessions held true to that motto. It’s why his class is consistently ranked highly by my fellow students and is considered one of the most popular electives in our program.”

“As an evening MBA student, his class was the first I looked forward to coming to each week after a hard day’s work. His passion and expertise in the subject matter transcended his role as an educator. Every aspect of the course was set up to engage, challenge, and grow us as students. His class gave me immediate learnings that make me better at my job every day. Thanks to Dr. Liu, I plan to expand my engagement with cross-cultural management. Dr. Liu is everything I would want in a MBA professor.”

“Along with being an excellent instructor, he has developed modern and innovative methods of encouraging students to learn (e.g., Mono- and Multi-cultural Simulation designed by himself). He also always ensures that we have plenty of opportunities to practice what he teaches. I am most touched by his unrelenting support to my career. He has spent much spare time providing me with many great suggestions on how to choose a career that fits with my personality characteristics and strengths. Under his guidance, I finally found a satisfactory job that offers me wonderful developmental opportunities.”

“He truly cares about his students and the experience they have in the classroom. He makes each class an enjoyable and memorable experience. For example, each week, Dr. Liu would bring in snacks from the country we were discussing in class that night. It was a small act, but always made an impact.”


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.