2020 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Fabio B. Gaertner, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Fabio Gaertner of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a Best 40 Under 40 MBA Professor

Fabio is dope.

With a nomination like that, how could we leave the University of Wisconsin School of Business’s Fabio Gaertner off this year’s Best 40 Under 40 Professors list? In all seriousness, we couldn’t leave the 37-year-old associate professor off this year’s list because of his robust research (400 Google Scholar citations) and immense support (more than 100 nominations). But to be sure, Gaertner claims the majority of our favorite and most colorful nominations.

“Fabio Gaertner is an associate professor and the Cynthia and Jay Ihlenfeld Professor for Inspired Learning in Business,” another nominator said. “He does the impossible. He makes financial accounting fun for first-year students at WSB. He also manages to make the concepts easy to understand even for students with no business background in only a few short weeks. Don’t like debits and credits? That’s fine because in his class we don’t use them.”

Gaertner also doesn’t use tests anymore. Instead, Gaertner says, he holds “periodic Celebrations of Learning,” which he says are very well attended. “Students have fun (fun!) answering a series of questions using material we’ve covered in class, and afterward my TA and I grade their responses,” Gaertner says. “They sound a lot like exams, but there’s also cake with celebratory pipping!”

Outside of the classroom, Gaertner says he likes to travel and eat dessert, “especially when they happen together.” He also started taking piano lessons when he got tenure status. And? “My wife and children love to ski and live for the first snowfall,” Gaertner says. “I guess you could call it my hobby because, for someone who’s afraid of heights and hates being cold, I ski a lot.”

Fabio B. Gaertner

Associate Professor

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Current age: 37

At current institution since what year? 2013

Education: Ph.D. (Accounting), University of Arizona; MAcc, Brigham Young University; B.S. (Accounting), Brigham Young University

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Financial Reporting for MBAs (Fulltime, Executive, and Evening)

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… One of my undergraduate accounting professors (Kay Stice) stood up in a large class meeting and suggested we consider academia and I thought, “Ok.”

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

Recently, I’ve been studying tax reform, with a particular focus on analyzing the winners and losers of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). In a recent paper, my co-authors and I find evidence confirming that while the TCJA advances a nationalist political agenda, it also failed to reduce the tax burden of U.S. firms abroad.

If I weren’t a business school professor: I’m Brazilian, so obviously I’d be a professional soccer player.

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

I recently got rid of exams. Instead, I now hold periodic “Celebrations of Learning.” They’re very well attended. Students have fun (fun!) answering a series of questions using material we’ve covered in class, and afterwards my TA and I grade their responses. They sound a lot like exams, but there’s also cake with celebratory pipping! 

One word that describes my first time teaching: Tearful. When I was newly married and still in my Ph.D. program, my wife asked me for help with her accounting homework and by the end of the night she was crying. I realized I had a lot to learn about teaching. And marriage.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That students are very forgiving. It’s easy to obsess about making mistakes, and I make plenty. But I’ve learned that when I acknowledge my errors, sincerely apologize, and try my best to make things right, students are usually quick to forgive.

Professor I most admire and why: There are so many professors I’m indebted to and admire, but the first professor to make a deep impression in my life was Monte Swain. Monte helped me see that accounting is more than numbers on a page—that it represents what is actually going on in an organization. At one point in class we were working out a problem requiring a cost allocation for support services like janitorial and administrative activities. Seeing that we weren’t really thinking about the problem, Monte asked “What is support?” When nobody answered, he ran up to the garbage bin and kicked it into the air. He pointed to the garbage all over the classroom and yelled “That’s support! I’m not picking that up!” He taught in a way that made abstract accounting concepts concrete. (Monte is also a kind and generous person, which is why as soon as class was over he picked up all of the garbage from the floor.)

STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

I really enjoy teaching students who have professional experience. They appreciate the relevance of the topics we’re covering that might seem boring or abstract without professional context, and they make creative connections with the material by drawing on their practical experience.

What is most challenging?

Teaching a technical class like Accounting in a graduate program with a vast spread of familiarity with the subject. Some of my students have been Chief Accounting Officers; others professional musicians. Developing course material, evaluations, and class discussions that will be engaging and relevant to both sets of students–and everyone in between–is by far the most challenging aspect of teaching MBA students. Of course, as is often the case, the most challenging part of the job is also the most rewarding.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Open-minded

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Short-sighted

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Not a monster

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies?

My wife and children love to ski and live for the first snowfall. I guess you could call it my hobby because for someone who’s afraid of heights and hates being cold, I ski a lot. I like to travel and eat dessert, especially when they happen together. I also took up piano lessons when I got tenure, and I’ve really enjoyed that.

How will you spend your summer? Social distancing. Get away from me!

Favorite place(s) to vacation:

Sri Lanka. The beaches were quiet, the ocean was warm, and the wildlife was unlike anything we’ve seen anywhere else. At one point a leopard considered eating my toddler, and I still had a great time. If you ever have the chance to go there—take it!

Favorite book(s): The Happiness Hypothesis. The notion that baseline happiness is so much more subject to internal conditions than external left a huge impression on my young adult self—and I still think about it all the time.

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

I love Chopped. It combines so many things I love: lack of structure, suspense, Alex Guarnaschelli, fabricated drama, and cheese. I can watch the same episodes again and again. Also, I don’t know of any time I’ve laughed harder in the past decade than watching Nate Bargatze’s Netflix special “Tennesse Kid.” Look it up.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?

According to Spotify analytics, 62% of all I listen to is Rock, despite their offering over 1,500 genres. “We can’t seem to find any chill music in your recent streaming history. What’s it like living at a 10?” I ask myself that every morning as I drive my hybrid past dairy farms to teach Financial Reporting. 

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Accessibility. We’ve accelerated our ability to deliver content to students outside of campus in response to Covid-19, but we still have a way to go.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Establishing expectations and communicating performance around social responsibility.

I’m grateful for… My wife and two boys. When I was interviewing at UW Madison, the Department Head, Terry Warfield, said, “In the end, we’re all going to work to support our lives (in your case your family). It’s not the other way around.” And he’s right. I love being a Business School Professor, but my family is what it’s really about and I’m so fortunate to have them.

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say: 

“Fabio was my Financial Accounting professor during my first semester as an MBA Student. Even though I had limited education regarding accounting prior to taking his course, he was able to truly cater to individuals of all levels. He created a positive learning environment for all students and pushed us to be our best and continue to grow and learn. It was a joy to be in his class and I feel that I gained a lot from both his methods of teaching and how he was as a professor in general.”

“Professor Gaertner is one of the up and coming scholars in business. Since earning his PhD in 2011, he has published 9 articles in top business and economics journals (4 since earning tenure in 2018). He is one of our top teachers in leading accounting courses in our MBA, Executive MBA, undergraduate, and masters programs (with glowing student evaluations). He has been a great contributor to our MBA curriculum re-design and very engaged in co-curricular programs.”

“I would say our EMBA class of 2021 is extremely thankful for Fabio’s teaching style as he was able to take the concepts of financial accounting and make it a productive learning experience for those in the class with no financial experience as well as make it an engaging learning experience for those in the class that have an established career in the accounting field. The class of 2022 had nothing but the best to say about Fabio so going into the class we had high expectations and he certainly exceeded our expectations teaching about the language of business, Accounting. He made the celebrations (exams) more fun/bearable by having cake at each one. I would highly recommend anyone to take a class taught by Fabio.”

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE 2020 LIST OF THE WORLD’S BEST 40-UNDER-40 BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSORS

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