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2018 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Kate Barasz, IESE Business School

Kate Barasz

Assistant Professor

IESE Business School

Kate Barasz is the total package. She checks all the boxes. Professional excellence? She spent four years climbing the ranks at Bain & Company. Academic chops? Start with a Harvard Ph.D. and move onto her research, with credits including The Journal of Marketing Research, The Journal of Experimental Psychology, and The Harvard Business Review. Teaching prowess? Well, just ask BK Kanjhan (’19) for his thoughts.

“Not only is Kate incredibly knowledgeable, her energy is infectious and quite frankly, necessary for an 8:30 AM class,” he writes. “She engages the class in a manner unlike that of any other professor without being overly dominating to the point where the voice of the class gets drowned out. She is always thoroughly prepared for every class to the point that she knows which of her students may have had relevant background or experience in the topic. She draws your opinion out and pushes you to see if you’ll stand by it, strengthening your understanding of the material.”

Indeed, Barasz is the proverbial academic triple threat. A marketer by training – and an observer of behavior since birth – Barasz enjoys upending students’ impression of marketing as simply “ad campaigns and commercial jingles.” Instead, she treats it as a way of understanding people and how they make decisions – a benefit that resonated quite profoundly for Udayan Kabra (’19). “Her knowledge about the world of marketing and advertising is exemplary and I can say that in this one course of 22 sessions I have been able to find solutions to most of the problems that I have been facing in my family business.”

However, Barasz’s popularity can also be traced something even more fundamental: She cares. She shares. She listens. And she inspires. “She dedicated a decent amount of her personal time to help me with my business, adds Boaz Toledano. “I came to her looking for marketing advice on my company and she not only met with me on multiple occasions, but also spent her own time researching and thinking of more ideas that could assist me.”

Age: 34

At current institution since what year? 2016

Education: (title of degree, area of study, institution and year obtained) DBA in Marketing from Harvard Business School (2016); BA in Economics and Public Policy Studies from Duke University (2006)

List of courses you currently teach: Marketing Management (core class for first-year MBA students)

Twitter handle: Pretty sure the world could use a little less tweeting, so I’ve tried to lead by example and abstained from Twitter.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…I came back from a girls’ weekend with my best friends from undergrad. I’d been mid quarter-life crisis, ruminating about what I should do with my post-consulting life, when my former college roommate had a clever idea: “Remember when I took that Consumer Behavior class at Duke? You always loved hearing about it. Maybe you should look into something like that…” So I did. That’s how I discovered that you could get a PhD in Marketing (who knew?) and make a career out of studying the crazy ways that humans behave. It was the game-changing, offhand comment that cured a “crisis” and kicked off a career.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Broadly, I research consumer behavior and decision making—understanding how people make choices and how we can encourage them to make better ones. Right now, I’m particularly interested in how we make sense of other people’s choices—e.g., the assumptions and inferences we make about others based on the decisions we observe them making. For instance, if I see that you’ve chosen to consume X, what do I infer about your preferences or personality or broader beliefs and values? And how accurate—or inaccurate—are those inferences? As it turns out, people are good at converging on some systematically bad assumptions about others. This has a whole bunch of downstream implications for managers trying to understand their consumers, or just for consumers trying to understand one another.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…I’d be a nomadic travel blogger.”

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? Someone once told me I have exceptionally legible chalkboard handwriting. I also binge drink caffeine during my teaching term, so I tend to have a lot of energy.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Imposter-syndrome (Yes, I took liberties with that hyphen.)

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? To borrow my son’s favorite phrase: “Something jammy.”  

As a b-school professor, what motivates you? So many students start the semester knowing surprising little about marketing, convinced we’re going to spend ten weeks discussing ad campaigns and commercial jingles. I love proving them wrong and showing them the value in understanding business problems from a very micro, consumer-level perspective.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: It’s the best job in the world and I should’ve started doing it earlier.

Professor you most admire and why: My academic “parents,” Mike Norton and Leslie John, who both embody the ultimate professor/mentor wish list: inspiring, clever, creative, nurturing, motivating, and fun. Pretty sure I wouldn’t have survived grad school without them (and I’m really glad I survived grad school).

STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Many MBAs ended up back in school because they wanted to change careers or try something new. It’s an exciting (and important) moment in their lives, and it’s really cool to play a role—however small—in the life makeover.

What is most challenging? Fighting through the palpable haze of 8:30am Friday classes.

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

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

What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done? This year, one of my students took her midterms while 40.5 weeks pregnant with her first kid. And then managed to Skype into classes a few weeks later so she wouldn’t have to miss the semester. Respect.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? I can’t think of one…

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Bring me lots of delicious breakfast pastries. Or interesting insights that will challenge the class and push the discussion forward.

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…totally compliant with IESE’s mandatory grade curve.

But I would describe myself as…wishing I could be less compliant with IESE’s mandatory grade curve. (I hate giving Cs.)

Fill in the blank: “If my students can start to think about the world in a slightly different way—and come to share even a small bit of my fascination with humans’ behavior—then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Fun fact about yourself: I love change.

What are your hobbies? This is the question that makes me grateful I met my husband before online dating was a thing. I would’ve gotten a big fat fail in the “make yourself sound interesting on a Match.com profile” category. I like reading, traveling, and long walks on the beach…

How will you spend your summer? Working (yes, we still do that even when we’re not teaching). And hopefully taking advantage of cheap Euro airfare and bopping around to some yet-unvisited destinations. (Wish list: Dolomites, Slovenia, and Montenegro)

Favorite place to vacation: Skiing or hiking in the Alps (and shamelessly using hot chocolate and ice cream, respectively, to bribe my 4- and 6-year-olds into following suit).

Favorite book: How to choose? A few that have stuck around in my brain for a while: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I loved the binge-ability of Narcos and Breaking Bad.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Anything that’s not on the Frozen soundtrack. (Mother-of-four-year-old-girl problems.)

Bucket list item #1: Spend a month (or several) trekking in Patagonia

THOUGHTS OF REFLECTION

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I didn’t know how much I’d love teaching until I started doing it. But I really love it. And I put a lot of myself into it. So to be recognized—in any form—for my efforts in the classroom brings me a lot of happiness.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? That time I completely forgot to prep the case and showed up to teach in my pajamas. Oh wait…just a dream. #professornightmares

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more…

Dedicated time for students to reflect and figure out what they truly want to do with their lives. And/or sleeping pods for naps. (Complementary goods?)

And much less…

tuition.

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what? Leading the charge on figuring out this whole work-life balance thing. It’s not just a woman or family problem; it’s an everybody problem. 

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

Having students who still keep in touch, and knowing that I’ve made some kind of (positive) lasting impact on at least a few. (And if those grateful, indebted few also wanted to give me a cut of royalties from their future earnings, that would also be fine.)

Students say…

“Even when dealing with some ‘boring’cases, Kate’s energy and dynamism  keep the class on it’s feet and no student wants to miss out on a single minute of discussion during the Marketing classes. In fact, this course has been the only one which I looked forward to in my previous term everyday and I entirely credit Kate for this.”
Udayan Kabra (’19)

“Outside the classroom, Kate has been more than generous with her time and is always willing to meet with students to clarify marketing concepts or give career advice.”
Bhavishya (BK) Kanjhan (’19)

“Kate is the epitome of professional achievement – she is a graduate of Duke University, a consultant at Bain, and got her PhD at Harvard Business School. Now, she is one of few female professors at IESE Business School and one of fewer from the United States. As a marketing professor, she injects a sense of energy and excitement in to every class – it is infectious. It is nearly impossible to not be captivated by her charm and intelligence in and out of the classroom. Her impact extends far beyond the classroom though, she is always willing to meet with her students over lunch or coffee, giving professional, and life, advice. Kate also has two young children – proving to the rest of us female MBA candidates that successful, professional women can have it all.”
Stacey K. Robison (’19)

“Kate is super energetic, positive and always willing to help you get the most out of the learning process. Even on the day when she almost lost her voice she would still do her best and run an excellent case discussion.

Her professional background at Bain gives her extra credibility, which some of her peers coming from purely academic background lack. She would bring up examples from her personal experience which would add a lot of value to the overall case discussion.

Kate would often use HBS cases which along with her personal background in US North East would create an interesting feeling that you’re on an exchange at a US school while still staying at IESE.

In general, her energy, positive attitude and professionalism make you regret that your primary target recruiting-wise is finance.”
Igor Ustinov (’19)

“I’d like to nominate Prof. Kate Barasz for effectively throwing marketing prejudices out the window, and getting bankers, engineers, scientists and basically the whole class deeply interested in Marketing.

Prof. Barasz discarded old frameworks and challenged our core commercial instincts to understand failed and effective marketing practices. She lured us into signing up for Marketing electives when the sign-up time isn’t here yet.”
Sergei Lepiavka

“As an ex-Bain consultant and Harvard Phd, she epitomises intelligence and excellence through her academic and professional achievement. As a marketing professor, she brings a great amount of enthusiasm and energy into her case-based teaching. She encourages deep thinking and dialogues during case discussion, taking IESE’s experiential learning to a different level. Meanwhile, her impact extends beyond the classroom, she shared her professional and personal experience with students outside classroom, giving advices to many students who are making life/career-changing decisions.”
Kuan Chung Chen (Michael)

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