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2019 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Nicos Savva, London Business School

Nicos Savva

Professor of Management Science and Operations

London Business School

For the past few years, Nicos Savva has dedicated his research to understanding hospital operations. Savva marries big data and healthcare to figure out best ways in which hospitals can care for and host their patients. “Hospitals are generating troves of data which, if utilized properly, has the potential to improve the value of care,” Savva says. The results have been Savva teaching very popular electives in advanced business analytics, data mining for business intelligence, and managing healthcare. Savva also teaches the core courses of Decision Models and Managing Responsibility, also known as Algorithmic Ethics.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Nicos for the past seven years in which he taught the core data courses for MBA students,” says Wei Wells, the senior manager of the MBA program at London Business School. “Nicos is a well-respected faculty member at London Business School and well-liked by students; he is extremely helpful to the students and staff. To ensure students have the best academic experience, he often goes out of his way to support them. From the professional staff point of view, he is a joy to work with, and always has a helpful and positive attitude.”

In his spare time, Savva enjoys windsurfing, downhill skiing, and road cycling.

Current Age: 39

At current institution since what year? 2008

Education: Ph.D. (Management Science), MPhil (Financial Engineering), MA (Physics); all from Cambridge University

List of current MBA courses you currently teach:

Electives: Advanced Business Analytics, Data Mining for Business Intelligence, Managing Healthcare

Core: Decision Models, Managing Responsibly (Algorithmic Ethics)

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR:

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was studying physics and I discovered that mathematical models – not too dissimilar to the ones developed decades ago to describe the natural world – were useful in tackling important business and societal problems that had an impact on people’s lives. I haven’t looked back since!

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

I have spent the past few years working on hospital operations. I use hospital data to understand how care is organized and delivered and try to identify better ways of doing things, including smarter ways of regulating hospitals. Hospitals are generating troves of data which, if utilized properly, has the potential to improve the value of care.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I would be a scientist or a science/math teacher. 

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? That I am (sometimes painfully) aware of how little I know compared to how much there is to know.

One word that describes my first-time teaching: “stresscitement”! (I am allowed to invent my own words, no?)

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That the enormous freedom and flexibility this career offers is a blessing but can also be a curse.

Professor you most admire and why: Stefan Scholtes for his intellectual acumen, positive disposition and commitment to rigorous and relevant research.

STUDENTS:

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Student engagement. I never feel that I am teaching – I feel that I am leading a structured conversation.

What is most challenging? The 8:15 a.m. start…!

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

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: “know-it-all”.

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

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM:

What are your hobbies? Playing with my baby daughter, windsurfing, downhill ski, road-cycling, and bridge.

How will you spend your summer? In Karpathos (Greece) spending time with family, windsurfing, and wrapping up a couple of research projects.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Aglantzia (Cyprus) where I grew up; my father’s picturesque village Lefkara (Cyprus), Karpathos (Greece) where my partner’s family is from, and Trois Vallees (France) for the long ski season.

Favorite book(s): Feynman Lectures on Physics.

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? The Godfather Trilogy, for the storyline, acting, cinematography and music.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Classic Rock and Pink Floyd.

THOUGHTS OF REFLECTIONS:

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… emphasis on using business school tools and frameworks for social good.

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what? Using the data they capture to create value.

Faculty, administrators, alumni, and current students say: 

“There is a huge amount of coverage around data and specifically ways to harness and take control of them. Leaders have to make them speak a particular language to ensure a proper decision-making in a world where uncertainty is less and less tolerated. With this in mind, Nicos Savva knows exactly how to transfer skills and knowledge so that there is no need to be a mathematician to tell the storieS behind figures and numbers. His unique style associated with his passion for simplifying business puzzles make him an unforgettable professor. I really appreciated the fact that he shared his research and made connections with business cases we will all encounter, ranging from operations management, life science or finance. He is definitely a key influencer for reassessing one’s approach to data science and make them intelligible for the Board without feeling intimidated. In retrospect, his teaching has been one of the most effective in the development of my career through the confidence and vision he helped me gain.”

“I have been Prof Savva’s colleague at LBS for the last 10 years. I want to nominate him because of his commitment to helping his students develop a nuanced understanding of the use of data science and artificial intelligence on business and society. I got to experience this first-hand when I was co-teaching the LBS core MBA class on Managing Responsibly. His session on ‘Algorithmic Ethics’ was warmly received by students. The class discusses the implications of delegating decisions to automated systems, what can go wrong and how we, as individuals and society, should think about the trade-offs involved. In addition to being an impactful teacher, he was also a pleasure to work with as a colleague.”

DON’T MISS: MEET ALL OF POETS&QUANTS’ BEST 40 UNDER 40 PROFESSORS OF 2019