Peter Ronald Belmi
Assistant Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior
University of Virginia, Darden School of Business
Peter Belmi is fond of saying that he studies “why rich people are rich, why poor people are poor, and why disparities between the rich and the poor tend to persist over time.” It is an issue that has divided American academics for decades. Here, rival camps trade barbs, where the legacy of systems and history are pitted against the impact of culture and character. Belmi, however, is seeking a third way to view the issue, one that bypasses the divide to examine the issue more intimately.
“My work suggests that mitigating inequality requires an expansion of focus beyond prejudice and moral blame,” he points out. “My work suggests that a productive approach to inequality entails thoughtfulness—being more mindful about how ordinary, everyday experiences can contribute to systemic disparities—and subjectivism—taking seriously how people at the top and at the bottom interpret their situations in light of their experiences, goals, and beliefs about the world.”
Holding a Ph.D. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Belmi teaches both the core “Leading Organizations” course along with “The Paths to Power” elective at Darden. A noted scholar whose influence has reached mainstream business outlets like The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, Belmi truly shines in the classroom. Working among some of the world’s top case professors, the 32 year-old Belmi more than holds his own, ranking among the top 10% of faculty in student evaluations during his first two years at the program – and was even nominated for the Outstanding Faculty Award in 2017. For Belmi, the biggest reward isn’t the notoriety; it is watching the impact that students make once they leave his classroom. Thus far, he holds the most enviable of track records as a professor….
“No student has disappointed me yet.”
At current institution since what year? 2015
Education: (title of degree, area of study, institution and year obtained) PhD in Organizational Behavior, Stanford University 2015
List of courses you currently teach: Paths to Power, Leading Organizations Core Course
Twitter handle: My personality cannot fit in 140 characters.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR
“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…I realized that I really wanted to change the world, and that the best way for me to do that was to be in front of people who will have power to make real and meaningful changes.”
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
I study why rich people are rich, why poor people are poor, and why disparities between the rich and the poor tend to persist over time. Like many of the people who have inspired me to pursue this line of research, I have found in my own line of work that there are many structural barriers that prevent people at the bottom from reaching the top, in spite of their best efforts and intentions. But my work also suggests that mitigating inequality requires an expansion of focus beyond prejudice and moral blame. My work suggests that a productive approach to inequality entails thoughtfulness—being more mindful about how ordinary, everyday experiences can contribute to systemic disparities—and subjectivism—taking seriously how people at the top and at the bottom interpret their situations in light of their experiences, goals, and beliefs about the world.
“If I weren’t a business school professor…I would learn how to cook, start a Filipino restaurant, and lead a cultural revolution to get Filipino food to be part of the American mainstream.”
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
I don’t have an answer for this. Different people experience me differently.
One word that describes my first time teaching:
Werk! (yes, that’s with an e).
If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be?
Actually, it does have a theme song: Every morning we open our Paths to Power class with the main theme from Game of Thrones.
As a b-school professor, what motivates you?
Seeing my students realize their potential and gifts, helping them learn that their circumstances do not necessarily have to limit what they can do, and hearing about all the ways in which they are changing the world after Darden.
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:
It’s basically a 24/7 job.
Professor you most admire and why:
Maggie Neale, Jeffrey Pfeffer, and Kristin Laurin. They are not only the smartest people I know, but also the most generous.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
Darden students are well-prepared, curious, and most importantly, their hearts are in the right place.
What is most challenging?
Getting them to make peace with the idea that the world is not a fair place.
Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student:
Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student:
What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done?
One of my students created something out of nothing during her internship. She wasn’t thrilled with her internship assignment, so she embraced her power and started building connections with the people that she truly wanted to work with elsewhere in the company. One chat led to another, and she eventually persuaded this major tech company to create a full-time position for her, in the department that she wanted, with the boss that she wanted, with the salary that she wanted, in the city that she wanted.
What is the least favorite thing one has done?
No student has disappointed me yet.
What does a student need to do to get an A in your class?
Darden students are exceptionally good at identifying the problem and articulating why the problem exists. But the ones who stand out the most are those with the courage to act. They want to do something—and are even willing to take some risks.
“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…Unconventional.”
“But I would describe myself as…Invested.”
Fill in the blank: “If my students can go beyond the mindset that they are students and instead think of themselves as powerful leaders in their chosen fields, then I’ve done my job as their professor.
Fun fact about yourself:
People are always surprised to learn that I’m actually an introvert.
What are your hobbies?
I’m really into Olympic lifting, American Idol, and cats doing dumb things on YouTube.
How will you spend your summer?
Summer is when I focus on my family and loved ones, the people who have allowed me to be where I am today.
Favorite place to vacation:
Every year, my husband and I go to Vegas with some of our closest friends. We get dressed up in our nicest clothes, line up for the all-you-can-eat buffets, and see how much food we can eat before they kick us out.
Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Getting (More of) What You Want by Margaret Neale are two of my most favorite books—they (literally) changed my life.
What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
Titanic. Yaaasssss Leonardo DiCaprio.
Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:
On days I am not teaching, it’s the Holy Trinity: Mariah, Whitney, and Celine. On days that I am teaching, I listen to anything aggressive that gets me hyped up for my 8 a.m. class.
Bucket list item #1:
Buy my parents a nice house with a white picket fence for my mom and a small garden for my dad.
THOUGHTS OF REFLECTION
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
Getting my PhD from Stanford GSB and being part of the Darden community.
What is your most memorable moment as a professor?
When one of my students came to see me after class and told me, “Peter, I’m done being a wallflower. Show me how to fight.”
“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…”
Diversity and representation
“And much less of this…”
In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what? Please explain.
Managing social class dynamics. We have made a lot of progress with conversations about race and gender, but not as much about social class in America.
Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you:
I have a good job, my family is proud of me, and I’m still married to the love of my life.
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