Andrea Caralis didn’t need to take Global Economics as a first-year MBA. For eight years, she’d worked in PNC Bank’s Capital Markets division, eventually serving as the firm’s Director of Foreign Exchange. Had Caralis opted to test out, however, she never would’ve met Laurence Ales. An associate professor at the Tepper School, Ales possesses the rarest of talents: a penchant for making the familiar new again.
“Professor Ales approached every class with excitement and passion,” Caralis observed. “In return, he showed my classmates how COOL global markets were! He helped us tackle difficult topics like subsidies, taxes, and key interest rates, and allowed for healthy debates about policy decisions. Overall, his class was interactive, provocative, educational, and always enjoyable.”
MANY PATHS TO TEACHING GREATNESS
Caralis wasn’t the only member of the Tepper Class of 2019 singing Ales’ praises. Opposite Caralis, you’ll find Alexandra Gerson, a chemical engineer by trade, who was “intimidated” by the complexity of global economics. Despite this, Ales was able to reach Gerson too, preparing beginner and expert alike to think critically and break down complex issues.
“I have never seen a professor captivate and engage a class (especially at 8:30 a.m.) the way Ales does,” Gerson asserts. “On the last day of his class we were truly sad it was over!”
Gerson and Caralis are just two members of Poets&Quants’ Best & Brightest MBAs who paid homage to their favorite faculty members this spring. Each year, P&Q asks the top second-years from over 70 elite business schools to share their favorite professors – and what made him or her so special. Some act as a voice of reason, who instill a sense of caution, courage, or cheer that echoes across their students’ careers. Others sketch out the big picture, inspiring them with tales of reward and redemption. In some classrooms, the best faculty are charismatic chameleons whose insights provoke reflection and revision (along with cramped hands and swollen minds). In others, they are the champions who are always available to tutor and support their protégés.
TOUGH LOVE WINS BACKERS
There is no set formula for being a great business school professor. Their ranks range from researchers to entertainers to facilitators. Some are old-school professors like INSEAD’s David Young. According to Constantinos Linos, Young is known for his “no-BS approach,” not to mention his “penchant for cold-calling and a soul-piercing stare that holds all of his students to account.” At Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, Craig Garthwaite carries a similar “tough” tag. However, Garthwaite’s reputation is simply an extension of his high expectations for himself to his students.
“He gave 100% in class and often expected us to do the same,” observes Allison Howard, who’ll be joining McKinsey after graduation. “He vehemently cared about his students, always knew our backgrounds when it was pertinent to class discussion and always pushed back for us to defend our position. He was committed to making us analyze the topic in a deeper sense, and I believe that some of the debates we had in class were some of the most stimulating conversations I’ve had in business school.”
Others take a softer approach. Wharton’s Dr. Exequiel (Zeke) Hernandez is a case in point, says Medora Brown. A Global and Corporate Strategy teacher, Hernandez earned Wharton’s “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty” Award in 2018. One reason is that he shares helpful advice that goes well beyond the traditional classroom fare. “He starts every class with “Zeke-rets,” little nuggets of wisdom that he wishes someone had told him when he was in our shoes,” Brown shares. “For example, he offered places to explore in and around Philadelphia, reminded us to be grateful to our parents, and made sure we knew it was never too early (or too late) to make the world a better place.”
TRUE TALENT: MAKING A POET ENJOY FINANCE
At McGill, Professor Sujata Madan is described as a “shining light” by Tegan Boaler – the kind of professor, she says, who “always had a kind word or a hug ready when it was most needed.” That softer approach was quickly evident with Michigan State’s Dr. Charlie Hadlock as well. There, he taught Claire Battafarano, whose switch from advertising-to-HR made Hadlock’s finance class more of a requirement than a passion. Despite this, Battafarano gained far more from the class than expected…and a big part of that can be attributed to Hadlock’s effort.
“I’ve never experienced such passion and consistent energy around NPV, dividends, and valuing stock during an 8 a.m. class,” she writes. “Outside of class, Dr. Hadlock was more than willing to explain and re-explain (AND re-explain) practice problems and homework problems to ensure his students understood. I won’t say that I absolutely love finance, but Dr. Hadlock not only made it tolerable but fun.”
Make no mistake: many business school faculty rank among the best-of-the-best in their fields. At Penn State, for example, Professor Dan Givoly teaches Financial Accounting. His claim to fame before academia? He served as the Chairman of Israel’s Financial Standards Accounting Board. Similarly, Keith Hennessey arrived at Stanford GSB after 14 years in the public sector, including a stint as the Director of the White House National Economic Council under George W. Bush. However, his imposing resume pales in comparison to the effort he makes in preparing for classes and helping students, says Valerie Shen.
“Keith stimulates thoughtful debate on the thorniest issues, brings in his fascinating past experiences, and puts countless hours into constantly improving his courses based on student feedback. He is also a powerful mentor and advocate, has reinvigorated my desire to be involved in politics, and has been incredibly helpful at teaching me how to navigate the process.”
‘THE HARDEST-WORKING MAN IN ACADEMIA’
In other words, the top MBA professors often separate themselves by their profound commitment to their students. You could say that about Babson College’s Jerome Taillard, dubbed “the hard-working man in graduate business academia” by Best & Brightest David Lefkowitz. “I’ve never seen anyone throw themselves at their job like him,” Lefkowitz claims. “He’s known for answering emails from frantic students 24/7, not giving up on anyone who puts in a respectable effort, and for feeding the interest of his students with content that’s relevant to them. Had it not been for Jerome I’d still have finance phobia and be losing sleep over the dreaded #REF!”
When it comes to relentless commitment, Taillard might get a run for his money from Ken Wiles, a fellow finance professor from the University of Texas’ McCombs School. While his classes connect students to the real world says Manasa Murthy, his real talent is helping them with “navigating” their careers and lives.
“Professor Wiles hosted events and speakers outside of class so students could learn more about private equity,” notes Murthy, who ultimately chose to remain in healthcare. “Additionally, his extra efforts to make all students (especially those without finance backgrounds) feel empowered to learn in his class is something that I really appreciated.”
A NOBEL PRIZE WINNER WHO SHINES IN THE CLASSROOM
Some faculty members have even taken on mythical proportions. Exhibit A: The Booth School of Business’ Eugene Fama. According to Alexander Daifotis, Fama “embodies the spirit of the University of Chicago: Foundations + Frameworks + Data = Chicago Economics.” However, Fama doesn’t just win plaudits from students for being a Nobel Prize winner who is considered among the ten most influential economists of all-time. Instead, it is Fama’s teaching prowess that wows them.
“Gene can guide you through a labyrinth of financial theory, synthesize what that theory would imply about how our world works and create useful frameworks based on those conclusions, and then come up with simple but clever tests to see if our intuitions matched reality,” observes Daifotis. “It’s rare to find a person with the research pedigree Gene has who is also an excellent instructor.”
What do the Best & Brightest MBAs consider to be hallmarks of a great teacher? For one, says Dartmouth Tuck’s Kayla Lorraine Demers, they don’t stop teaching – even after grades are have been posted. Ing Haw-Cheng, a 2018 P&Q Best 40 Under 40 Professor, for example, will still send emails to his previous classes with “market news, industry updates, and tax updates” to reinforce what they learned the previous year. Across the country at U.C.-Irvine, Joy Mina got far more than she bargained for in a Driving Profitability course led by Devin Shanthikumar, a 2019 P&Q Best 40 Under 40 Professor. More than accounting, Mina says, the course often dived into larger issues involving areas like corporate strategy and organizational structure. Plus, Shanthikumar’s teachings revealed just how fundamental that cost accounting was to everyday operations.
“I learned from Professor Shanthikumar not only the importance of looking at the numbers, but also how critical it was to build and maintain the right systems for your business,” Mina adds. “She instilled in us the importance of critical thinking and implementing solutions that were right for each company instead of relying on industry norms alone.”