B-Schools With The Best Teaching Faculty

IESE Case Classroom


At HBS, there is a saying that “teaching is teachable.” It is a concept that IESE has taken to heart as well. When it comes to screening hires, Prats looks for qualities that can easily translate to becoming stellar teachers. That starts with the capacity to conduct good research, she says.

“We want professors who can develop own theories, models and ideas,” she states. “Our school is very good at developing good teachers because we have a group of senior professors who devote their time to helping junior professors become better teachers through the case method. I’m not concerned when I interview a potential professor who is a good researcher. I can see if it will work by the way they present themselves and relate to people.”

HBS follows a similar approach according to Rivkin. Although the program projects each candidate’s teaching ability, the administration is under no illusion about how inexact a science it is. This uncertainty, however, comes with a caveat. “I think our ability to predict that is limited,” Rivkin concedes. “I think our ability to influence it when people are here is considerable.”


Not surprisingly, HBS has found the faculty incentive system – popularly known as tenure – motivates faculty to adopt, in Rivkin’s words, “a distinctive style of teaching.” Part of that stems from how different HBS’ promotion standards truly are from peer programs, which targets a rather narrow audience.

Iconic Baker Library on the Harvard Business School campus. Photo by John A. Byrne

“If you publish enough great articles in top journals and you’ve had a great enough impact on your scholarly field, you’ve got tenure,” Rivkin says. “There are some teaching criteria as well, but basically your audience is scholars. That’s a really hard standard to beat. If you look at the promotion rates at the top business schools, they’re low.”

In contrast, Harvard Business School has broadened its tenure criteria to encompass three audiences: scholars, educators, and practicing managers. The expectation, says Rivkin, is that non-tenured faculty will make a “profound impact” on at least one audience and show the potential to have similar influence with another.

“What does that mean,” Rivkin asks rhetorically. “Assume your audience is scholars; you need to demonstrate your potential influence on educators at other schools or practicing managers. If you chose the former, everything you do will have an orientation towards the practice of education. That has a profound impact on what happens in the classroom. For example, if you’re oriented towards practicing managers, you’re going into that classroom with a greater knowledge of how managers actually behave. If you’re oriented towards educators, you’ll be asking yourself, ‘How do I teach this class in a way that I can teach other instructors on how to teach the class?’”


While the HBS culture values teaching excellence – and professors take great pride in their craft – Rivkin believes this second audience compels professors to use the classroom as a vehicle to boost their influence. “I don’t think it is the teaching standard itself that promotes distinctive teaching,” he claims. “I think it’s the fact that we have the second audience test in the tenure process, so our faculty care deeply about their ability to influence educators and practicing managers… Our tenure system indirectly promotes excellence in teaching.”

Which faculty members personify the best that these programs have to offer? Rivkin was initially hesitant to cite one professor out of a dream teaching roster that boasts stars like Rory McDonald, Lauren Cohen, and Clayton Christensen,. Eventually, he chose Frances Frei, who is currently on two year sabbatical as a senior vice president at Uber, where she is charged with turning around the culture. Not only is Rivkin a huge admirer of Frei’s research, but he believes that her underlying virtues are representative of the faculty as a whole.

“What Frances brings is a combination of high standards and deep devotion,” Rivkin observes. “With high standards, she asks hard questions. She does so bluntly. If I say something silly, she respectfully tells me so. If you say something brilliant, she celebrates it with you. If you are not paying attention in class, she will [come to you on it]. You always know where you stand with Frances. On the other hand, she exudes devotion – she cares deeply that you are learning. It’s tough love, but it’s unambiguously love.”

It is the pairing of these two qualities that resonates with HBS students — and makes the case method all the more potent. “I’m hesitant to compare our students to children, but there is a parenting analogy here,” Rivkin adds. “If you have deep devotion without high standards, you’re going to spoil kids. If you have high standards without deep devotion, you have overbearing parents and frightened kids. If you have high standards and high devotion, then you’ll have students who’ll believe they can go out and do important and special things and then they’ll go out and do them.”

IESE’s Miguel Anton


At IESE, Prats also struggled to choose just one professor who embodied the best of the program. Instead, she listed a trio of master teachers in Heinrich Liechtenstein, Miguel Anton, and Elena Reutskaja. For Prats, these professors – and the rest of the IESE faculty – share three qualities in common.

“What they do very well is take what is complicated and make it easy to understand. They are continuously giving one-on-one feedback and that needed personal attention. And they demand great work and that their students are prepared.”

Most important, Prats asserts, the faculty cares about the students professionally and personally. “These are very critical years for students. They are changing careers, going from one country to the next, so there are many things going on. Having someone who is not just a pure teacher, but a mentor to help with their own careers and to understand themselves is very important. Our faculty does that. That’s why there is a sentiment here among the students that there is ‘Someone who cares about me.’”

It is this caring, more than anything, that is at the root of the faculty’s popularity with IESE students. “If you care – if you have that genuine interest – then you will do things,” Prats adds. “You will innovate, you will try to make things easier for them and help them to grow. Your research may be fantastic, but having a good class and students who are happy is very fulfilling. It doesn’t require money. This fulfillment is something that comes from the inside.”