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2019 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Vanessa Burbano, Columbia Business School

Vanessa Burbano

Assistant Professor of Management

Columbia Business School

Vanessa Burbano is an award-winning management professor at the Columbia Business School. Since 2016, she has taught the core strategy course for full-time MBAs at Columbia. Her extensive research, which has garnered more than 750 Google Scholar citations focuses on corporate social responsibility and the impact it has on employee motivation and behavior.

“Professor Burbano did a great job of distilling concepts in her strategy formulation class to the core takeaways,” Julian Richardson, a first-year MBA said. “In the MBA environment where we are constantly bombarded with information in and out of the classroom, I found this very helpful. Professor Burbano was very self-aware of her teaching style and how she managed the classroom discussion. She made sure to include shy students in the discussion and call on students with experience in the field, making the in-class discourse dynamic and engaging.”

In her spare time, Burbano says she likes to spend time with her two young children, salsa dance, and practice yoga.

Current Age: 38

At current institution since what year? 2015


  • Ph.D. in Management (Strategy concentration), UCLA Anderson
  • M.A. in Economics, UCLA
  • M.A. in Public Affairs, Princeton Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
  • M.A. in International Development, Universidad Complutense
  • B.A. in Economics and International Relations, University of Pennsylvania

List of current MBA courses you currently teach: Strategy Formulation (the core MBA strategy course)


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I worked in the professions that I now research and teach (strategy & corporate social responsibility) and discovered that I wanted to dig deeper. Both research and teaching at CBS has enabled me to do this.

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

I am currently researching how companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) and companies’ taking stances on socio-political issues influence employee motivation and behavior. To address challenges of establishing causality in these relationships, I often turn to randomized field experiments in different settings. In one current project using a field experimental methodology implemented on online labor marketplaces, I find a strong demotivating effect on employees when companies take a stance on a socio-political issue with which employees disagree. This points to the importance of understanding employees’ opinions on socio-political issues before CEO’s or corporations issue statements regarding the issues.

In another randomized experimental study implemented on an online labor marketplace, my co-author Bennett Chiles and I find causal evidence that CSR decreases employees’ propensity to cheat on the job. In a field experimental study implemented on a job seeker platform, my co-author Mabel Abraham and I find that companies making CSR claims experience higher applicant rates from job seekers compared to companies not making CSR claims when the company’s founders are female, but lower applicant rates when the company’s founders are male.

Using a field experiment implemented in a Latin American bank, my co-author Florencio Portocarrero and I find that incoming employees who were randomly assigned to participate in a corporate social initiative report a higher sense of identification with and pride in working with their employer, lower levels of stress on the job, and a lower likelihood of leaving the company, and were also more likely to volunteer with the bank’s CSR programs the following year compared to those who were randomly assigned not to participate in the initiative.  Taken together, this set of current projects points to the importance of unpacking the contingencies under which companies do and do not benefit from CSR and CEO activism, examines causal relationships in a topic area where it has traditionally been difficult to do so, and helps to shed light on the mechanisms through which CSR-related activities can influence the bottom line through human capital.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I would consult and advise firms on corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship. Or be a yoga instructor.

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

I am truly interested in, and care about, the struggles, hopes, and achievements of my students. I try to be accessible and act as a resource to students not only in the classroom, but outside of the classroom.

One word that describes my first-time teaching: Exciting

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Invest in a comfortable pair of heels! Standing in front of the classroom all day is physically tiring in a way that surprised me.

Professor you most admire and why: Marvin Lieberman, my Ph.D. advisor, for being an amazing scholar while simultaneously being humble and a caring, good person.  This combination of qualities is not always so easy to find.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

I love that our students come from such diverse professional backgrounds and personal experiences. It makes case-based teaching so interesting and enjoyable. I think that the most fun (and challenging) part of teaching is working to facilitate a classroom environment that enables the students to learn from each other, not just from the instructor, and which ensures that all students feel comfortable contributing.

What is most challenging?

Grading on a forced curve.

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

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

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


What are your hobbies?

I love spending time with my two kids, who are still at that age where they love nothing more than to spend time with mom (they are currently ages three and six). I also really enjoy salsa dancing (back in the day I used to choreograph as well as dance), yoga, and good food.

How will you spend your summer? 

I’ll spend much of it here in NYC, and likely some time in Ecuador.

Favorite place(s) to vacation:

The beach! Sand, sun, and waves = recharge.

Favorite book(s): Is it strange that the first answer that came to mind was “Goodnight Moon”? And that all subsequent books that came to mind were also children’s books? #workingmom

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. What’s not to like?

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Salsa music! Anytime I hear a Marc Anthony song it makes me smile. And dance a little.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… A faculty composition that represents the diversity in our student body.

Easily accessible healthy food options on campus, as well as a meditation room (let’s nourish the bodies and souls, not just the minds, of the future business leaders of the world!)

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

In both my research, as well as in my conversations with current and former MBA students, I have observed a shift in what prospective employees look for and what current employees value in their jobs. A sense of impact and of meaningfulness at work is becoming increasingly important to attract, motivate, and retain employees. I think that the companies and organizations that succeed in providing this sense of meaningfulness and impact to their employees will have a competitive edge.

Students say:

“Professor Burbano takes the time to understand the backgrounds and perspectives of her students to create an engaging, thought-provoking classroom experience through the case method.” – Seth Goodman, Class of 2019

“Professor Burbano did a great job of distilling concepts in her strategy formulation class to the core takeaways. In the MBA environment where we are constantly bombarded with information in and out of the classroom, I found this very helpful. Professor Burbano was very self-aware of her teaching style and how she managed the classroom discussion — She made sure to include shy students in the discussion and call on students with experience in the field, making the in-class discourse dynamic and engaging.” – Julian Richardson, Class of 2020