There is a rule of thumb in business school culture. To be a great professor, you need to excel in two of three areas: research, teaching, and experience. If you ask the Class of 2018, the best professors didn’t just leave them with unforgettable war stories, business models, or industry cases — instead, they will be remembered for who they were: mentors, champions, inspirations, sticklers, sages, and (most importantly) role models. They demanded a lot, and they gave back even more. These investments only accrue value as their students grow.
One such professor is Terry Taylor, who taught the Core Operations course at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. An award-winning teacher and Best 40 Under 40 alum, Taylor embodied the openness and attention to detail that he strived to instill in his students, says Liz Koenig, a 2018 Haas grad.
Taylor “operated on the fundamental assumption that his students brought meaningful experience to the table that the rest of us could learn from,” Koenig explains, “and he leveraged that collective knowledge every chance he got. He was thoughtful and systematic about creating an inclusive environment where a wide variety of voices were heard, and planned everything (from the color of handouts to the setup of his whiteboard) to maximize our learning.”
WISCONSIN PROF DEEPENS, BROADENS AND CHALLENGES WHAT STUDENTS KNOW ABOUT BUSINESS
Terry Taylor wasn’t alone in bringing out the very best in his students. Head to the University of Wisconsin’s School of Business and you’ll hear Jan Heide’s name come up often. A charismatic force who teaches Introductory Marketing, Heide was more than a professor whose door was always open to students like Linda Liu.
“Professor Heide embodies everything I had hoped for in an instructor when I returned to graduate school: someone who would take what I already knew about business and deepen it, broaden it, challenge it,” Liu says. “Even when I thought a business case terribly dry, Professor Heide found subtle nuances to draw out important business lessons and humorous examples to lock them into your memory.”
YALE PROF MAKES TAX CASE AS EXCITING AS PLAYBOY LAUNCHING IN MUSLIM NATION
Taylor and Heide were just two of the professors honored by this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs. Each year, Poets&Quants honors the faculty whose creativity, convictions, coaching, and conduct set the bar and foster a sense of community. As part of the nomination process, the Best & Brightest were asked to name their favorite professors, along with what made these faculty members so special. Turns out, there wasn’t just one strategy that enabled these classroom czars to connect deeply with their MBAs.
One way to connect is to entertain. While you won’t find faculty royalty jugging pins on a unicycle or mixing a standup routine with cold calling, professors like Yale SOM’s David Bach are master storytellers who share a secret: They exude a love for the material they teach — and the students who share their time.
“Dean Bach has the best classroom management skills of any professor I’ve encountered,” observes Hosanna Odhner. “His ability to drive a discussion and engage an entire room full of students is unparalleled. He manages to make a case about tax rates for mining companies in Australia as fascinating, suspenseful, and educational as a case about introducing Playboy magazine in Indonesia. Yet, with all his experience, responsibility, and expertise, he is one of the most approachable professors I’ve ever met. He never misses a chance to take an interest is his students’ lives.”
THE TRUE TEST? MAKING CORE STATS EXCITING
The same could be said for Elisa Long, who teaches core statistics at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. How good is Long? She made her subject – long dreaded for its dizzying terminology and merciless focus on minutiae, into must-see-to-believe class time.
“Her passion for statistics truly shines through to her teaching,” says Abby Williamson. “She used real world examples to make statistics relevant and accessible to all, no matter what your level of familiarity with statistics was before the class (including how she used statistics to beat breast cancer as well as win The Price Is Right). I found myself excited to go to class when I thought statistics would be one of the scarier core classes I had to take.”
Not every top business school professor is another Christian Bale or Cate Blanchett, whose inviting presence moxie and compelling delivery captivate the eyes and ears alike. Others succeed taking the Nick Saban or Pat Summit approach. They are the coaches who aren’t afraid to critique or push their students. They know talent when they see it – but understand it can only be fully realized by demanding a continuous commitment to pursuing perfection. This tough love is what MBA students have come to expect in Brian McCann’s Corporate Strategy class. Known for opening class with songs, this Vanderbilt stalwart goes all out, says Bennet Hayes, to give students the best possible experience.
“It’s the candor of the classroom discussion he catalyzes that drives the course. Students are held accountable to ground their commentary in solid reasoning, but Brian’s witty quips and care for students enables an environment in which everyone feels comfortable participating. It’s the kind of dynamic classroom environment that all students seek when returning to business school.”