It took about a year for Exequiel (Zeke) Hernandez to figure out that a career in accountancy at IBM wasn’t his path. Fresh out of undergrad with a joint bachelor’s and master’s in accounting, Hernandez ditched the accounting path to start his Ph.D. in strategic management and organization at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Since graduating in 2011, Hernandez has been a professor at Washington University’s Olin Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he is currently the Max and Bernice Garchik Family presidential assistant professor.
“I was unhappy with the day-to-day work and not excited about the career path ahead,” the 39-year-old says about his previous position at IBM. “My wife could tell I was unhappy, too. That led to some deep conversations with her and a realization that life is too short and valuable to do something just for the money. I decided to pursue something I was truly passionate about and that offered the prospect of making a difference in others’ lives.”
Hernandez is one of 40 outstanding young professors to make this year’s Poets&Quants Best 40 Under 40 Professors list. While the 2019 class is our seventh version, our mission has remained consistent over the years: to identify the world’s best young business school professors in terms of research prowess, teaching chops, and impact they have on current students, former students, colleagues, business education research, and society and the world in general.
“I always loved teaching, even from a young age,” Hernandez says. “And I had learned about being a business professor from my own college professors. The school I went to had a formal program to explore an academic career, where we read research, helped professors conduct it, and took research methods classes. I knew quite well what the career entailed, and when I became disenchanted with my corporate job I just knew that I was ready to get a Ph.D. and become a professor.”
RECORD-SETTING NUMBERS OF NOMINATIONS AND QUALIFIED PROFESSORS
While some profs on our list took less direct paths to become professors, others, like our youngest on the list, took a much more linear path. When Andy Wu began his freshman year of teaching in 2016, almost all of his full-time MBA students were older than him.
“Even though I dreamed about being a professor for years, I did not expect how terrified I was going to be the first time I walked into my own classroom as a professor,” says Wu, a 28-year-old assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “Harvard originally hired me as a professor when I was 25 years old, so when I started teaching, I was younger than the vast majority of my MBA students. I was pleasantly surprised when the HBS students turned out to be very supportive and encouraging of young faculty. I had a similar experience later teaching my first executive education class when I was 27 years old, where participants were 45 to 65 and all CEOs or presidents.”
Despite more than a decade’s age difference, both Wu and Hernandez exemplify what P&Q sets out to measure and award each year. This year’s list was the most competitive in the seven years we’ve been searching for the world’s best young B-school profs, as the volume of nominations and qualified professors shattered last year’s record-setting numbers. We received 2,643 nominations this year compared to just under 800 last year. While we received nominations for 91 different professors last year, this year’s number surged to 188.
All nominations are divided among our editorial staff and professors are broadly scored on a one-to-ten scale in two categories — teaching and research. Teaching is given a 70% weight while research is given a 30% weight. Teaching is judged on the number of nominations as well as the thoughtfulness of the nominations. Even if a prof was given a large number of nominations, if there was no substance behind the nominations, they weren’t scored as highly. We then look at teaching awards received, again with emphasis being placed on awards given by MBA graduating classes.
For research, we first looked at the volume of published academic articles and Google Scholar citations for those articles. Profs making this year’s list had hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Google Scholar citations each. We also took into account mainstream media appearances based on the research, as well as awards and grants. After an initial top 50 or 60 profs were rated, the entire editorial staff reviews and double-checks the list before it is approved. It is possible for schools to have multiple professors make the list, and this year we had four schools do just that: Wharton, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business.