Gah-Yi Ban is a true child of the globe. Born in Korea, Ban moved to Australia with her family when her father got a job there. She spent five years in Berkeley, California, earning her master’s degree and Ph.D. And now, Ban is an assistant professor of Management Science and Operations at London Business School. All told, she has officially lived on four different continents. An expert in Operations Research, the 35-year-old is one of the most read researchers in the field. Ban is also a leading researcher and thinker in the burgeoning field of business analytics and decision making with complex and uncertain data. Besides her expertise in growing and important fields, Ban was chosen to this year’s list because of the “infectious passion” she brings to teaching, which was mentioned more than once in her nominations.
“Gah-Yi Ban is a teaching faculty of the EMBA Global Asia Programme, a partnership between Columbia Business School, Hong Kong University, and the London Business School. I have worked with Gah-Yi for the past 2 years and she has been a great ambassador of the EMBA Global Asia program. She is highly regarded amongst students and has received excellent feedback on the quality of teaching and her ability to teach complex quantitative processes in a way that is engaging and accessible to all. She is also highly regarded in her field of expertise and her work has featured in top academic journals. She is a reputable faculty member at the school and has previously been invited to speak at TEDxLBS. Gah-Yi Ban has not only been integral to the learning journey of our EMBA Global Asia students but in 2018 she was also honored with the MIM Best Teacher Award.”
Outside of the classroom, Ban says running and high-intensity boot camps are her hobbies of choice. She’s recently completed an Olympic distance triathlon and an obstacle race that featured 13 miles and 150 features to navigate.
Assistant Professor of Management Science & Operations
Current age: 35
At current institution since what year? 2012
Education: Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering & Operations Research (UC Berkeley), Master of Arts in Statistics (UC Berkeley) and Bachelor of Science with Honors (University of Sydney)
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Decision Models
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I always enjoyed thinking deeply and solving quantitative problems. When I found out you can do that as a professor in a business school, while having the privilege of sharing your findings with future business leaders, I never looked back.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
In my research, I study automatable, data-driven decisions that arise in business settings- e.g., pricing, procurement and inventory management – and develop machine learning algorithms for them that have provable performance guarantees.
In one recent paper, forthcoming in Management Science, my co-author Prof. Bora Keskin (Duke) and I developed a machine-learning algorithm to allow for personalized dynamic pricing at the individual customer level. Such an algorithm would allow for retailers to send out the perfect, personalized discount coupons to its customers, or for banks to charge personalized interest rates for loans. One of the main practical findings of the paper is that personalized pricing at the individual customer level can generate significantly higher revenue than segmentation-based pricing, which is the current best practice.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I would be running an AI business.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
Enthusiasm and energy.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Naive
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: When I was a rookie, I was told teaching is the worst part of being a business school professor because management students are so demanding. I could not disagree more- teaching is the most gratifying aspect of the job because your efforts and insights are immediately rewarded by grateful students, who then go on to put your teaching into practice. In contrast, research can take many years to reach fruition. So, I would actually advise junior colleagues to consider teaching as an opportunity for satisfaction and motivation, rather than a burden on research time.
Professor I most admire and why: I would like to give a big shout-out to some amazing women in my field who have paved the way as accomplished academics and have been so supportive of my career. This is by no means a complete list, but special thanks to Professors Kamalini Ramdas, Georgia Perakis, Tava Olsen, Wedad Elmaghraby, Beril Toktay, Cynthia Rudin, Jeannette Song.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
Drawing on from the vast knowledge and experience a diverse group of students can bring. This means no two classes are ever the same, even when teaching a classic case study.
What is most challenging?
8 a.m. classes. I’m not a morning person!
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Absent
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
Running and high-intensity boot camps are my staple activities, and I try to challenge myself every year with a new goal. E.g., last year I completed my first Olympic-distance triathlon (1.5km lake swim, 36km cycling, and 10km run), and before that, I’ve done a 13 mile, 150 obstacle race.
How will you spend your summer?
I was planning to go to a fitness holiday in Bali, but it is now canceled due to COVID-19. Not to despair though- I plan on organizing photos from all my other travels, which I am so blessed to have in the first place.
Favorite place(s) to vacation:
South America. So far, I’ve been to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador (the Galapagos), but it’s such a vast continent and there’s so much more to see.
The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, written long before “mindfulness” became a downloadable app.
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 Lucy Worsley’s historical documentaries on the BBC. They are a delight to watch- a great mix of educational facts and entertainment. I particularly like how Lucy presents opposing perspectives on historical events with witty humor.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
Classical cello music. I’ve been hooked since a friend in college introduced me to the wonderfully deep and evocative sound of the cello.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…
Robust diversity and inclusion policies that are actually practiced, rather than token policies combined with over-representation of minority faces in a school’s marketing material. This is important as meritocracy can be abused without robust measures in place.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Using data and risk analytics, together with common sense, for effective decision-making.
I’m grateful for… Living the life of the mind- engaging with ideas, discoveries, and people from all over the world.
“Professor Gah-Yi Ban – Amazing professor, great interaction, always smiling and carefully explaining every concept (and always full of energy considering that we had an 8 am). Very knowledgeable and always kind enough to take time and explain any misunderstanding – the small games she thought of to put our decision-making skills to test were very interactive and mentally provocative, which was very fun. I appreciate that she also took the time to present us with some recommended readings and talks we could make use of if we are interested in the subject. Again, amazing professor, pretty sad that we only got her for 5 sessions!”
“She was very clear in her explanation, very structured, great sense of humor, great interaction with students. She rocks!”
“Professor Ban was very knowledgeable and engaging in her teaching method. She was patient but also demanded high-level discussions and engagements from the class. Her delivery method was clear and she attended to each concept with much detail and managed to capture the attention of the class. She is intense and delivers a high level of knowledge, but also gave each student an opportunity in the class and after class.”
“She is very good at explaining complex concepts in very clear language and keeping students interested and engaged.”
“Professor Gah-Yi Ban has great knowledge of the subject and her style of teaching was very interesting. She kept us engaged in class. I knew very little about Decision Models but she was patient and explained concepts which I didn’t understand. When we did our exercises in the lab, she availed herself so we could ask questions. I appreciated how the professor spent some time to tell us about research she’s doing or what she worked on in the past. It gave me a perspective of when and how some of the concepts she was teaching us could be applied. She told us about how she did research on how global fashion brand Zara decides on sourcing stock for its retail stores. We are also covering Zara in Operations Management and I learnt about it in Managerial Economics in Term 1 so her research was quite intriguing.”