2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Sebastian Kortmann, Amsterdam Business School

Sebastian Kortmann

Amsterdam Business School

Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation (with tenure)/Director Amsterdam MBA

How do you know a professor is good? You’ll find students from other schools singing his praises! That was the compliment handed to Kortmann by a student who encountered him at the ESADE MBA Competition. His scouting report on Kortmann? “His participation added much value to the event as a whole and he inspired the 160 participating MBA students,” the student notes. “His advice as a consultant was highly demanded and exceptionally well-reviewed by the student teams. The students highlighted his very approachable attitude and effective way of asking sharp questions.” In fact, Kortman was treated as a “star guest” at the event. “We would like to see Prof. Kortmann teaching at ESADE MBA in future,” the student adds.

High praise indeed, but well-earned. One colleague describes Kortmann’s strengths as being able to evaluate situations from all sides, never shying away from challenges. Another calls him the “most gifted and passionate professor I have ever known,” invoking his innate ability to bridge theory and practice. “He makes research accessible by letting students experience theories: I will never forget how he introduced the resource-based view to executive MBA students by letting them compete in a game of building the highest paper tower with a set of rare, valuable, inimitable and non-substitutable resources (tape, paper clips, glue). Students had so much fun and no one ever forgot what the RBV is about.”

Just 34, Kortmann was named the program director for the Amsterdam MBA in 2015, overseeing the general management, big data and healthcare tracks. He has also put his strategy and marketing muscles to work in his new role. “I represented the Amsterdam MBA in the successful accreditation of AACSB and AMBA in 2016 (EQUIS reaccreditation 2017), making me probably one of the youngest MBA program directors in triple-crown accredited schools,” he tells Poets&Quants. “In my first year as the program director, we developed the ‘connecting futures’ strategy for our MBA, restructured and updated our curriculum, and established local and internal connections with entrepreneurs, incubators, companies and business schools. This resulted in an increase of 35% in student numbers.”

Makes you wonder if the title of “Dean Kortmann” could be in this professor’s future.

Age: 34

At current institution since: January 2012

Education: Diploma in Business Administration & Engineering, RWTH Aachen University (Germany, June 2010), PhD in Business Administration, University of Muenster (Germany, January 2012) with research visits at the University of San Diego – School of Business Administration (USA)

List of courses you currently teach: Executing Strategy, Digital Business, and Theories of Strategy (Amsterdam Business School), Business Analytics and Digitization (University of San Diego – School of Business Administration), and Product Management (ESADE) in MBA, EPMS and MSc. programs.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Part of my research is related to ambidextrous behavior and the question of how to reconcile trade-offs (e.g. between short- and long-term objectives). In a study on the tension between strategic flexibility and operational efficiency, we analyzed the mediating role of ambidextrous operational capabilities and discovered the importance of middle managers in achieving sustainable competitive advantage. By balancing the ‘ebbs and flows’ of continuity and change, middle managers resolve critical tensions, create alignment and, thus, ensure long-term firm success.

Professor you most admire: Prof. Carsten Zimmermann (University of San Diego – School of Business Administration) as a life-time mentor, co-author and friend as well as Prof. Frank Piller (RWTH Aachen University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) as an inspiring thinker, co-author and enabler of my academic career.

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…I realized it is the perfect combination of self-fulfillment, independence and teamwork.”

“If I weren’t a B-school professor…I would be running my own business after having spent some years in consulting.”

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

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: When I received the email with the acceptance of my first publication.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? My Diploma in Business Administration & Engineering.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? Interacting with students and learning continuously from them, writing papers with friends, travelling the world for conferences and collaborating with a variety of companies.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Not having more time to explore all the opportunities that emerge.

What is your favorite company and why? BMW, for building the greatest products in my favorite, technology-intensive industry. Sheer driving pleasure.

Fun fact about yourself: Working productively without music is impossible for me.

Bucket list item #1: Buying a new espresso machine.

Favorite book: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant.

Favorite movie: Midnight Run

Favorite type of music: Electronic music  

Favorite television show: Family Guy

Favorite vacation spot: The Mediterranean Sea

What are your hobbies? Running, football and travelling

Twitter handle: Don´t have one.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have… more links to other disciplines, such as engineering and computer science.”

Students say:

Mr. Kortmann motivates students to expose themselves with challenging tasks by building an atmosphere in which every question is accepted and the right support is given. Despite his young age, he presents high expertise in industry practice, which he successfully uses to substantiate theoretical frameworks with regard to strategy and marketing.”

“Sebastian arranged and gave us unique opportunity to participate in international projects and events, such as ‘Leading Futures’ Case Competition/conference, consulting project for Chinese and international companies in collaboration with University of San-Diego, and others. These activities gave me invaluable experience in project management and helped to develop my leadership skills. I know Sebastian as open-minded, helpful and very professional leader, who motivates and inspires the team and students.”

“Dr. Kortmann transfers complex scientific knowledge to his students in a very clear and understandable language without losing the scientific value.He is not the traditional academic teacher transferring knowledge purely derived from dusty desk research, but combines his knowledge with his boots on the ground experience and business consulting together with his worldwide knowledge network for continuous updates. His students benefit from this and his published papers are proof for the quality.”

“Unlike other professors in his field, who indulge in relaying 50 page academic articles to their students – the essence of which could be summarized in two pages, Sebastian’s approach to teaching is differentiated through his competent knowledge of academic theories and models, and relaying this in his classes by briefly explaining their practical application within a contextual framework of a case study. In doing so, he allows students to realize the practical importance of said knowledge. But what makes Sebastian truly stand out is his realization that the times are (a) changing, and in doing so, he sees that the minds of today’s students have evolved from how they were 50 years ago – which is where the academic institution still seems to be stuck. The internet, our exposure to streams of information, and the ease of finding knowledge has drastically changed the way people educate themselves. The knowledge in and of itself is important, but it’s the guided application that makes all the difference in these times. Sebastian works in this way, a somewhat avant-garde approach to education that, hopefully, in due time, educational institutes and ministries will pick up on.”

“He was the most talented lecturer I have ever met and he still prepared for every class as a professional presenter. He organized the courses together with Vodafone Netherlands and this let us present our work in the Vodafone Headquarters in Amsterdam. At this occasion the audience consisted of the top managers of Vodafone so we had the chance to try ourselves in real business situations. I have learned the most from his lectures.”