2019 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Ho-Yin Mak, University of Oxford (Saïd)

Ho-Yin Mak

Associate Professor in Management Science

University of Oxford Saïd Business School

With almost 100 different nominations, Ho-Yin Mak was one of our most-nominated professors. The majority of which, raved about his energy, passion, and ability to make analytics exciting and engaging. Besides teaching analytics, Mak also serves as the associate academic director of MBA programs at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Mak’s research is currently focused on sustainability in transportation and energy and is contributing to the smart city movement. He was won teaching-related awards at multiple schools and on multiple continents, proving his ability to transcend boundaries and cultures in the classroom.

“Ho-Yin had a remarkable impact on my MBA journey thus far, making Analytics become a subject I loved from a subject I dreaded,” one student said. “His teaching style was amazing and he did a great job also incorporating the relevant research he and his doctoral students were working on. It also helped that he was absolutely hilarious every class – honestly think he could do stand-up! He’s an awesome professor who constantly went the extra mile for students and genuinely cared about us. His work on smart cities as well is incredibly forward-thinking and timely.”

Mak says much of his time outside of academia is taken up by his two young daughters, but he will be carving out time to enjoy the final season of Game of Thrones.

Current Age: 37

At current institution since what year? 2015

Education: Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering & Operations Research, University of California, Berkeley (2009)

List of current MBA courses you currently teach: Analytics (MBA Core), Smart City Analytics (MBA Elective)


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was an engineering professor and wanted a change of scenery.

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

One branch of my work is on smart mobility systems, especially with environmentally-friendly vehicles. My collaborators and I are looking at the well-known “range anxiety” for electric vehicles (EVs) in an ongoing project. Though well cited as a hindrance to the mass adoption of EVs, range anxiety is not very well understood in the quantified sense. The few existing studies that aim to quantify range anxiety mostly look at its effect on buying a new car, i.e., if the range of a new EV is increased by x%, what % more people will buy it?

Our team looks at the question differently, by breaking down the question to the usage level – if the range increases by x%, what % more people will use it for a single planned trip? This is an especially interesting setting as sharing-based mobility business models are gaining traction as an alternative to car ownership. Digging into a novel dataset from an on-demand car sharing system with EVs and gasoline cars, our statistical and econometric analysis reveals that car sharing users have a strong, systematic preference for EVs with longer travel ranges, even when making planned trips over relatively short distances well within the available ranges, but not when the cars run on gasoline/petrol. This is an interesting finding, because it tells us about not just the magnitude of range anxiety, but also the mechanism of how it is formed: Contrary to what most would think, people are exhibiting range anxiety not only because they are making a $30,000-decision of buying a car and worrying about running out of juice on some possible road trip some time in the future – they are concerned even when making a fifteen-dollar decision of making a 20-mile trip right now when the battery has enough juice for 50.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I would have stayed an engineering professor, or in a parallel universe I could see myself working in tech like many of my grad school classmates.

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

That I stand 6’1-tall?

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: Someone did tell me this, but I think it is important:  If you don’t like your students, you shouldn’t be in this job.

Professor you most admire and why:

Carlos Daganzo (Berkeley) – perhaps the most-accomplished scholar in his field (Transportation Engineering) but stays very humble and low key, and lets his work speak for himself. A true scholar I’m grateful to have learned from.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

That so many of them are so talented and passionate about making a difference in the world. The thought that what I teach could (hopefully) play a role in their future accomplishments make me very proud.

What is most challenging?

Heterogeneity in academic backgrounds. Diversity is generally a great thing to have in the classroom. But teaching a technical subject like Analytics to an MBA class spanning the full spectrum, from Statistics/Computer Science PhDs to those who haven’t touched any math since the age of 15 (while brilliant at other things, of course), is a very tough job.

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

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Slightly on the easy side but generally fair – most students are not motivated by grades alone, but I want them to work hard and feel rewarded in the end as much as possible.


What are your hobbies?

Playing with my two small daughters – and they like dolls and stuffed animals for the moment… For myself, Lego (the adult-targeting sets and MOCs – “my own creations”), although I haven’t had much time for that since my kids were born.

How will you spend your summer?

Staying in England, since we are already traveling overseas right now for a long Spring break.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Orlando (though I haven’t been there with my kids yet).

Favorite book(s):

I found What Money Can’t Buy (by Michael Sandel) refreshing to read. As someone with economics training, I tend to think that markets and incentives can help solve a lot of problems, and even when they do fail we should find tweaks to make them work. What Money Can’t Buy discusses situations where market approaches are not suitable, not because they don’t “work” from the economics perspective (e.g., “improving efficiency” as we always care about), but because of deeper moral issues associated with them.

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

Game of Thrones has the spotlight right now (with S8 coming) and is a show I really enjoy. But I want to also mention the Good Doctor – unlike many shows that try to portray (a.k.a. make fun of) autistic-like behavior in whimsical ways, the Good Doctor draws a more accurate picture of the complex life struggles from an autistic (albeit a bit unrealistically talented) person’s point of view. Impressive performance by Freddie Highmore – bonus for an English actor playing an American character too.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:

I haven’t listened to it a lot lately, but I want to mention Cantopop – two generations of Cantonese people who grew up between the late 80’s to early 00’s deeply enjoyed (including the Karaoke part) and were influenced a lot by it. Sadly, it’s become a foregone pastime for most and its market has quickly diminished in recent years.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Coding. Machines are taking over many aspects of our future economy. Human-machine communication skills (coding) will become as important as the human-human communication and interpersonal skills that all MBA programs emphasize today.

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

At understanding that business, as complex as it is, should be an incentive system to make people and organizations work together toward the common good. In the past this used to mean simply “producing and consuming more as an economy.” Now our understanding of the common good is much broader and covers issues like social and environmental sustainability, racial and gender equality, human rights, etc., and we need to adapt our perception of business accordingly.

Faculty and administrators say:

“It’s great that Ho-Yin has been selected as one of the Poets&Quants best professors under 40. He brings to the classroom enthusiasm, and a terrific depth of knowledge in the management science area. He is an outstanding researcher, with an interest in developing innovative solutions to address important problems affecting modern business practice. This feeds in to his teaching, and this is exemplified by his Smart City Analytics MBA elective, which is taught through in-depth analysis of cases relating to sustainability, urban analytics and the sharing economy. Needless to say, Ho-Yin is highly respected and much appreciated by his fellow faculty.” – James Taylor, Professor of Decision Science

“Well-liked and respected by students, staff and faculty alike, Ho-Yin Mak has been a great asset to Saïd Business School since he joined us in 2015. His love of teaching is self-evident, and it is therefore not surprising that students here have selected him as their favorite professor. This is by no means the first time his aptitude for teaching has been recognized: in a prior role at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, he was presented with the Top Ten Lecturers Award and the School Teaching Excellence Award. Ho-Yin’s performance as a teacher is matched by his cutting-edge research into smart mobility systems, which looks set to improve our understanding of the future of electric vehicles.” – Ian Rogan, MBA Programme Director


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