2019 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Lionel Paolella, University of Cambridge (Judge)

Lionel Paolella

University Lecturer in Strategy and Organization

University of Cambridge, Judge Business School

With nearly 300 different nominations, 36-year-old Lionel Paolella was one of our most-nominated professors. And it’s easy to see why. First, as the professor of the core Strategy course in the full-time MBA program and the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School, he sees all MBAs that go through the program. Moreover, Paolella’s approach is so welcomed and popular that he won the Cambridge Judge Business School Teaching Award in 2017 and followed with the MBA Faculty of the Year award in 2018 — an award given based on the vote of the graduating MBA class.

“Lionel is nothing short of an amazing professor,” one student told us. “He grabs the attention of the room with his provocative nature and keeps the attention with his sheer intellect and engaging personality. He cares deeply about student success and always goes above and beyond to ensure that every class delivers value. Wonderful professor and wonderful person.”

If Paolella wasn’t an award-winning MBA prof, he says he’d be a watchmaker or photographer, although, admittedly, maybe not a very good one.

Current Age: 36

At current institution since what year? 2014

Education: Ecole Normale Supérieure, L.L.M. (Rennes I), M.S. in Organization Science (Paris X Université), M.A. in Sociology (EHESS), Ph.D. in Strategy (HEC Paris)

List of current MBA courses you currently teach: Strategy


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I got a job offer to be part of the faculty at a business school! I wanted to be a professor for a long time and the business school world opened its arms to me.

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

Currently, I am working on gender diversity in the US legal market. Traditionally, women in top management positions are seen as a panacea for alleviating diversity and inclusiveness issues at all levels in the organizations through “trickle-down” effects of role modeling, concrete support and championing of diversity. However, with my coauthors, we found evidence for paradoxical and asymmetric negative effects of gender diversity in top management positions on the hiring and attrition of women across the middle and lower levels in organizations. We show that these results are not due to the so-called ‘Queen Bee’ effect and that certain organizational contextual conditions can reduce these negative decoupling effects.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I would have loved to be a photographer, or a watchmaker, but I’m afraid I’m not good at either of those things.

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

No idea, my French humor perhaps.

One word that describes my first-time teaching: happy-go-lucky

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: it’s not THAT easy.

Professor you most admire and why: my 3-year old daughter, who is in the stage of asking “why” all the time, which is a powerful induction-based teaching method.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Getting to know everyone’s story and including it in my class. With 40 different nationalities in the MBA program that makes for quite a diverse set of classes.

What is most challenging?

Satisfying all students’ wishes when they’re often conflicting.

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

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

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


What are your hobbies?

Photography, watchmaking, family time

How will you spend your summer?

Attending academic conferences, exciting…

Favorite place(s) to vacation: a small village in Italy called Terelle, the birth place of my grandparents

Favorite book(s): I am currently reading the book “The Class ceiling: Why it pays to be privileged” by Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison.

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

Right now, I am watching the TV series Mr. Robot; it’s rich, with thoughts about alienation, social control, revolution, chaos, etc.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: I don’t have any favorite type of music. I’m very eclectic.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… A core course on social inequality and how to fight it.

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

Beyond race and gender, diversity and inclusion policies in organizations should include social background and fight against class-based biases.

Faculty and administrators say:

“Lionel Paolella’s opposition to unfairness and exclusion in organizations, whether they be rooted in gender, race or class, should be an example to everyone teaching in a business school. Deeply principled and articulate, he has an enviable ability to convey his ideas with clarity, flair and humour, whatever the level of experience of his audience. And his burgeoning research, especially on the topics of categorization and social evaluations, is already at the cutting edge of the field.” – Professor Jochen Runde, Professor of Economics & Organization and Director of Faculty, Cambridge Judge Business School

“Lionel works hard to create an impressive rapport with students on the MBA programme, using enthusiasm for his subject area, his in-depth applicable knowledge, and humour to guide and manage the dynamics of each of the streams.  Our students come from very diverse backgrounds and it can be challenging to engage with all of the students all of the time, however, Lionel does this well and his course is genuinely appreciated by students, their feelings being beautifully summed up by this comment from a recent student: ‘Lionel is terrific: funny, engaging, knowledgeable, aware, and has great style. He presented strategy in a clear and cohesive way and is an expert at case analysis.’” – Amy Kennedy-George, Head of MBA Programme at Cambridge Judge Business School


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