2018 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: James Alvarez Mourey, DePaul University

James (Jim) Alvarez Mourey

Assistant Professor of Marketing

DePaul University

All the world’s a stage in James Alvarez Mourey’s classes. This DePaul rebel may hold a Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Michigan, but his cause is teaching and his strategy often involves theater.

Marketing is about grabbing attention and differentiating yourself from competitors. For that, this Second City graduate draws heavily from his background in improvisational comedy, where he breaks the class into “equal parts education, engagement and entertainment.” At the same time, he repeatedly reinforces this show biz bent with a key lesson: You’re always selling – and to do that you need to engage someone’s heart as much as their minds.

“It is difficult to resist learning when you are enjoying the process and actively wanting to come to class and participate. Doing in-class science experiments to learn about consumer perception or dancing a group wedding dance to learn about social psychological concepts like “evaluation apprehension” results in an extremely engaged classroom. This, combined with real-world application of ideas from my consulting experiences, makes for a very well-rounded (and fun) educational experience.”

His students couldn’t agree more.

“Jim is the most electric, fun professor I have had in my MBA career,” shares Akiko Rutledge (’19). “His passion, excitement, and drive comes through in everything he does. Each class is fun and you never know what you may end up doing. It could be dancing or eating something funky, but he keeps you engaged and wanting to learn more. I looked forward to class every week. He deeply cares about his students, which is evident in everything he does.”

Age: 35

At current institution since what year? 2013

Education:

BSBA, Marketing and International Business, Washington University in St. Louis – 2005

Ph.D., Business Administration (Marketing), University of Michigan – 2013

List of courses you currently teach:

– Consumer Behavior

– Integrated Marketing Strategy

– Luxury Marketing

– Live from Chicago: Exploring Improvisational Comedy in the Improv Capital of the    World

Twitter handle: @mourey

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…my favorite professor at Washington University, Dr. John Branch, approached me the day of my graduation and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about doing a Ph.D.?” I had been a teaching assistant for just about every class in the required business courses at WashU, so I am surprised I did not see the writing on the wall sooner, but I am glad John did. As a first-generation college student, I assumed one had to do an MBA prior to doing a Ph.D.–I really had no idea how the process worked, so thankfully Dr. Branch saw something special in me and guided my way.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Priming, when subtle cues (e.g., words, images, etc.) influence our choices and behaviors without our conscious realization of this influence, is an important methodology in psychology and marketing research. However, failure to replicate priming studies or, worse, replicating studies with opposite results has been a real challenge in the past few years. In my recent work, I have proposed a novel model for priming that reconciles these conflicting findings and introduces new ways of protecting consumers in domains like online privacy where subtle cues often lead people to disclose personal information they would otherwise not disclose.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…I would be a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” or hosting my own late-night talk show (watch out, Colbert!).”

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I bring my lifetime in performing arts and entertainment into the classroom, which I think really helps make difficult concepts more accessible to students. It is difficult to resist learning when you are enjoying the process and actively wanting to come to class and participate. Doing in-class science experiments to learn about consumer perception or dancing a group wedding dance to learn about social psychological concepts like “evaluation apprehension” results in an extremely engaged classroom. This, combined with real-world application of ideas from my consulting experiences, makes for a very well-rounded (and fun) educational experience.

“One word that describes my first time teaching: Exhilarating!

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? One of two possibilities: 1) “There’s No Business Like Show Business” – my class is equal parts education, engagement and entertainment; I teach my students that a brilliant idea amounts to nothing if you cannot “sell it,” and the way to sell it is to engage your audience in an entertaining, enjoyable way. Marketing is as much about understanding your audience and performance as improv or musical theatre…and 2) “I Will Always Love You” – more than anything students want to know you care–about them, about the content, about the real world–and I certainly care.

As a b-school professor, what motivates you? My business school education was truly the American Dream for me: my parents did not get the chance to go to college and worked several jobs so that I could. I strive to bring that transformational experience to every student I teach regardless of their starting point. Business changes the world, so I see it as my duty to both transform the lives of my students and to help them transform the world to make it a better place. This transformational theme guides my approach to teaching and to research: I want to do work that changes the world.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: My doctoral advisor, Dr. Carolyn Yoon, once told me that life only gets busier as a professor. She was correct. I guess I wish someone would have told me this is where the term “absent-minded professor” comes from: we are not actually aloof, we are just constantly working on a million projects at once, while also teaching, grading, and serving students and the university. So it’s less “absent-minded” and more “mind all over the place.”

Professor you most admire and why: Richard (Dick) Nisbett at the University of Michigan was instrumental in my understanding of culture, human cognition and non-conscious processing. I admire Dr. Nisbett for many reasons, not least of which include his humility in spite of his major accomplishments and contributions to psychology and his ability and desire to make his work accessible beyond the ivory towers of academia via books and op-eds to the masses. This balance between the rigorous academic and the professor improving society shaped my career path. Years after having Dr. Nisbett as a professor, I was shocked to learn he still used the discussion questions I wrote for his Cultural Psychology class–it remains one of the greatest honors of my academic career.

STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Business students tend to have a “fire in their belly,” an ambition, an entrepreneurial spirit that propels them. I enjoy teaching these students because I see my role as helping them get from ideation to execution, giving them the tools and skills they need to become this best possible self they want to become. There is so much joy in seeing them achieving their end goal and knowing you were a part of helping them get there.

What is most challenging? Sometimes business students can be myopic in their understanding of how disciplines beyond their career focus will affect their success–e.g., the investment banker who sees marketing as irrelevant; the consultant who doesn’t care for accounting, etc. I always like to let my students know that I started as a finance and accounting student but switched to marketing once I realized that “creative accountants go to prison.” Still, ignorance of other business disciplines immediately puts any businessperson at a disadvantage, so I strive to make students as well-rounded and as open-minded as possible.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student. Enthusiastic.

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student. Apathetic.

What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done? Using the model I created and use to teach my Consumer Behavior class, one student actually predicted the commercial Anheuser-Busch ran during the 2018 Super Bowl with incredible (almost psychic-level) accuracy more than five months before the commercial ran. She proposed that AB should develop a commercial highlighting the prosocial work they do during natural disasters and relief efforts, something the company had never before done. Sure enough, the main AB commercial during the Super Bowl was precisely that–my student even predicted some of the important details (and arguably had better brand integration than the spot that ran). The night of the game, the student emailed me in complete disbelief with her original assignment attached to the email. It was incredible.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Thankfully, my students rarely, if ever, disappoint. However, I think one gripe I share with just about every other professor is when a student has to miss class–due to illness, a scheduling conflict, etc.–and asks, “Are we doing anything important?” Now, I mention this during the first class when we go over the syllabus, so when students miss they will jokingly include in their email, “Are we doing anything important?”

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? I actually have a slide that lists what it takes to be successful in my class that I show on the first day. The bullet points include: 1) Come to class; 2) Do the assigned readings; 3) Participate in class discussion; 4) Complete your assignments; 5) Study for the exams; 6) Treat the group project like it’s a job presentation; and 7) Contact me if you need help or clarification. Not surprisingly, there is a strong, positive correlation between grade performance and completing these tasks.

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…Extremely thorough, timely, and constructive: I like to highlight their good ideas and suggest novel ways of thinking they might have missed. Each student receives customized feedback in my class on every assignment.

But I would describe myself as…Passionate, interested and extremely detailed (…and long-winded).

Fill in the blank: “If my students can recall and apply the model I taught them to real-world problems (e.g., URGE in my Consumer Behavior class, FUSION in Integrated Marketing) in a way that achieves their objective and makes life easier, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Fun fact about yourself: I host a 15,000-person event each May for an international creative problem solving program (Odyssey of the Mind) that I also help run for Illinois.

What are your hobbies? A cappella singing (The Uptones Chicago), improvisational comedy (a graduate of The Second City’s Conservatory program), songwriting, piano, fitness, writing and illustrating children’s books, playing with every dog I see

How will you spend your summer? Working on research, running along Lake Michigan, and performing weekly improv shows in Chicago.

Favorite place to vacation: EPCOT – Disney is a marketer’s heaven and EPCOT’s World Showcase was my version of international travel growing up, so I’m forever indebted to this glorious place. Plus, I’m always there with my family, which is the best kind of vacation.

Favorite book: “Bossypants” by Tina Fey

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? “Saturday Night Live – I have never missed an episode of SNL since I was a child. Long before I knew what satire was, I found that I had this natural knack for using humor to teach, communicate and criticize, so it comes as no surprise to me that I incorporate this talent in the classroom and felt so “at home” at The Second City.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Singer-songwriter types like Sara Bareilles, Jon McLaughlin, James Taylor.

Bucket list item #1: Write a screenplay or a Broadway musical.

THOUGHTS OF REFLECTION

What professional achievement are you most proud of? The very first time I taught a university course I received a perfect 5.0/5.0 teaching evaluation in a class of 80 students. As one of my mentors stated at the time, “Some people spend a lifetime striving for this goal, and you did it the first time out of the gate.”

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? When my university recently received its first new president in roughly 15 years, he was encouraged to attend my Consumer Behavior class, which he did with his wife. At subsequent college-wide and university-wide faculty meetings, the president praised my course as being the exact kind of class our university needs more of to be an effective, innovative institution of higher education, citing specific examples from my teaching style and in-class exercises.

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…As someone who teaches core marketing courses, as well as improvisational comedy, I have empirical evidence that improv-trained business students are better prepared for the demands of immediacy placed on them by the modern business world in which online consumption and social media reign. Improv-trained business students exhibit more creativity, stronger group collaboration, higher ambition and efficacy, and an increased ability to generate ideas in the moment than their non-improv business counterparts. Thus, business schools of the future must embrace these “soft skills” as critical to the core education of business students in a hyper-service based economy where relationships, creativity and immediacy provide an important competitive advantage.

And much less of this…Modern MBA programs open many doors for students and provide paved paths into established careers at reputable companies. This is fine and not to be dismissed in the way that it improves lives, but I hope that business schools of the future also embrace innovation, entrepreneurship, and prosocial business development that empowers MBA students to realize how enriching it can be to help others/the world, first, and (in doing so) enhancing one’s own career and self-advancement, second. Treating business schools as sort of start-up laboratories that help these bright young minds explore these kinds of business opportunities that have the potential to change and improve the world would be amazing.

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what? Please explain. Companies and organizations today need to do two things: 1) develop strong relationships (both internally and externally); and 2) help individual employees identify and improve their unique, inimitable skill(s). The reason underlying these two needs is the same: companies and employees are more replaceable today than ever before. A simple Google search or a LinkedIn search is all it takes to find a new supplier or a new employee, which means that stronger relationships and unique points of differentiation matter more now than ever before. Companies and organizations that prioritize relationships with their employees, suppliers and customers will benefit from these investments while those that do not will lose out.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you

Ten years from now, I would likely define success as knowing my work has changed the lives of others for the better. Whether changing how my fellow academics do their research or understand our field, changing how professors and instructors educate their students, or changing how practitioners approach their work, knowing that I have improved the lives of others, to me, is a life well-lived. Helping other people do their jobs better to enact positive change for the world is my definition of success, and I hope to spend my life doing just that…and maybe hosting SNL at least once.

Students say:

“I had the wonderful opportunity to take a graduate course with Professor Mourey, and I am forever grateful I did. Jim is easily the most genuine, passionate, and caring professor I’ve ever had during my undergraduate or graduate career at DePaul. I continually anticipated Jim’s course each week as he exhibited his engaging and upbeat teaching style to garner my excitement in the curriculum. As a mentor – Jim was caring enough to connect me with a professional in my field, and was more than happy to go out of his way to provide a great recommendation, which has led to my new position. From the classroom to the professional networking, I would not be in the position I am in today without Jim – and I cannot thank him enough for all that he has taught me!”
Collin Wiersema (BS ’14, MBA ’17)

“Jim Mourey is hands down the most engaging, devoted and passionate professor I have ever had. He truly cares about every single student & is able to teach in the most energetic way – you will never experience a boring class when you are with Jim!”
Rachel Powers
MBA Candidate, Class of 2018

“He also was a real person who understands that we have lives outside of school and that a course does not have to be insanely difficult to learn the material. Jim taught class and covered the materiel in such a way that I retained an insane amount of information without feeling like I was simply memorizing definitions or overwhelmed with materials. I was also able to directly apply what we were learning each week to my current role and know how it will apply in future roles. He is so knowledgeable and easy to talk to and I know he will be a valuable resource for me post MBA and in the future.”
Akiko Rutledge
MBA Candidate, Class of 2019

“Jim’s teaching was a breath of fresh air! He brings the type of positivity and energy to each lecture that all professors should strive for. His class was by far my favorite in the entire master’s program. Jim’s book URGE was used to guide our classes, and it was very well written with a tad bit of humor, which made it easy to read and follow. We learned about “the Self, the Situation, and the Solution” and how basically everything about an individual (his/her thoughts, emotions, perceptions, etc.) can affect the way that person makes decisions and consumes. I can easily apply these principles to my marketing plans on a regular basis, so thanks Jim!”
Victoria Waligora
MBA Candidate, Class of 2019