2019 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Dejun (Tony) Kong, University of Houston (Bauer)

Dejun “Tony” Kong

Associate Professor of Management and Leadership

University of Houston T. Bauer College of Business

Dejun (Tony) Kong believes in work-life balance and that when employers adopt a one-size-fits-all approach when assigning work to employees, everyone loses because staff members are demotivated and give their less-than-best work. The 34-year-old associate professor of management and leadership at the University of Houston T. Bauer College of Business has clearly applied the same findings to his own classes as they describe him as an “inspirational” and “caring” professor who “gives good feedback.”

“Dr. Kong is a very productive researcher and a highly rated teacher,” one nominator told us. “He is fun when teaching students and cares deeply about each student’s learning and well-being. He makes a significant impact on students and the academic community. His work has appeared in numerous top journals of management and psychology. He also published a co-edited book in 2016. Last year (2018) he obtained an early tenure at the University of Houston and is among the youngest tenured faculty members at the Bauer College of Business.”

Kong’s research focuses on trust in negotiations, leadership and in teams, positive organizational behavior, and workplace diversity. With almost 550 citations to his name, Kong’s work has been published in over 10 well-known journals including the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Business Ethics, and Human Decision Processes as well as various books on leadership and negotiations. Kong earned his degree in Management Science from Fudan University in Shanghai and his graduate degree and Ph.D. in Business Administration from Olin Business School at Washington University. His book “Leading through Conflict: Into the Fray” was published in 2016 and he is the winner of the Western Academy of Management’s 2019 Ascendant Scholar Award.

Current Age: 34

At current institution since what year? 2015


  • D. Organizational Behavior (Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, USA) 2012
  • S. Organizational Behavior (Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, USA) 2011
  • B.A. Management Science (Fudan University, Shanghai, China) 2006

List of current MBA courses you currently teach:

  • MANA 7353 Regional Issues in Global Management
  • EMBA International Business Residency


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was having a college internship at Fortune in New York, working on a project on cross-cultural negotiation. I was inspired by the business professors I interviewed for the project, including Jeanne Brett (Kellogg), Ray Friedman (Vanderbilt), and Michael Morris (Columbia). Their knowledge and dedication to research made me decide to pursue a Ph.D. degree and be a business school professor. Thank you, Jeanne, Ray, and Michael.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

I am interested in trust in social settings (negotiations, leadership, teams, etc.), positive psychology, and workplace diversity. I am working on a series of projects on gratitude expression in various settings. Surprisingly, according to Sue Shellenbarger’s (November 20, 2012) Wall Street Journal article, the workplace ranks dead last among all the places for gratitude expression; people are worried about being taken advantage of, having awkward feelings, or appearing insincere, or have other reasons that prevent them from expressing gratitude. A survey by the John Templeton Foundation also found that a very small percentage of people express gratitude to their bosses or colleagues on a daily basis. Yet I, together with my colleagues, have found that gratitude expression helps people receive more economic resources from others, honest (rather than dishonest) advice from others, and persuade others to buy products/services. It is irrational to not express gratitude when it is appropriate.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I’d be singing, or being a public policy scholar who can use rigorous psychological/behavioral research to serve the public interest.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

An open and global mind, free and entrepreneurial spirits, passion for uniqueness and innovation, ethical value and practice, compassion, and perhaps my idiosyncratic humor 

One word that describes my first-time teaching:

Well-prepared. My first-time teaching was at the Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis. Undergraduate students at Olin are smart and diligent. In order to provide great learning experience to them, I would have to be well-prepared.

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

While professors value intellectual freedom, many business school professors ardently debate their schools’ journal lists or what should be considered top journals.

Professor you most admire and why:

I admire four outstanding professors (alphabetically ordered) among those I know, besides my collaborators Kurt Dirks (Washington University in St. Louis), Don Ferrin (Singapore Management University), and Cecily Cooper (University of Miami), who are awesome people.

  • Michele Gelfand (University of Maryland). She is incredible and inspirational in every aspect: research, teaching, mentoring, and service. She is a stunningly interdisciplinary and prolific scholar.
  • Denise Rousseau (Carnegie Mellon University). She is truly a pioneer of our field with formidable accomplishments as well as incredible intellectual ability and scope of knowledge.
  • Maurice Schweitzer (University of Pennsylvania). It seems that every paper he has touched will be highly impactful. What magic does he have? He is not only prolific in producing high-quality research, but also successful as a teacher and mentor.
  • Sim Sitkin (Duke University). He leads the field with his unapologetically provocative ideas, unique insights, wit and humor, and strong support to younger scholars. He deserves everyone’s respect.

The field of management is fortunate to have these outstanding scholars as role models and leaders. Conversing with each of them is an intellectual treat.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

They are ambitious and achievement-oriented and challenge professors intellectually in classes.

What is most challenging?

Students’ short attention span.

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

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Someone who ensures transparency and fairness to all students.


What are your hobbies?

Singing and traveling. I don’t want to sound like workaholic, but I see my work as a hobby too. It’s interesting.

How will you spend your summer?

Travel, do research, and spend more time with those I care about.

Favorite place(s) to vacation:

Mediterranean countries, Hawaii, and big cities. However, given my interest in cultures, I’d like to explore many parts of the world.

Favorite book(s):

(1) Book for teaching: “Bargaining Games: A New Approach to Strategic Thinking in Negotiations” (by J. Keith Murnighan). In this book, Keith Murnighan, another academic giant I admire and have deep respect for, made it easy for everybody interested in negotiations to understand bargaining games.

(2) Book for a better self: “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box” (by the Arbinger Institute). This book has changed how I think about my professional and personal issues.

(3) My own book: “Leading through Conflict: Into the Fray” (edited by me and Don Forsyth). This book is the first co-edited book I published, collecting many top scholars’ intellectual work on issues related to leadership and conflict management.

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

Movie: Erin Brockovich (2000). I watched this movie 20+ times, and enjoyed it every time I watched it. Erin’s courage, personality, and compassion and the captivating story make the movie unique and outstanding.

TV show: Golden Girls (1985-1992). I watched each episode many times, but I will still watch the show again and again. The characters are simply funny, and the story of each episode is interesting and makes me give more thoughts about life.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:

I like different types of music—pop, opera, country, classical, dance, Latin, rock, musicals, etc.—as long as the music is good.

Sia’s, Adele’s, Pink’s, Jay Chou’s, Celine Dion’s, Andrea Bocelli’s, Whitney Houston’s, Kristin Chenoweth’s and Ayumi Hamasaki’s songs are among my favorites.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…

(1) More fun. We should take our work seriously, but do we really need to take ourselves so seriously? Work should be fun.

(2) More diversity. Diversity is strength. It makes a business school better.

(3) More interdisciplinary research and teaching. Business schools have scholars from different disciplines. We should integrate such diverse knowledge for interdisciplinary research and teaching. Interdisciplinary research and teaching should be valued more.

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

(1) Leveraging diversity of employees

(2) Building a more positive and healthy culture

(3) Giving more voice to younger employees and minority employees

(4) Redesigning work

(5) Selecting more trustworthy leaders (who have more competence, benevolence, and integrity)

Faculty and administrators say:

“Dejun Tony Kong certainly deserves to be in the Best 40 Under 40 ranking. Tony has an incredible work ethic that translates into him being a prolific researcher. Despite receiving his doctorate only seven years ago, he has 41 publications in refereed journals and many others in the queue! I think part of Tony’s success is driven by his fundamental curiosity about human nature and passion for solving “puzzles.” He approaches research projects with an excitement and energy that is contagious and, for this reason, is a wonderful person with whom to co-author. Additionally, he contributes to the profession via service to our professional associations and journals in so many ways that I cannot even list them all here. On top of all that, he is just a really nice guy. I expect Tony will continue to be a major player in the field of Organizational Behavior in years to come.” – Dr. Cecily Cooper (Associate Professor of Management at the Miami Business School, University of Miami)

“Tony has incredible research acumen and approaches his studies with the genuine curiosity of a natural scholar. He is careful about the design, collection, and analyses of results, and always holds academic integrity at the highest standard. He has incredible work ethic and always brings a high level of positive energy. His work on trust and workplace humor has been published in the best management journals and he has clearly mastered the art and science of the profession. As a coauthor he is not afraid to challenge and refine ideas, is always on or ahead of time, and works tirelessly to keep projects moving forward. He is a prolific author, having published 34 articles with 21 different coauthors in the past 6 years. His work uses some of the most advanced research methods and in many ways leads the field of management into the future.” – Dr. Craig Crossley (Associate Professor of Management at the College of Business, University of Central Florida)

“I am very happy that Tony (Dejun) Kong is recognized this year as one of the Best 40 Under 40 Professors. It is not surprising to me that such a wonderful colleague and co-author of mine and a highly respected researcher in the fields of management, organizational behavior and social psychology, is also a gifted teacher that is loved by students.” – Dr. Liuba Belkin (Associate Professor of Management & Axelrod Family Endowed Fellow at the College of Business and Economics, Lehigh University)

“Tony Kong is a terrific teacher and scholar – he inspires diverse University of Houston students through bringing cutting edge, global organizational behavior research findings into the classroom. He is a fabulous research collaborator who develops doctoral students into highly competent researchers and scholars with nationally and internationally relevant expertise. His research answers key questions on effective negotiation and decision making, allowing him to draw from his own work in teaching undergraduate, MBA and doctoral students. With publications in the top journals in organizational behavior, and as an Associate Editor for Journal of Organizational Behavior, Tony is clearly an under 40 research and teaching superstar!” – Dr. Christiane Spitzmueller (Professor of Psychology and Managing Director of the Center for ADVANCING Faculty Success at the University of Houston)

“Tony is a valued member of our faculty at Bauer and has been among the most productive research faculty on our campus. Just as important, he is a leader in our department and a mentor to other junior faculty and PhD students alike. I believe Tony will be a major influence in the management field in the coming decades.” – Dr. Curtis Wesley (Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston)

“As Tony’s colleague at the University of Houston, I am impressed by not only his research productivity (which has been recognized in the management field) but also his administration capability as the Doctoral Program coordinator in our department. He is very efficient, solution-oriented, and willing to go above and beyond to meet each task goal, even at times when we face resource constraints and other limitations. Tony is also a resourceful mentor who often generously shares his experience and advice in conducting high-quality research, teaching, and services with others especially junior faculty. We are very proud of his achievement as a world-class business scholar and teacher.” – Dr. Sana (Shih-chi) Chiu (Assistant Professor of Management and Leadership at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston)

“Tony has been instrumental to my development as a scholar. He pushes me to think differently, to think more deeply, and to make sure that my research as an impact on both theory and practice. But more than that, I know he cares about me (and all of his students) and wants to see us succeed, whatever success means to us personally. He’s my model for the kind of professor that I want to be – a great teacher, a great scholar, and a good person.” – Dr. Phillip Jolly (Assistant Professor of Hospitality Management at Pennsylvania State University; Ph.D. alumnus in Organizational Behavior at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston)

“I greatly appreciate how generous Tony is in helping me prepare for my academic career and giving me advice on how to be my best self. I am very fortunate that he joined the management department at Bauer right around the time when I needed this support the most. Every PhD student, to my knowledge, is grateful for Tony’s generous support. He doesn’t have to help any of us, but he does consistently.” – Dr. Codou Samba (Assistant Professor of Management at the Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee – Knoxville; Ph.D. alumnus in Strategic Management at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston)

“Tony is a fantastic scholar and mentor. I have really learned a lot from him when we work together on research projects. Not only does he always give great guidance, but he also is highly receptive to others’ ideas and opinions. He is very knowledgeable about extant literature and also extremely creative to advance extant literature. Working with him has been a great pleasure and his insights into organizational issues have really inspired me. I feel so lucky to work with him. As a mentor, Tony is very helpful and reliable. Whenever I have questions or concerns, he responds right away with great help. I appreciate he always provides just the right amount of guidance yet allows students some independence. I also very much appreciate he constantly supports and encourages me when I am stressful. Tony is the type of professor whom I truly want to continue working with and seeking advice from even after I graduate and launch my career as a professor.” – Ms. Jia Yu (Current Ph.D. student in Management and Leadership at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston)

“A highly prolific researcher and dedicated mentor, Dr. Kong is highly passionate about his work. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to learn from him and work alongside him in interesting research projects. Both his unyielding commitment to excellence and genuine curiosity to tackle interdisciplinary research problems are truly admirable. Together with my fellow PhD students, we are inspired to become a great researcher like Dr. Kong!” – Ms. Maria Ng (Current Ph.D. student in Marketing at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston)


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