2020 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: James Summers, Iowa State University Ivy College of Business

James Summers of Iowa State University is a Poets&Quants Best 40 Under 40 MBA Professor

James (Jim) Summers received what was probably our favorite individual nomination out of the more than 2,000 received this year.

“He is a Professor who makes you truly think, adds a new perspective to everything and keeps the class engaged and focused on management material that is often dry and boring. (Also an all-around baller who’s hella chill 10/10 would take his class again.)”

Translation: Summers is an incredible professor and many students would take his classes over again if given the chance.

In all seriousness, Summers was an easy pick for this year’s list. An adept researcher, Summers also received nearly 50 glowing reviews from faculty, administrators, students, and alumni from Iowa State University’s Ivy College of Business.

“James ‘Jim’ Summers teaches the MGMT 502 Organizational Behavior course to our full-time and Professional MBA students. This is the first course students take in the program. His energy and enthusiasm for the subject matter and the students sets a high bar for the rest of the program,” another nominator said. “He is also one of our best informal recruiters for the programs. When prospective students meet him, they can’t help but enroll – his excitement for the MBA is quite contagious! He also works with many of the young professionals’ programs in the area to assist with leadership, teamwork, and negotiation skills — a must-have for anyone looking to progress in his career. He is one of the most giving faculty members I have ever met in my 22-year career in business higher education.”

The 39-year-old associate professor of management has many different areas of research — looking at everything from the role tattoos play in the hiring process to the role disruptions play in organizational learning and how conscientious teams perform. Outside of the classroom, Summers says he spends his time weightlifting, cooking, and exploring the world of wine.

James Summers

Max S. Wortman, Jr. Professor and Associate Professor of Management

Ivy College of Business Iowa State University

Current age: 39

At current institution since what year? 2012

Education: Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management from Florida State University; MBA Missouri State University and B.S. in Management from Missouri State University

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Organizational Behavior, Leadership & Influence, Negotiation & Conflict Resolution


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was in an undergraduate human resource management class and my professor told us that he didn’t get our exams graded because, “Friday was a beautiful day, and I wanted to go golfing”. I thought to myself that a job with that level of autonomy would be great! I then went to talk to him about the nature of the job and worked as a research and teaching assistant with that professor. Of course, as I have progressed in my career, I cannot recall taking off too many Friday’s to golf!

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

Currently, I am working a wide range of research projects ranging from the role that tattoos play in the hiring process, to personality configurations of individuals and teams and how those configurations inform speaking up, leader effectiveness, trust, and performance, to the role that disruptions play in organizational learning. One interesting finding, across four different samples, is that teams characterized as conscientious (a personality characteristic defined as dependable, responsible, organized, and achievement-oriented) actually perform poorly. This is a stark contrast to the individual level, where conscientiousness is one of the more robust predictors of job performance.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I would likely be doing management consulting.

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

I strive to provide broadly applicable knowledge that the students can immediately apply to a wide array of situations. Also, I constantly work on improving inclusive classroom dynamics where every student feels comfortable contributing the classroom discussion.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Excited

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: I received a lot of good advice along the way, so I can honestly say that I haven’t been surprised by anything. However, I was in my 20’s when I first taught MBAs, so knowing how students older than me would respond to my youthfulness was a bit nerve-racking.

Professor I most admire and why: Fortunately, I have had the privilege to be mentored by truly outstanding and caring faculty while I attended graduate school at Florida State. Both Jerry Ferris and Stephen Humphrey have gone out of their way to help me succeed, and I cannot express my gratitude enough.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Their excitement about taking what they learn and immediately applying it to real-world situations.

What is most challenging?

Given that I teach what many of the students do daily, they have a tendency to dismiss some of the topics (e.g., teamwork, leadership) as commonsense, so I have to constantly adapt, providing value and an ever-changing world.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Skeptical

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Aloof

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


What are your hobbies?

Working out (primarily weightlifting), cooking, and exploring the world of wine.

How will you spend your summer?

Working on research and getting ready for the fall semester as well as a little traveling if possible!

Favorite place(s) to vacation:

Wine country (especially Napa), Lisbon, Chania Crete and anywhere tropical with a beach.

Favorite book(s):

Mindsets by Carol Dweck, How to Win Friends and Influence people, Influence by Robert Cialdini along with most sports-related non-fiction.

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

My favorite movie is Good Will Hunting. The characters and story are so powerful. As for a TV show, The Blacklist because I like James Spader.

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

Old school hip-hop and country (old and new) because it is what I gravitated to when I was younger.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Connecting the research that professors do to the students and business community. We are part of an applied science, which means that what we do needs to be communicated and connected to the outside and vice versa.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Developing their employees. I talk to a lot of companies that complain about a lack of leadership ability throughout their ranks.

I’m grateful for… The support of my family and friends along with the great faculty and administrators at ISU.

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

“Jim is not only one of the most popular professors in our MBA programs, but also serves as the faculty director of our full-time and Professional MBA programs, is an accomplished researcher, and an all-around great colleague. Our students, alumni, and programs would not be as successful as they are without him.”

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Jim Summers since his tenure at the Iowa State University Ivy College of Business began.  He has been an integral part of both the Full Time and Professional MBA programs as a teacher (frequently voted highest ranked in classroom), as a leader of the MBA Core Faculty (currently serving as Chair), and as a friend and counselor to the students, faculty and alumni of the MBA program.  I have first hand experience with Jim in the classroom and on the MBA Executive Advisory Committee, which I helped found and formerly chaired.  Our frequent interactions have given me the highest level of respect for his classroom and leadership abilities.  In addition, Jim has provided great vision in annually redesigning his class lectures to adopt to current trends as well as providing key strategic input to all MBA course work and structure.  He is most deserving of the Poets&Quants recognition.”

“Dr. Summers was a pivotal component of my entire MBA experience.  He set the foundation for the program and his general compassion and mentorship extended beyond just his classes.  I am proud to have been one of Jim’s students and am honored to call him a friend.  I can’t think of more deserving individual for this prestigious award.  Congrats, Jim.  You deserve it!”

“Jim is an amazing professor who relates incredibly well to students. He is an exceptionally gifted communicator and has a gift of being able to explain very complex topics in ways that are easy to understand. Jim’s lectures are always exciting and engaging. He manages to draw in the class with interesting or funny stories related to the subject at hand, which causes his students to hang on his every word. Jim teaches and practices the “open mindset” and instills in his students a belief that they can accomplish anything. Jim is also known for his very strong and prolific record of research in organizational behavior.”

“Dr. Summers goes above and beyond with his MBA students. He is never too busy to work with students to help them achieve better results. Dr. Summers gave up one of his weekends to meet with me to help me review my 360 Feedback from my team and help me formulate a plan to address my deficient areas and accentuate my positive areas.”

“Dr. Jim Summers stands out to me as one of the most passionate educators and collaborators I’ve had the privilege of engaging with. Jim’s zeal for fostering knowledge is apparent both in the class room and the board room. His authentic delivery style is further amplified by his ability and commitment to reach audiences across various diverse landscapes.”


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