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2018 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Jeff Galak, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)

Jeff Galak

Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

Associate Professor of Marketing

Fifty years ago, marketing was an art – where great ideas came from instinct and inspiration. Fast forward to now and it is becoming a numbers game, replete with exhaustive tools to measure the slightest shifts in demand, expectations, and audience. It’s one thing to know how to operate a tool. It is another to understand how to apply it to make business cases and drive decision-making. That is just one talent that sets Tepper’s Jeff Galak apart.

“Coming from a data analytics background,” writes Erika Gustafson, “I find that a lot of professionals know how to use formulas to derive statistics or financials. However, it is not commonly taught or known what to do with the outcome. In Professor Galak’s class, we were not only taught how to use a new software program, but also how to make sense of the data and make real marketing recommendations.”

If you want to join the Tepper faculty, you’d better know how to teach. At 35, Galak is considered among the school’s best. In the classroom, he is a marketing maestro who focus emphasizes evidence over intuition, where true learning involves students applying what they learn to their internships and jobs. In his spare time, Galak is an equally passionate furniture maker and fitness fanatic, but it is in the classroom where he leaves lasting impressions with students like Ian Roddy, who describes Galak simply as an “outstanding educator.”

“Professor Galak is deeply passionate about marketing and statistics, and he has a unique ability to communicate complex ideas in ways that are easily understood,” Roddy writes. “Professor Galak excels at weaving engaging discussions and media into his lectures while reinforcing his main lessons. I finished his course with a much deeper understating of marketing, statistics, and even behavioral economics that will help me in my career.”

Age: 35

At current institution since what year? 2009

Education:

BS Marketing and Economic Theory from New York University, Stern School of Business, 2005

Master of Philosophy in Marketing from New York University, Stern School of Business, 2008

PhD in Marketing from New York University, Stern School of Business, 2009

List of courses you currently teach: Marketing Research

Twitter handle: None.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…my mentor, Jack Jacoby (faculty at NYU-Stern), explained to me the value of doing research in business. He emphasized that research in consumer behavior could be both personally exciting and useful to firms. Jack passed away this year and I think of him often when realizing how lucky I am to have one of the best jobs in the world.”

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Most of my research focuses on understanding how enjoyment of experiences unfold for consumers…how the inevitable decline in enjoyment from repeated exposure to stimuli such as food, music, art, and movies can be slowed to help consumers maximize their joy in consumption.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…I would probably start my own small business. There’s something very appealing to running a local business that serves a community.”

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I’ve always loved teaching, even from a young age. I think the reason is that I can quickly ascertain what part of an idea or concept is difficult for any given person to understand. As soon as I know what the sticking point is for learning a new concept, I’m able to tailor a lecture to make sure that the point I need to make is understood by everyone.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Nervous.

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? No idea.

As a b-school professor, what motivates you? I think that businesses should be run with less ego and more evidence. To whatever extent I can teach my students that personalities aren’t as important as data and evidence, I feel like I’ve done my job.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: I’m surprised by how much I like my MBA students. The stereotype of MBAs as egotistical and full of themselves is as far from reality (at least as Tepper) as it can be. My students are thoughtful, intelligent, and really want to excel. This was and continues to be a very pleasant surprise.

Professor you most admire and why: My academic advisor, Leif Nelson (UC Berkeley – Haas). He taught me how to think like an academic and showed me how to keep a classroom or audience engaged with what is being presented. I am always impressed that even now when I see him give an academic presentation, I learn something new about how to be engaging and thoughtful as a public speaker.

STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I teach a very applied course and my favorite experience is when students take what they learn and immediately apply it in their jobs (for the part-time students) or internships. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing that what you teach is actually valued and used.

What is most challenging? I’m the first to admit that not every topic in Marketing Research is naturally exciting. Finding ways to make the mundane (but important) interesting is always a challenge.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Arrogant

What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done?  Two of my students took on the issue of bias in the classroom by formulating a committee of students devoted to collecting the necessary data about how faculty engage different types of students (gender, race, etc…) to understand if and how bias and discrimination manifest in the classroom. The project is still ongoing, but to challenge the establishment like that is incredibly impressive.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? A long time ago, a student wanted me to excuse a late assignment submission because they were in jail following a DUI. Not their finest hour.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Just do the work. A’s are easy to come by for students who listen, engage in class, and thoughtfully complete their assignments.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…fair. I set expectations very clearly and follow through with what I say. I think fairness (not harshness) is very important for a well-functioning classroom.”

“But I would describe myself as …the same.”

Fill in the blank: “If my students can understand how to use data to support their managerial decisions, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a woodworker and have a full woodshop in my basement.

What are your hobbies? I make furniture. I’m a fitness junky. I’m a dad. That’s more than enough to keep me busy.

How will you spend your summer? Teaching in our online hybrid MBA program and taking my kids to visit their grandparents.

Favorite place to vacation: Anywhere I can SCUBA dive.

Favorite book: Ender’s Game

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?  Lots to choose from, but I’ll go with Parks & Recreation and/or 30 Rock. There’s something about Amy Poehler and Tina Fey and their ability to be funny and wholesome at the same time.  They don’t need to put people down or go after offensive tropes in their humor. Instead, these shows make you laugh and be reminded of the goodness of people at the same time.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: These days, Disney music dominates my home.

Bucket list item #1: African Safari

THOUGHTS OF REFLECTION

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I recently was awarded the Early Career award by the two major consumer behavior society (Association for Consumer Research and the Society for Consumer Psychology). I was honored to be recognized in this way.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? Hooding my first graduating student when she earned her PhD was a very special moment.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…Much more emphasis on the responsibility of firms to not just maximize profits, but also to maximize social welfare. Our society has reached a point where profit trumps all else, with little regard for the consequences of firm actions for society and the environment more generally.”

“And much less of this…We need a lot less emphasis on quant skills for the sake of quant skills. At the end of the day, we are trying to train managers, not button pushers. For instance, I personally emphasize the role of data to aid in decision making, not the specific math behind how any analyses are conducted. Managers need to understand what tools are available to them and, to some degree, the pros and cons of those tools. They do not need to know how to push the buttons to make those tools run.”

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what? Please explain. See above, but generally being good stewards of our society and environment.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you. I’d like to take on leadership roles both within my own institution and in the academic societies I belong to. I think both entities can be greatly improved and I’d like to be one of the individuals to do so.

Students Say…

“Professor Galak deserves this distinction due to his empowering teaching skills, his unique and extremely relevant class exercises, and the way he makes marketing research fun and engaging.

Teaching: Professor Galak is one of the best teachers that I have had over the course of almost 18 years of education. After leaving his marketing research course, I felt empowered to be able to do complicated mathematical tests such as cluster and factor analysis in a business setting. I feel more comfortable with regression after taking marketing research than I did after completing my bachelor’s in math.

Relevant & Unique Class Exercises: Every example that he designed for class was a potential, real-life scenario. For example, we did an assignment that evaluated whether a new Walmart Supercenter was going to cannibalize an existing store.

Fun: His memes and cartoons in the lecture notes kept the material lively and interesting. This was one class that I never dreaded going to because I always knew I was going to learn something useful and I was going to have fun doing it.”

Dana Haymon
MBA Candidate | Class of 2018

“Professor Galak was an extremely engaging marketing research professor.  He was able to teach complex concepts in a simple and easily digestible fashion. The data driven strategies combined with the marketing focused statistical decision making principles that is taught by Professor Galak makes MBA candidate significantly more marketable to employers. Professor Galak’s lectures such as how and when to implement factor analysis and cluster analysis, and how to design surveys are some concepts that I have always wanted to learn and were taught in a way that made it clear and easy to understand. Professor Galak’s lectures were interesting, challenging, useful, and always engaging.”
Student

“Professor Galak taught me marketing research, and I can say that it was one of the most profound learning insights I got at Tepper.

I used key learnings from the course during my internship and was able to impress. I also learned how to do backward marketing research during professor Galak’s class. I used this for a marketing research project for a company I’m planning to setup in Lagos Nigeria. What’s even more impressive is that professor Galak supported me even after the class; he helped critique my questionnaire design. Besides being one of the smartest people I’ve encountered at Tepper, his commitment to helping others certainly in my opinion, qualities him to be in the very top 40 under 40 professors.”
Ola Ajia

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