2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Lauren H. Cohen, Harvard Business School

Lauren H. Cohen

Harvard Business School

L.E. Simmons Chaired Professor of Business Administration

Ask many first-year MBA students and they’ll tell you the core finance course is the one they fear most.  Let’s face it: most MBAs won’t end up as pinstripe bankers, anyway. Not to mention, the complicated models, dry content, head-splitting jargon, and myriad exceptions make it intimidating for even math wizards  That’s why teaching finance is as much an art as it is a science. At Harvard Business School, teacher extraordinaire Lauren Cohen brings both art and science into the classroom to make the purest poet comfortable with asset pricing models, arbitrage and theories of market efficiency.

Here is how one former student describes his artistry: “He built an environment in the classroom that was truly comfortable and conducive to learning. For those of us with no finance backgrounds, our first finance course can be extremely stressful. But Professor Cohen kept the class energized and light, and this promoted a relaxed environment where we could take intellectual risks without fear of looking foolish. It may seem small, but it really had a huge impact on my own ability to learn and process the material.”

A faculty member since 2007, Cohen’s award-winning research has been featured in outlets from the Journal of Investment Consulting to the Wall Street Journal. In the process, he has been awarded more than $1 million dollars in research grants from the National Science Foundation. He earned his MBA and PhD from the the University of Chicago. In his spare time, he is a record-breaking powerlifter, owning two all-time world records in the squat, with the muscles to prove it.

Age: 37

At current institution since: 2007

Education: 2005 PhD in Finance, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago; 2005 MBA concentrating in Finance, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago; 2001 B.S.E., Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania Concentrations: Finance, Statistics, and Accounting Summa cum Laude; 2001 B.A., University of Pennsylvania Major: Economics, Minor: Mathematics Summa cum Laude

List of courses you currently teach: Introduction to Firm Valuation and Portfolio Management, The Investment Management Workshop, Finance for Senior Executives

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? A new organizational form, the non-practicing entity (NPE), has emerged as a major driver of the explosion in Intellectual Property litigation. NPEs amass patents not for the sake of producing commercial products, but in order to prosecute infringement on their patent portfolios.  My research finds that these NPEs behave – on average – as Patent Trolls: suing opportunistically not based on the merits of actual patent infringement, but instead largely targeting cash irrespective of infringement.

The research has allowed me to spend some time in DC at the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) along with speaking with members of Congress to think through potential solutions.

Most importantly, it has generated a ton of hate-mail.  On the bright side, as NPEs are most often groups of lawyers, it is incredibly well-written hate-mail.   

Professor you most admire:  No brainer – Prof. Stanley Milgram

  • Obedience Experiment
  • Small-World Experiment
  • Subway Experiment

Everything he touched was gold – the King Midas of research.  I’m a self-admitted Milgram fan-boy.

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…I was actually quite young.  Imagine a chubby, curly haired 3rd grader (essentially the same look I have today) – for Halloween I dressed up as a stockbroker. Blazer, brief-case, and sweatpants (I went through a serious sweat-pants phase). Even though stockbrokers have gone the way of horse shoers and VCR repairmen, it basically hasn’t changed, business all the way.”

“If I weren’t a B-school professor…I’d probably be a construction worker. Kick-ass boots, and much like academia, you get to pour your heart into a project, and then sit back and appreciate your craft work thereafter.”

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

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: I think the most memorable moments that I have as a professor are tied to the confusion that my name (Lauren) can create. From the string of colloquia and honor rolls for being a “top young woman economist,” to at least a third of the class each year being devastated to find out I’m actually their professor (they are convinced I’m the board washer prepping the class for Ms. Cohen) when I begin teaching the first day.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? The professional achievement I’m most proud of is being awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER Grant. These are amongst the most prestigious grants given by the National Science Foundation each year – awarded to the nation’s most promising young economists.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? Honestly, I get to think of the questions I think would be cool to answer, and answer them.  And I get paid for that.  I would do that for free (but don’t tell Harvard that).

Fun fact about yourself: I am a competitive powerlifter – I’ve recently broken two all-time world records in the squat (630 lbs @ 181 bodyweight) & (583 lbs @ 165 lbs bodyweight).

Favorite book: My favorite book is always the one I’m currently reading. As of today, that’s: “Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer.”  It’s a super cool book about many socially induced odd equilibria, along with how common-sense can lead us astray.

Favorite movie: Hook. Neverland reminds me of home, my four young children (ages 7, 5, 3, and 1) are indeed running the show.

Favorite type of music: Anything with a tuba in it. Fun fact – I played tuba growing up, all the way through college band. Even the other band kids wouldn’t hang out with the tuba players.

Favorite television show: The Greatest American Hero – His superpower was that he could only crash-land. The best cable had to offer in my rural farm-town.

Twitter handle: #2old2twitter

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…Bench press 101 as a required course.”

Students say:

“Prof. Cohen had a meaningful impact on my career choice, and my path towards becoming an investment analyst. Not only did his research help me understand the opportunities offered by the financial markets, but his class material and speakers made me realize how much fun I’d have in this field. I’m fortunate to have found a career that I love, and I will always be indebted to Prof. Cohen for helping me find my path.”

“Professor Cohen was my professor for two classes while I was at business school (HBS ’13) and his pragmatic approach and clear thinking had a remarkable impact on my understanding about finance and investment, which ultimately lead to my interest in pursuing the investment field after graduation (I went to work for AQR Capital Management, which Professor Cohen has written multiple cases on). Furthermore, from a personal standpoint, Professor Cohen had a serious impression on me, as his humility and approachable nature was a great reminder that despite having remarkable accomplishments and pedigree, one can and should still be a good person.”

“Professor Cohen is what I would think the ideal professor for the “millennial student” looks like. On at least 1 class per week, Professor Cohen would share stories about his wife, his kids, or his latest weightlifting pursuits. It was clear as a student that while he loves finance (and has a ridiculously great CV to back that up), what matters most to him is his family.”

“Prof. Cohen loved teaching investment management because he felt really, really strongly (and kept telling the class!) that the best part of the investment management business is that you get to leverage your human capital. For example, in “quant,” sometimes all you need is an idea (or in his words, an economic intuition). You can design, back-test and implement a trading strategy, but it all starts with an idea. As an aspiring MBA student, it was a very compelling value proposition. And his “leverage your human capital” message stayed with me even after I moved to Hong Kong and eventually drove me to start my own fund in 2015.”

“As a recent past student of Prof. Cohen at Harvard Business School I would like to specifically shine a light on his unique teaching style. Prof. Cohen taught me the introductory course to Finance: Fin 1. I’m sure that with a topic like this there could easily be a slippery slope to focusing on excels, models and numbers. As an Economic major in undergrad I have first-hand experience that this can and does happen. Prof. Cohen, on the other hand, spent considerable amount of time on the theory of financial analysis and its building blocks rather than the specific numbers of each case. We started each class by framing the strategic situation and linking it to the financial decision the case protagonist had to make. Even more importantly, Prof. Cohen made it his goal that we, as students, develop a healthy intuition about the fundamentals of Finance and how different data points or inputs should impact decision making. I feel much more prepared for my future career after completing Fin 1 with Prof. Cohen. I’m confident that thanks to the intuition I developed and to the solid understanding of important theoretical elements, I’ll be able to tackle financial strategic challenges that will surely come my way.”