2018 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Rebecca Lester, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Rebecca Lester

Assistant Professor of Accounting

Stanford Graduate School of Business

When you’re an accounting professor and two of your students come to the midterm dressed as a balance sheet, you know you’re doing something right. In her three years since becoming a professor at Stanford, Rebecca Lester cites this comedic gesture as her most memorable moment. Lester is an accounting professor and expert on all-things tax incentive. Specifically, corporate tax policies and how they impact company decision-making. Lester brings her genuine interest and love for accounting rules and tax policies into the classroom and it shows. She consistently receives impressively high student evaluations and in 2016 received honorable mention for a distinguished teaching excellence award at Stanford. Students say her love of teaching taxes is inspiring while her passion and real-world perspective shines through in every lesson and interaction with her.  

Age:  38

At current institution since what year?  2015

Education: Ph.D in Accounting, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Masters of Accountancy and B.S. in Accounting, University of Tennessee

List of courses you currently teach: Financial Accounting

Twitter handle: @rcassill


“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I was taking some time off of my job to travel around the world and decided to pursue a career outside of client service.  I knew I enjoyed the field of Accounting, and enjoyed teaching, and so I began to look into going back to school. Given that my parents were both professors, I had a lot of good advice and insight when weighing the decision to change my career path.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?  My research focuses on corporate tax policies and how these affect companies’ decisions about where to locate – i.e., where to invest and hire workers.  The most significant discovery I have made is documenting how companies respond to tax incentives that are intended to motivate manufacturing in the U.S.  While I find that these incentives are related to more domestic investment by a small subset of U.S. companies, I actually see that these companies also employ fewer workers in the U.S. – suggesting that U.S. companies are substituting workers for capital.  Furthermore, I show that companies engage in income shifting activities to maximize the available tax benefits.  Because the incentive I study was commonly thought to be a proxy for a lower corporate income tax rate, these effects provide evidence as to how companies will respond to the most recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…”  I would be working in a tax policy role in Washington, D.C.  

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?  I bring my genuine interest and love of accounting rules and tax policies to the classroom.  While my students are unlikely to become accountants, I hope to instill in them the importance of understanding not only the accounting and tax rules, but also the incentives at play that drives how companies and managers respond to those rules.

“One word that describes my first time teaching” :


As a b-school professor, what motivates you?  

My goal is for my research to inform tax policy. This motivates me in both my research and my teaching.    

I have always been fascinated in how tax policies are made and implemented on a macroeconomic level, but in my private sector experience was more focused on specific clients as opposed to the broader implications of those clients’ decisions.  I pursued a PhD largely so that I could study these broader effects of how companies respond to tax rules, and all of my research is focused on understanding these complex decisions.

I am also motivated by my students.  We have incredibly bright, inquisitive students with a genuine interest in obtaining tools to be successful in business.  Accounting is one such tool. Their questions and our classroom discourse motivate me to learn more about my field and my research and to seek answers to students’ challenging questions that often arise during our class discussion.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor”:

It is even better than you think it will be.

Professor you most admire and why:

My advisor from MIT, Michelle Hanlon.  She is without a doubt the most impressive professor in every dimension.  She is an extremely prolific researcher and has been successful in bring her work to other academic fields, to the private sector, and to policy makers.  She is an outstanding teacher in the classroom. She is a wonderful mentor and has spent countless hours with me and other students, advising us on research and on the academic field.  And most importantly, she is genuinely a wonderful colleague and friend.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?  

The questions that they ask in class.  While most of my students have little to no accounting background, they ask incredibly insightful questions that often challenge underlying assumptions or rules.  Engaging in this discourse with the students is the highlight of the class and is enriching for me personally as well.

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


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


Fill in the blank:

“If my students can Understand basic accounting rules and also have an appreciation for how incentives drive how well those rules work, then I’ve done my job as their professor.” 


Fun fact about yourself:

I took a leave of absence from my job in 2008 when my husband was deployed for the military and went traveling around the world by myself.

What are your hobbies?  

Swimming, traveling, and cooking  

How will you spend your summer?  

Working; vacation with family

Favorite place to vacation:

Three-way tie:  Sunset Beach, NC; Nantucket, MA; and Hawaii.

Favorite book:

Interpreter of Maladies

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

The Office. Pure entertainment.  

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:

Ray LaMontagne

Bucket list item #1:

Learn to surf in Bali


What is your most memorable moment as a professor?  

When two of my students came dressed to the midterm exam dressed up as a Balance Sheet.  

Students say…

“Professor Lester’s love of teaching and taxes was inspiring. From her crisp lectures to many Sunday review sessions, her commitment to us students encouraged us to bring our best selves to class.”

-Annie Baldwin, Candidate for MBA/MS Environment & Resources, Class of 2019

“Becky Lester, my Accounting professor during my first quarter at GSB and the faculty advisor on my Global Study Trip to Finland and Denmark. She made my first “real” business skills class accessible and so much fun. What makes her different is her path to academia: she worked as a professional accountant for many years before taking a trip around the world and realizing that her calling is to teach. Becky’s passion and real-world perspective shines through in every lesson and interaction with her.”

-Sarah Hinkfuss, MBA Class of 2018, Siebel Scholar.


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