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2018 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Stefano Tasselli, Rotterdam School of Management

Stefano Tasselli

Assistant Professor 

Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management

At 35 years old and just three years removed from his doctoral studies to become a business professor, Stefano Tasselli thrives both inside and outside the classroom.

As he studies and teaches topics related to social networks within organizations, Tasselli’s work as a researcher and professor touches four different countries, has garnered speaking invitations to more than 50 seminars and conferences, and has racked up nearly 20 different teaching and research awards or acknowledgements from respected institutions throughout academia.

At his current teaching post in Rotterdam School of Management, MBAs and PhD candidates rave about his down-to-earth teaching style that’s charismatic, passionate, and packed with captivating storytelling, and real-life examples that make the material come to life and easier to grasp. Consistently receiving high scores for student evaluations, students often cite their appreciation for his inclusive classroom where everyone is engaged and feels comfortable posing any question. Both inside and outside of class, he’s known to always make time for students. In the world of academia, Tasselli’s mark is equally felt. He’s described as a top-notch scholar having published in word-leading journals such as the Academy of Management Journal and Organization Studies. He’s been awarded numerous best paper awards, innovative teaching awards, and even an Alumnus of the Month award by his University of Cambridge, Wolfson College alma mater for the abundant contributions to his field of study.

Age: 35

At current institution since what year? September 2015

Education: 

MPhil and PhD in Management from the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge; BA and MSc from Bocconi University

List of courses you currently teach: Social Networks and Leadership at the full time MBA; Organization of Innovation and Social Networks at master’s level.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… working in McKinsey and Co. as a business consultant before starting my doctoral studies, I understood that my main intellectual challenge was helping managers and professionals translate theoretical constructs into management practice.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I am currently studying (i) how the psychology of individuals (e.g., personality, motivation, cognition) interplays with social network structure (in terms for example of advice and friendship patterns with colleagues) in affecting outcomes of relevance for individuals and organizations, including trust and performance; and (ii) how people can change their personality over time, because of personal effort and organizational events and processes. In a recent paper published in the Academy of Management Annals, I have shown that the widespread faith in the immutability of personality is misplaced. People may positively change their personalities by increasing their engagement in activities that fit three criteria: they feel important, enjoyable, and accord with their values. Personality change can be one of the most vital outcomes of organizational experience.

“If I weren’t a business school professor… I would love to be a soccer coach and manager

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? The passion that I transmit to my students, and my continuous effort to help them develop critical thinking.

“One word that describes my first time teaching”:  

An epiphany, a revelation that it was what I wanted to do in my life.

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be?

Frank Sinatra’s My Way

As a b-school professor, what motivates you?

Research wise, the desire to understand more in depth the underlying psychological and social mechanisms explaining human interaction in the workplace; and to capture that inextricable link between our hidden and inner self and the self that we reveal and we shape through our social interactions. Teaching-wise, the desire to bring my students with me through this journey, and show them the business implications of these research questions.

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

Sometimes it’s hard (when deadlines for papers’ resubmission are too close, when you are working on a pile of papers that you need to revise and resubmit, when you receive rejections), but the excitement is always bigger and more rewarding than the difficulties.

Professor you most admire and why:

I admire several colleagues, but one person in particular, Martin Kilduff. A source of intellectual inspiration for me.

STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Helping my students find their way. A few weeks ago, a former student, now an alumnus, gave me a beautiful card in which he wrote that I was ‘an inspiration’ for him. This was very important for me.

What is most challenging?

Making the teaching meaningful for students’ professional choices. This is the main challenge.

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

Hungry of knowledge, inquiring, never satisfied of what she or he knows. ‘Der Wanderer’, quoting a famous lied by Schubert.

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

I tend to like all students. I believe that our goal is to make students interested in what we teach, and not the other way round.

What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done?

I could mention several examples. A brilliant alumna is leading a project to use artificial intelligence to help people improve their lives. Another student rejected prestigious offers from the industry to follow his dream and launch his startup. The list could be long.

What is the least favorite thing one has done?

I do not have in mind negative examples.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class?

Ability to connect and bridge the different pieces of knowledge that we discuss in order to generate intellectual and business value.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …

Fair, not particularly strict, and attentive to detail.”

“But I would describe myself as …

Fair, not particularly strict, and attentive to detail.

Fill in the blank:

“If my students can reach the moon with their imagination, but also understand what is gap between imagination and reality, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Fun fact about yourself:

I am an atypical Italian. I do not drink coffee.

What are your hobbies?

I like playing soccer, squash and tennis. I love nature, arts, good readings, philosophy and movies. I like travelling.

How will you spend your summer?

I will travel for conferences and I will work on my research. Not so much time for holidays…

Favorite place to vacation:

Prato Piazza, an enchanting and green upland in the middle of the Alps between Italy and Austria. From there, you can literally touch the sky with your fingers.

Favorite book:

I love books, and it is very difficult to choose only one. I would mention The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann and Elective Affinities by Goethe.

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

I love movies as well. As a good Cambridge alumnus, I would mention Chariots of Fire. I appreciate the ideals of gentleness, sportsmanship, self-improvement, respect and friendship that the movie communicates.  

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:

I write my papers listening to classical music. In particular, baroque music and Monteverdi Madrigals.

Bucket list item #1:

Piloting a plane.  

THOUGHTS OF REFLECTION

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

I am particularly proud of the paper on Personality-Network Fit that I recently published in the Academy of Management Journal. It was an exciting journey. I was also proud of being selected by my College in Cambridge as the alumnus of the month, and of the best paper award that I received at the Academy of Management Conference.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor?

When I taught my first executive lecture with the Dean in the classroom. I felt a bit pressured, but also particularly motivated and it worked well.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…”

The ability to be a place in which we simultaneously generate culture and science, and we help students and professionals use such culture and science to develop new opportunities for themselves and for the society.

“And much less of this…”

A place in which research and teaching are incommensurable words and worlds

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what?

They need to understand that business and people are not separate ontologies, but represent a duality. In the last few years, the excessive de-materialization and virtualization of business opportunities and processes have progressively eroded the fundamental trust-tie that bridges individuals, organizations and institutions. We need to make the business world more ‘personal’ — generated by people to serve the needs of other people — to change this dangerous trend.  

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

I would like to be one of the leading scholars in my field. I would like to inspire the new generations. And I would like to generate positive change at the individual and organizational level.

Students say…

“I could say many positve things of this exceptional young teacher and researcher, but I want to highlight one quality, his ability to transmit and communicate top level research in a way that is relevant to professionals like me. His study of the relational antecedents of work outcomes is foundational to our understanding of organizations.”

“More than in my previous courses, Stefano created very interactive lectures by not using standard Powerpoint slides. Instead he developed lecture notes on the go. He wrote down key notes (visible to all students) of discussions and answers on the questions he asked us. As Stefano has quite some practical experience in the field, he can very much relate to his own experiences from consulting. I could notice that he has a lot of experience, because instead of using standard examples that every teacher already used, he could give his own examples from the field. At last, Stefano was always very open to help and dedicated to the course. You could ask him anything: he would certainly make time for you.”

“He demonstrates passion in the material he covers in lectures which motivates all the students to be passionate in what is being taught. An example of this is that he makes the students interact and discuss the material that is being taught and it is noticeable that students are intrinsically motivated to participate.”

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