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2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Marina Halac, Columbia Business School

Marina Halac

David W. Zalaznick Associate Professor of Business and Economics

Columbia Business School

In just seven years of teaching, the list of accomplishments by Marina Halac is a lengthy one. She’s recognized as a leading scholar in relational contracting and organizational economics and has presented her work at universities and conferences all over the world. In 2011, she received the Columbia Business School Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence in a Core Course. She’s a three-time recipient (2012, 2014, and 2015) of the Excellence in Refereeing Award from the American Economic Review. In 2015, she was promoted to the David W. Zalaznick Associate Professor of Business and Economics. Then, in 2016, she was awarded the Elaine Bennett Research Prize which recognizes outstanding contributions by young women in the economics profession. That same year she had three research articles accepted for publication in top-five journals.

All the while, Professor Halac is doing what she can to keep the coursework fresh for her students. She’s known to continually update her course syllabus to avoid duplication with Managerial Economics and she develops new games to play in class, including one on dynamic monopoly pricing in which students enter prices in a period to see how consumers react before setting prices in the next period. The result? Halac consistently receives ratings of 4.8 and 4.9 out of 5.0 for her Game Theory and Business course. During the Spring 2016 semester, more than 270 students enrolled for the course.

Age: 37

At current institution since: 2009

Education: Ph.D., Economics, University of California, Berkeley, 2009

List of courses you currently teach: Game Theory and Business

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?I am currently studying theoretical models of how to optimally delegate decision making. For example, I am interested in the problem of a firm delegating investment decisions to division managers, where these managers are better informed about the benefits of investment projects but also have a desire for a larger empire. Together with my Columbia Business School colleague, Pierre Yared, we have shown that under some conditions, the optimal delegation rule takes a simple form which is often used in practice: the manager can invest any amount up to a budgetary limit, or request to be audited if the limit is sufficiently binding.

Professor you most admire: Ben Hermalin, my main advisor at Berkeley.

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…I took the classes on game theory and contract theory at Berkeley and was taken away by the beauty and applicability of the concepts.”

“If I weren’t a B-school professor…I would be an architect.”

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

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: The first time I played a game in class; it was the p-beauty contest. I was so happy with the discussion it led to.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I was deeply honored to receive the Elaine Bennett Research Prize last year, which recognizes contributions by young women in the economics profession.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? Explaining complex ideas with simple and intuitive examples.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Grading.

Fun fact about yourself: Everyone in my close family works in theater/cinema/television, so I was expected to become an actress when growing up.

Bucket list item #1: Have a dog, or two!

Favorite book: “El Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges

Favorite movie: “Secrets & Lies” by Mike Leigh

Favorite type of music: Rock, and also whatever genre Piazzolla is!

Favorite television show: Seinfeld

Favorite vacation spot: Somewhere I’ve not yet been to.

What are your hobbies? Going for long walks to the park with my husband; listening to Radiohead.

Twitter handle: Don’t have one.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…self-erasing whiteboards!”

Students Say…

“What makes Marina stand out is her infectious enthusiasm for game theory. I don’t know how anyone could walk out of her classroom without feeling at least a little excited about decision trees and the prisoner’s dilemma. Her class is interactive and conversational, and she is so deeply versed in game theory research that if you want to nerd out on any topic — she’s ready to go there. She gets everyone involved, playing games that thwart skeptics and prove the theories we’re learning. And she gives fun prizes. Every week I looked forward to her entertaining way of teaching, and to having my mind boggled at least once.”