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2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Ning Su, Ivey Business School

Ning Su

Associate Professor of Information Systems

Ivey Business School

How profound has Ning Su’s impact been on his students at Ivey? One statistic says it all: He received 72 nominations to be part of Poets&Quants’ 40 Under 40, double the number of any other candidate and the most endorsements of any young professor over the six years we’ve compiled the 40 Under 40 list. What’s more, he broke the previous record by teaching, would you believe, information systems.

How did he do it? Simple…he excelled in every facet of teaching. For one, he is extremely creative, sprinkling in analogies and exercises that make his lessons unforgettable. “Ning ensures that his students leave his course with a framework in mind for breaking these complex and uncertain IT issues into manageable steps,” enthuses one student. “He gave us a challenge to build a Lego structure, changing the requirements throughout, representing the complexities of competing priorities in IT development. I certainly won’t forget the lessons learned from that exercise!”

For an academic, Su stays very close to the IT industry, providing both highly relevant and cutting edge insights into the nuances and best practices of the high tech business. “Now months after our graduation, Ning’s name and IS stories are often in our get-together classmate meetings,” adds another Ivey graduate. “Ning was not only teaching business cases, he went the extra mile going around the globe to meet and see, get the unknown side of IS from multinational and leading businesses and share them all with us. Ning is a role model teacher who should inspire other professors to bring their subjects to life and transmit passion.”

Even more, Su earns the admiration of his students by who he is as much was what he knows. “Ning won us over with his quick wit, down-to-earth demeanor and bonding humor,” adds another recommender. “He has an infectious passion for his work, an inquiring mind and an open attitude that made him very approachable and likeable as a professor. It is often difficult to put into words why someone is a great teacher, but when you are in the presence of one, it is immediately obvious. Ning was undoubtedly part of this rare group of people.”

Age: 35

At current institution since: 2010

Education: PhD, Information Systems, Stern School of Business, New York University, 2010.

List of courses you currently teach: Leveraging Information Technology; Technology and Organization

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I am researching the emergence of innovation, from digital apps to electric vehicles to 3D printing, in global markets, from NYC to Silicon Valley to China. The research discovers how technologies are shaping, and being shaped by, the fundamental fabric of business, culture, and society. Organizations, private and public, incumbent and emerging, need to rethink and redesign their strategies, models, and practices.

Professor you most admire: Herbert A. Simon

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…I realized that research in business schools can bridge diverse disciplines. My undergraduate major at Fudan University was computer science, but I also enjoyed my electives on histories of art and music. My master’s research at the University of Toronto drew on humanities and social sciences. Finding Herbert Simon’s pioneering, interdisciplinary work opened my eyes, and I discovered that research in business schools could integrate all these discipline.”

“If I weren’t a B-school professor…I would like to pursue entrepreneurship, design artifacts, make films on business and society, or develop and race electric rally cars.”

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

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: The first time I taught an Executive MBA course, senior executives from diverse countries, some with decades of experience in technology, the subject of my course, came to thank me and explained what insights and inspiration they obtained from my teaching and research. I was deeply touched by the response of students.    

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Receiving the inaugural Early Career Award of the Association for Information Systems (AIS), and being elected a Representative-at-Large of the Strategic Management Society (SMS).

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? The freedom to explore any topics I find intellectually stimulating and impactful, the ability to create knowledge, and the potential to make a positive impact.

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

What is your favorite business-themed movie and what is the biggest lesson that MBA students could gain from it? 8½. This classic film to me depicts how a professional’s attempt to navigate a chaotic creative project intertwines with the exploration of emotions and meanings in life. A key lesson could be the importance of acquiring diverse perspectives when managing one’s life and career.

What is your favorite company and why? Companies that align their business with social and environmental challenges.

Fun fact about yourself: At age 8, after badminton training with a coach, I was selected into China’s “sports academy” for future athletes, and had to choose between a sports career and regular school. My parents let me make my own decision. I chose school. Years later my coach developed several Olympic champions, and now leads China’s national team. Today, I occasionally imagine life in a parallel universe.

Bucket list item #1: Taking my parents to places they want to travel to. Last year, we went to Africa; this year, I will take my mom to Europe; last week, my dad proposed the next destination, Antarctica.

Favorite book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Favorite movie:

Favorite type of music: Opera

Favorite television show: Big Bang Theory

Favorite vacation spot: Serengeti

What are your hobbies? Arts, museums, sports, travel, wildlife

Twitter handle: @ningsu

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…an even more immersive, interactive, and international experience. For example, I taught a case on digital innovation in arts organizations, and hope one day we could take students to La Scala or Metropolitan Opera, and conduct teaching onsite.

Students say:

Not only has he inspired me to further my own knowledge in the application of technology in society, he has always made himself available for students who need counselling – be it a personal issue, an academic problem, career-related, or otherwise. Inside the classroom, his unique and trademark style of teaching via storytelling was always something to look forward to. His use of visual aids and humor transformed the classroom into an engaging, interactive environment but the real-world implications of the lessons were always crystal clear.”

“Can honestly say that his class was nothing short of transformative. Ning genuinely cares about each of his students, and always goes the extra mile to proactively seek out opportunities for each students’ growth.”

“His passion, his high level of curiosity and enthusiasm inspire us to try a bit harder, and dig a little deeper and be a bit more patient in dealing with (in our corporate world IS has a mixed reputation from its capital budget burn and commercial impacts) the most challenging change management topics.”

“By end of a semester Ning Su turned the obscure subject of Information Systems into one that my classmate and I knew would be key to a career in technology. He achieved this with an uncanny ability to engage and help even the most non-technical students understand how choices in the development and management of information systems is related to the business model.”

“Professor Su is the most influential teacher at Ivey, with his unique teaching style.  His fun way of teaching at a business school made us understand how technology and strategy are inter-woven for success of any organization. Never did I know before attending his class, that I can talk about fashion in an IT class and about technology at a fashion event. After attending his class, one can only wish for more learning courses offered by him.”

DON’T MISS: THE FULL 2017 ROSTER OF THE WORLD’S 40 MOST OUTSTANDING BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSORS UNDER 40