MEET THE ROCK STAR PROFESSORS
The business school superstars who made this year’s list are marketers, economists, organizational strategists and finance experts, of course, but they’re more than just a random collection of strong thought leaders and excellent teachers.
They are a group of exceptional faculty–between the ages of 31 and 39–whose performances as MBA professors are so profound that they transcend the four walls of a classroom and permeate students’ very livelihoods. They’re known for helping students land jobs and get startup ventures off the ground, not to mention their often round-the-clock availability for one-on-one coaching and mentoring.
They’re also known for their trademark style of teaching that makes going to class something to look forward to. One professor from Georgia Tech gets the party started with his class motto “Fun & Knowledge,” while another from Yale’s School of Management shows clips from the television show “The Wire” to illustrate points about product differentiation and tacit collusion. To keep their students engaged, or to make a point in a lesson, one top 40 professor will even go so far as to dress as a chicken and perform the chicken dance. Still, substance trumps theatrics for all of the professors on the list.
Most of all, they share a passion for what they do. As Lauren Cohen, a 37-year-old finance professor at Harvard Business School, puts it: “This is the best job in the world. I get to wrestle with ideas with these bright young people and they pay me to do this! It is awesome. I get to reinvent myself with every project. I love coming to work every day.” (see Harvard’s Powerlifting Finance Prof).
FUN FACTS ABOUT A FUN GROUP
After being taught by these young stars of academia, students consider themselves privileged to have had these professors as part of their MBA journeys. Speaking of journeys, in our usual effort to get to know the top 40, we uncovered some cool, fun facts about who they were before they became rockstar academics.
You can check out the full list to find out which of the 40 vows never to buy front row seats at a hip-hop concert after a near death experience in a Wu-Tang Clan mosh pit; which one is often confused with a superstar basketball player; and who met a spouse by crashing into the person on the ski slopes.
As far as their inspiration for wanting to teach business school, common themes were the desire to follow in the footsteps of an admirable professor; the pursuit of a life-long passion; and the realization they’d have the freedom to study any topic they wanted in the name of “research.”
But not all of them were motivated by these things. Professor Linus Dahlander at ESMT in Berlin admits that he simply needed a job after getting his PhD, while Scheller’s Dong Liu confides that he knew teaching was the career for him when his boss killed a movie script that took him 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,” says Liu.
WHAT WAS THEIR FIRST TIME IN A CLASS LIKE?
It’s hard to find a typical profile for this year’s 40 Under 40. Before entering academia, they hosted radio shows and played cricket. One professor even played in several cover bands. Don’t assume they’d be gravitating to Goldman Sachs or McKinsey if they weren’t in academia. Instead, they list their dream jobs as being a missionary, winemaker, and even NBA general managers. Outside of class, you’ll find these professors engaging in hobbies that range from competitive powerlifting to ballroom dancing.
In one of the most entertaining sections of this year’s list, professors also took us back to their very first time getting up in front of students to teach an MBA course. Think teaching came easy to them? In their own words, here are some of the most colorful ways they describe their teaching debut:
“Equal parts exhilarating and sweaty”
“Thrilling. On my first day I taught three different classes from two different programs in two different cities.”
“Rushed! I got a bit too excited about my first class and finished the 1.5 hour lecture in about 50 minutes”
“Oh, my God!” (in all the senses simultaneously)”
Since then, it’s mostly been non-stop fun and magical moments for these 40 young professors. What’s on their bucket lists next? What do they enjoy the most (and least) about their jobs? They’ve opened up to share their often surprising and entertaining answers.