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2019 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Henning Piezunka, Insead

Henning Piezunka


Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise

Sometimes practical experience is the best when teaching future business leaders. But if that’s not enough, a Ph.D. from Stanford should do. Henning Piezunka just happens to have both. After co-founding a web design company in 1998, Piezunka simultaneously served as CEO while earning a masters degree from the London School of Economics and a Ph.D. from Stanford before selling the company at the beginning of 2016.

Now, Piezunka teaches entrepreneurship and family enterprise at INSEAD and the super-popular course he created, New Business Ventures. The New Business Ventures course has won INSEAD’s best elective award numerous years.

“Henning created and maintains INSEAD’s premier course in entrepreneurship and new business creation,” one former student told us. “Unlike many B-school subjects, Henning’s changes constantly — and he has managed to build a course that is both cutting edge and timeless. He brings impeccably researched material and a clear thesis to every session he teaches and is able to match the material with enthusiasm and authentic passion for the subject. His efforts have not gone unnoticed, and Henning has won just about every award for teaching INSEAD offers.”

Current Age: 39

At current institution since what year? 2014

Education: Ph.D. from Stanford University

List of current MBA courses you currently teach: New Business Ventures


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…

I had co-founded a business and was curious to understand why things worked the way they do.

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

I study how relationships form and change. People are often uncertain about the kinds of relationships they have with others. That sometimes leads to funny effects. For example, in a recent study, we find that rejections can be an important part of forming a relationship. We study 80,000 organizations that crowdsource ideas. People who submit ideas are uncertain whether the organization pays attention to them. Being rejected signals to them that the organization actually does pay attention to them. Relationships also undergo interesting transitions. For example, we show that a competitive relationship can turn into a conflict-ridden relationship if people are uncertain about who of the two people in the relationship has higher status. We show that Formula 1 drivers who are unsure about who is superior collide with each other more often.

If I weren’t a business school professor…

One of my Ph.D. advisors suggested a few days before my dissertation defense I should try stand-up comedy… I didn’t find that funny 😉.

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

Taking the perspective of the people with whom I interact, be it the reader of my research or the student who I teach.

One word that describes my first-time teaching:


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

I had underestimated how interested students are in cutting-edge research. I bring a lot of research findings into the classroom and students love it.

Professor you most admire and why:

Marie Curie for being a trailblazer in science and society.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Creating and experiencing Wow and Aha moments.

What is most challenging?

Maintaining the relationship with students after they graduated.

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


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


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

Students who get an A describe me as accurate. Students who don’t get an A describe me as too harsh 😉.


What are your hobbies?

Going for long walks with my two-year-old son.

How will you spend your summer?

Holiday with my family in Langeoog, Germany.

Favorite place(s) to vacation:

Heidelberg, Germany

Favorite book(s):

On Leadership by James March and Thierry Weil.

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

Passion and Discipline: Don Quixote’s Lessons for Leadership. It beautifully illustrates the importance of imagination, persistence, and joy. All very important for research and teaching.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:

I am in awe of many. The late David Bowie was incredible and continues to be inspiring.


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

Teaching that is driven by rigorous research.

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

Adopt the insights from research on entrepreneurship and become better in taking on new opportunities.

Faculty, administrators, alumni, and current students say:

“Henning created and maintains INSEAD’s premier course in entrepreneurship and new business creation. Unlike many b-school subjects, Henning’s changes constantly – and he has managed to build a course that is both cutting edge and timeless. He brings impeccably researched material and a clear thesis to every session he teaches and is able to match the material with enthusiasm and authentic passion for the subject. His efforts have not gone unnoticed, and Henning has won just about every award for teaching INSEAD offers. But even more importantly, he consistently wins the minds of his students in a way that both inspires and (crucial to b-school kids) humbles them. I saw this in my peers and felt it in myself. It was a direct result of my experience in his class that I chose to enter a business idea in INSEAD’s annual venture competition. Once in, I used many of the tools we learned in class to build the concept, ultimately winning EUR 20k in funding that is currently in use building out the company. I’m pleased to give Henning my unreserved endorsement and struggle to think of any more worthy than he to receive it.”

“Henning has won the best Elective Teacher Award for his New Business Ventures class almost every year over the past 3-5 years and it was clear why: Henning puts a ton of effort into the class, uses the incredibly memorable analogies and stories dating back to the 1500s to elucidate concepts and core principals of building businesses. Every single alum from the past 3-4 years I spoke to told me that his NBV elective was not to be missed under any circumstances. He has an incredible knack for keeping students on the edge of their seats in class, and as a result, achieves one of the highest participation rates I ever witnessed at school. He is extremely personable, stays in touch with his students and even had us over for brunch at his house to also connect on a more personal level. Decades from now, I will remember Henning as a main character and contributor to my year at B-School.”

“Henning Piezunka as a professor changed my perception of what professors and business school lectures should be like as well as my approach to Entrepreneurship: 1) For his MBA class (New Business Ventures) he works hard on the material and keeps improving based on engagement and feedback. His commitment is unparalleled 2) He drafted a foolproof-workbook which, though frustrating at the start, gave a quick crash course on the many details to consider when starting a new venture. Working in a group had the added value of handling co-founders/business partners 3) There was a panel of real-life venture capitalists before whom we presented our business ideas and got critiques. Talk about real life learning! 4) He is disciplined and expects the same discipline from his students. At the same time, he is very approachable and open about his own challenges through life. In summary, he is an inspiration.”