The 40 Best Business Professors Under 40

Chengwei Liu of Warwick Business School


As always, going above and beyond is a consistent trait among best business professors. Another: a passion for their discipline that’s so extraordinary, students can’t help but be inspired to learn. In no other case is this more attested to than with Imperial’s Ileana Stigliani. In the unprecedented 135 nominations she acquired, students praised her for the way she captivates her classroom with a contagious passion for design thinking, a relatively new and unconventional business school topic.

“She introduced me to the world of design thinking with bountiful amounts of energy and enthusiasm,” one student exclaims. “I feel Dr. Stigliani’s teaching in service design is helping a new generation of business managers embrace the value of innovative design thinking in creating more effective human-friendly business operations,” says another.

In Professor Stigliani’s case, however, it’s not just her passion and teaching style that earns the professor high praises. It’s her ability to convert students from skeptics to die-hard believers.  

“Prior to her class I had no experience using or even understand design thinking. I even had strong reservations about the subject’s lack of empirical and quantitative evidence,” writes one student. “I spoke to Ileana about my skepticism and after our chat she truly was able to open my mind in order to allow the flow of new ideas. Afterward, I was able to grasp the topic without the negativity. To her credit, this benefitted me hugely as I now have so much respect for the subject, it’s practicality, utility, and applications for new business.”

Another student explains, “Few of us had any knowledge of design thinking before attending her course and yet many of us today name the subject as one of the most useful and interesting in the MBA.” Yet another sums up the experience this way: “Ileana brought life and excitement from the world of design thinking to a group of MBA students who had never heard or even were cynical of the topic.”


Anuj Shah is a professor of behavioral sciences at the Booth School of Business

Sometimes, it seems, MBA students must be convinced of the value of what they’re learning. Rather than an aggravation, many of this year’s top 40 agree that this healthy skepticism is one of their favorite parts of the job. In fact, most say it’s is what they appreciate most about teaching MBAs.

“They’re not a passive audience,” says Anuj Shah, a 34-year-old professor of behavioral science at Chicago Booth. “They’re willing to have a conversation, and that conversation sometimes highlights some of my own blind spots.”

Thirty-five-year-old Paolo Taticchi from Imperial College Business School says, “I like their critical mindset and their ambition. They are always ready to challenge you!”

Paolo Aversa, 35, of Cass Business School in London, echoes Shah and Taticchi when he’s asked to share the best part about teaching MBAs. “The fact that they are often ambitious and not afraid to challenge my arguments.” To note, when asked what’s the most challenging aspect of teaching MBAs, Aversa gave the exact same answer. “Too much of a good thing,” he says.

When it comes to this innate ambition and students’ willingness to cross-examine an instructor, one Columbia Business School professor used it as an opportunity to counter widely held stereotypes about MBAs. Says Dan Wang, “There are lots of stereotypes about MBA students being Type-A managers who only care about efficiency and shareholder value. This is not true at all. My favorite part of teaching is getting to know each student individually. It is such a privilege to be responsible for creating an environment in which students are not afraid to share their knowledge so that their experiences can be synthesized into useful lessons for each class.”

Another shared reason this year’s top 40-Under-40 professors love their jobs is the instantaneous real-world application and the role — albeit small or large — they play in helping students achieve their life goals.

Says Jeff Galak a 35-year-old marketing professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, “I teach a very applied course and my favorite experience is when students take what they learn and immediately apply it in their jobs or internships. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing that what you teach is actually valued and used.”

Top 40-Under-40 business professor Kate Barasz of IESE says all it takes to get an A in her course is lots of delicious breakfast pastries … or simply interesting insights that will challenge the class and push the discussion forward

Booth’s Ed O’Brien says he’s always impressed hearing about how students apply the material to their real, ongoing work life, which he says he often hears from students who approach him after each lecture. “It ranges from small to big things, but it’s always exciting to hear,” he says. “For example, I’ve heard from students who re-designed their incentive systems at work to give more experiential rewards (e.g., offering not just a lump sum of bonus money but also time off or a vacation package), and I’ve heard from students who re-designed their student group meetings (e.g., offering candy to an audience as they exit instead of when they enter the meeting) – all tips from course material, jumping right from the psychology laboratory to their workplace.”

Speaking of making good impressions, if you want to know what it takes for these professors to hand out “A” grades, the answer is: It varies.

Bring me lots of delicious breakfast pastries. Or interesting insights that will challenge the class and push the discussion forward,” says Kate Barasz, 34, of IESE Business School.

Whereas Paulina Roszkowska of HULT International Business School looks for students to think multidimensionally about finance. “It’s about making material observations, seeing links, and thinking big-picture in order to make a sound financial decision,” Roszkowska says. “If my students can explain finance to their grandmothers, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

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