2019 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Exequiel (Zeke) Hernandez, Wharton

Exequiel (Zeke) Hernandez

Max and Bernice Garchik Family Presidential Assistant Professor

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School)

If done right, an MBA experience can go beyond fancy trips, recruiting, and formals. It can include some growth and maturity. Enter the “Zekrets.” According to many current and former students of Wharton’s full-time MBA program, one of the best things about taking a class from Zeke Hernandez is learning some life lessons — or Zekrets. “A very unique thing he does is that he starts his class with a minute of “Zekrets,” which are just learnings he has had about various aspects of life,” one student told us in a nomination of Zeke. One example given was taking the time to help others or exploring areas of Philadelphia that MBAs normally wouldn’t venture.

But that’s not the only reason Hernandez made this year’s top 40 Under 40 professors. In addition to the dozens of thoughtful nominations from current and former students, Hernandez has won teaching awards at three different schools — Wharton, Washington Univeristy’s Olin Business School, and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, where Hernandez earned his Ph.D. in Strategic Management after leaving his position as a corporate accountant at a major tech company. In 2018, Hernandez was awarded the Core Teaching Award at Wharton.

Hernandez’s research centers around immigration and has earned hundreds of Google Scholar citations and dozens of media appearances.

Current Age: 39

At current institution since what year? 2013

Education: Ph.D. in Strategic Management from the University of Minnesota (Carlson School of Management)

List of current MBA courses you currently teach: Global Strategy (part of the core Management class), Advanced Global Strategy (elective, starting Fall 2019)


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I knew for sure while working as a corporate accountant for a major technology company, when I realized that I hated my job. I was unhappy with the day-to-day work and not excited about the career path ahead. My wife could tell I was unhappy too. That led to some deep conversations with her and a realization that life is too short and valuable to do something just for the money. I decided to pursue something I was truly passionate about and that offered the prospect of making a difference in others’ lives.

I always loved teaching, even from a young age. And I had learned about being a business professor from my own college professors. The school I went to had a formal program to explore an academic career, where we read research, helped professors conduct it, and took research methods classes. I knew quite well what the career entailed, and when I became disenchanted with my corporate job I just knew that I was ready to get a Ph.D. and become a professor.

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

I’m working on two main areas right now.

In the first, I study how immigrants affect the international expansion of firms. I find that immigrants have a really strong influence on where firms choose to invest abroad and on the performance of those investments. For example, a Korean company is more likely to invest in a foreign country the more Korean immigrants have previously moved to that country. And doing so makes the Korean firm’s investment more profitable. This is really important because it shows that immigration is an important determinant of where and why capital flows around the world. This is pretty relevant today given all the debate about immigration going on.

In the second, I study how firms strategically use corporate strategies like acquisitions, divestitures, and alliances to develop relationships with other companies. I find that those relationships help companies be more innovative.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I’d be a soccer (football) player or an architect. Probably not a very good one!

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

I really care about my students as whole individuals. Besides doing well academically and professionally, I really care deeply about them becoming good, moral leaders. I also want them to be happy with their personal and professional choices. I think too often we incorrectly separate “business” from other aspects of life that make us human and social beings. So I talk about issues pertaining to life, relationships, and character in class each day. I hope students appreciate that, and that perhaps one day when they have to make a complex life decision something I said will come back to them.

One word that describes my first-time teaching: Nervous!

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That it’s about more than business. Companies have a huge influence on society, so we need to connect business to bigger social, political, global, and moral issues.

Professor you most admire and why:

I’m gonna cheat because I can’t mention just one. I had two professors serve as my advisors in graduate school, Myles Shaver and Aks Zaheer, and I think the world of them. Myles is one of the clearest thinkers I know, and his research has a perfect balance of rigor and relevance. Aks is one of the best writers I know, and his ideas are presented in a logical and beautiful manner. Both are award-winning teachers too (I believe they’re on the P&Q list somewhere!). They’re all-around tremendous professors.

I’ll cheat again and add Benjamin Franklin. I know he wasn’t officially a professor. But what a mind! And what a pen! He could be scientifically rigorous and eminently practical at the same time. I’m really proud to work at the university he founded.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Analyzing complex strategic decisions, the kind where the answer is unclear because there is no “right” answer. I love those types of scenarios because they force us to focus on (1) whether we are we asking the right question and (2) whether we have a good framework/model to think through the question.

What is most challenging?

Sometimes the fact that there is no “right” answer in what I teach makes it hard for students to trust that they are learning something useful. I sense and understand the frustration, but I try to explain that the important decisions are always like that.

And grading… I hate grading.

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

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Not excited about it, and hopefully reasonable


What are your hobbies?

My family (wife and 5 kids) take up most of my spare time. We do a lot of volunteer service together. I’m obsessed with soccer (watching my kids or Barcelona). I usually run for exercise. I love reading and am on a Russian novel kick lately. I also like movies a lot.

How will you spend your summer?

Taking some time off with my family. Doing research, traveling to academic conferences, and doing a bit of teaching.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Anywhere by the water (ocean, lake, or river). And I just love traveling and visiting new places, no part of the world exempt.

Favorite book(s): The Book of Mormon (not the musical, but the real thing). Biographies. And hopefully the book I’ll write someday.

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

Forrest Gump, Dr. Zhivago, Contact, and movies like that. I guess I like things that have an epic, wide-ranging story.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Queen, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard. My tastes were clearly formed in the 80s!


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… More on-site experiences for students (traveling, doing work for companies).

More exchange between professors and companies and policymakers. Not that we don’t interact with one another already, but I think it needs to become more acceptable and possible to spend meaningful amounts of time embedded in those three worlds rather than just occasionally talking at conferences or for specific research purposes. For example, I’d love to spend a few months at a company or government branch, and I think managers and policymakers would benefit from spending a few months understanding how academic knowledge is produced.

I also wish MBA students didn’t have to be looking for a job while in school. Instead, all recruiting would happen during the summers (or during a dedicated time period) so that during the school year the focus is 100% on learning in class. It’s a pipe dream, I know…

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

Being globally and externally focused. The world and technology are increasingly complex, which means that no company has all the resources it needs within its boundaries. This makes collaborating with other companies and stakeholders around the world crucial. But we’re all lagging behind in developing the global, cooperative mindset required to be really good at it.

Faculty and administrators say:

“Zeke Hernandez has had a remarkable effect on my cohort. Aside from being an outstanding professor of Global Management, his keen interest in teaching the “whole” student to lead an impactful life has materially influenced my career path. For example, prior to each of his lectures, Zeke begins with “Zekrets” – nuggets of wisdom for our consideration. In one “Zekret,” he professed, “You have more time and resources than you think. Don’t wait to support causes you care about.” He continued, ” People who give are happier and more successful people. Don’t wait.” His data-driven advice motivated me to become active in a charity I had been considering for some time. It also forced me to confront my career motivations more deeply resulting in a fundamental shift in my professional aspirations. Zeke is an incredibly gifted professor who cares deeply for his students and is changing the world for the better.”

“I was fortunate to take a course with Professor Hernandez (affectionately known as “Zeke” here at Wharton). It was the Global Strategy module of a required core management course and I opted to take it during my first semester at Wharton. I feel really lucky to have had a professor who set the bar in terms of course quality, facilitation skills, and overall classroom environment. In class, he taught cases that prompted rich discussion and were particularly relevant as someone interested in globalization and technology. The way he encouraged us to debate issues in groups made the course content that much more salient, so much so that I recall relating back to it during interviews and even my summer internship. Beyond teaching class concepts, however, Zeke recognized that business school is an inflection point for many and an opportunity to reflect on our life goals and values. He began each class with “Zekeisms”, sharing personal life lessons such as giving back to our communities. In the fast-paced life of business school, I appreciated reminders of the gifts we’ve been afforded as MBA students and the opportunity we have to share that privilege. As someone who also comes from an immigrant family, it’s inspiring to see a professor of Zeke’s caliber who is equal parts high-achieving and giving. Zeke set the bar for the type of professor I sought to learn from thereafter and he set an example for the type of humanity I strive to embody myself.”

“Zeke was an amazing professor who helped show me how global strategy could be broken down into manageable pieces and solved just like any other problem. I’ve never had strategy explained so well to me. I will be bringing his frameworks with me into every big strategic problem I need to solve in my future jobs. His teaching style was unique because it involved taking very complex business problems and through activities, simulation, and cases showing us how we were all capable of solving them. Zeke was recently selected as the winner of the Emerging Scholar Award by the Strategic Management Society (2018), which recognizes “a relatively young or new scholar, who displays exemplary scholarship that promises to have an impact on future strategic management practice.” He’s all around fantastic! And an incredible person in general, who also took the time to share life lessons – “Zekrets” with his students”


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