Over the past few years one of the hottest and most influential research and practice areas to come out of business schools is fintech (financial technology) and using big data and analytics for business decisions. Cornell University’s Lin William Cong has been at the forefront of that research. With a Ph.D. in finance and masters of science in statistics — both from Stanford University — it’s no wonder Cong has made such an influential impact in the burgeoning space. A prolific researcher, the 34-year-old has won dozens of research awards and grants. He’s taught at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and now Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business.
“Professor Cong is a fantastic scholar with a great passion for research and mentoring students from PhDs,” one Ph.D. student who nominated Cong said. “His initiative and proactive attitude toward advanced research and assisting other scholars to pursue their career development are remarkable. I came to know Professor Cong since his transition to Cornell, I have known his reputation and read his papers especially in the area of FinTech and Big Data, even before his arrival. His FinTech research and practical implications have extended wide and positive impacts, I have also learned from my contacts from the private sector by his meaningful contribution, for not only the U.S. and China but also larger areas of influences. He has made time available for me from his very busy schedule in providing me tremendous guidance and took me on as a mentee. He’s very kind and thoughtful in guiding me on research and career path thinking. I’m only one of the students who received very constructive support from Prof. Cong, I’ve also in contact with his other mentees that all of us sharing the same appreciation and admiration of his intelligence, kindness, and mentorship. To be noted, I am not even from the same department Prof. Cong is affiliated with, he has given various seminars on campus and other places that have enlightened many students like myself.”
For such an impressive researcher and teacher, Cong also has an impressively eclectic set of hobbies outside of the classroom. According to Cong, he enjoys staying fit by playing squash and doing CrossFit courses. He also enjoys exploring the French and Japanese languages and cultures, Chinese calligraphy, and playing guitar.
Lin William Cong
Rudd Family Professor of Management and Associate Professor of Finance
Current age: 34
At current institution since what year? 2019
Education: Ph.D. in Finance (2014), MS in Statistics (2013), Stanford University; A.M. in Physics (2009), A.B. in Math and Physics with Economics Minor and French Language Citation (2009), Harvard University.
List of MBA courses you currently teach:
NBAE 5600: Introduction to FinTech, Finnovation, & Finalytics (EMBA Elective)
NCC 5060 & NCCY 5060: Managerial Finance (MBA Finance Core)
NBA 5600: Demystifying Big Data and FinTech (MBA Elective)
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR:
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was already second year into my job as an assistant professor. It took me a while to figure out my passion in life, but there was a moment that I realized that I love my research and disseminating knowledge at business schools, regardless academic publications or career trajectory.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
- Blockchains, distributed systems, and cryptocurrency: developed the first fundamental-based pricing formula for crypto-tokens; among the first to identify collusion and manipulation issues in the crypto industry; proved blockchains can be sustainable under the rise of mining pools.
- AI and big data applications in finance: invented textual factor analysis tool that process large corpuses of texts efficiently for social science research; first to apply cutting-edge AI to portfolio management while emphasizing economic interpretability.
- Entrepreneurship: linking entrepreneurship to inequality, development, and digitization.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I would be a physicist or a quant on Wall Street or an entrepreneur.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
- For research, I follow my interests to conduct early research on topics that may not have any established framework for analysis. This means I am often moving into uncharted waters with more risk, steep learning curve, and interdisciplinary background, such as early studies in FinTech and AI in business economics, information design in finance, entrepreneurship in developing countries.
- I care about my students and mentees and often go out of the way to help. In the past 14 years, I have helped several dozen mentees to succeed in college, PhD, and job applications and to think about their life and career development carefully.
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: Business school students still care about grades and workload.
Professor I most admire and why:
Prof. Charles Lee, who brought me to faith and taught me to treat others with love and compassion, regardless of their social status, background, or achievement, because they are all God’s creations with intrinsic value.
Prof. Van Tran, who believed in me when I was doubtful and taught me to treat myself with love and compassion and to appreciate how far I have come from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background and as a first-generation immigrant.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
My students are very smart, and I learn much from their experience and expertise.
What is most challenging?
To stay true to oneself and treat others with kindness while working in a highly competitive business world and teaching arbitrage, profit maximization, strategic actions, etc., all the time.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Appreciative
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Disruptive
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair, considerate, and reasonable.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
Fitness, French and Japanese languages and culture, squash, Chinese calligraphy, guitar.
How will you spend your summer?
Teaching virtually for the first time; be with my family and loved ones (separated for too long due to the recent pandemic); get back to crossfit and sports (now that my conference/seminar talks have turned mostly online without any crazy travel schedule).
Favorite place(s) to vacation: France (Paris, Provence), Italy (Lake Como, Rome), and Japan (Kyoto, Hokkaido).
Favorite book(s): Too many, hard to pick a favorite. Moment in Peking (and other books by Lin Yutang), Le Rouge et Le Noir, Mere Christianity, Les Miserables, Interpreters of Melodies, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Tao Te Ching, Jin Yong’s Novels, etc.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
Braveheart, Inception, Les Misérables, Donnie Yen’s Martial Art movies, Tom Cruise’s action movies. They are inspiring and entertaining.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
Classical crossover and pop music with Chinese/Oriental elements because they are relaxing and melodic. Favorite artists include Claude Debussy, Norah Jones, Jacky Cheung, etc.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… AR/VR-based courses and conferences; collaboration with government research agencies and industry leaders.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Caring for the poor and underprivileged; balancing profit maximization and societal responsibilities.
I’m grateful for… God; my fiancée and our parents; all the people who support and inspire me, such as my role model and current faculty mentor, Professor Maureen O’Hara; my colleagues at Cornell; my friends and collaborators.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
Xiao Zhang, Economic Consultant at Analysis Group
“Professor Cong is a wonderful advisor. He plays an instrumental role in both my academic and professional career. Being his Ph.D. student at a top business school, I am always challenged by the greatest minds in the world, and I am encouraged by Prof. Cong to challenge them, including himself. I am constantly enlightened by the new ideas he brings up and the thing he teaches me, while inspired by his humble attitude. It is encouraging to see him being recognized with an endowed professorship at such a young age and to see him leading the effort to build the fintech initiative at Cornell and the academic community in general.”
Samuel Petruzzi, second year undergraduate at the University of Chicago studying math and economics with an interest in FinTech.
“Professor Cong has a tireless commitment to mentoring and advising students, both undergraduate and graduate. From my first days working with him, he’s offered advice on PhD applications, classwork, and research techniques with a focus on guiding students to the fields they’re passionate about. I think the most impressive thing about his work is the novelty. Prof. Cong is a recognized leader in Blockchain research and tokenomics, and is among the first business professors in FinTech to advise the most influential FinTech non-profit organizations such as the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance and government regulatory bodies.”
Sania Saleem, Currently EMBA student at Cornell, IBM’s Royalty Management and Payments Infrastructure group. Took Prof. Cong’s FinTech intro course
“I am currently enrolled in the EMBA Program at Cornell University, where I had the pleasure of taking a course on FinTech taught by Professor Cong. I was fortunate to have Professor Cong as my Professor at Cornell University. Professor Cong’s teaching style is phenomenal as it promoted our learning through interactions and several exercises in his class. His methods not only probe thinking but also helped us understand the complex concepts in a digestible way. He asks open-ended questions for inputs, which had benefits, students in the class—encouraging everyone to participate in the course regardless of their tech-savviness .or prior knowledge.
He was always reachable; not one question went unanswered. He is a leading voice in innovation; his research material shared while teaching was an eye-opener to me and helped me at my workplace. I am so grateful to have met with Professor Cong, and I hope that I could gain more knowledge from his teachings in the future.”
A former MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth who opted to remain anonymous also wrote:
“I took Professor Cong’s “Quantimental Investment” course at Chicago Booth, which turned out to be my best elective course and one of the highest-rated courses at the school for the past few years. I really appreciate how he taught us to actively manage a portfolio of investments in multiple asset classes real-time using cutting-edge technology and have us receive instructions from guest lectures including the CIO of Northwestern University Endowment, regional CEO of Dimensional Fund Advisors, vice president of CME Chicago, etc. His course offers unique insights not available elsewhere. His experience consulting for some of the biggest quant shops and cases in the cryptocurrency market also make the materials extremely relevant. “
Oliver Xie, a college graduate from the University of Chicago, currently working at AQR Capital Management, and starting Ph.D. at Stanford Graduate School of Business later this year.
“I am nominating Professor Cong for forty under forty due to his impactful research, innovation in teaching, and generous mentorship. Professor Cong researches financial innovation and the role of information in decision making–his research efforts have accumulated into an impressive portfolio of top-tier journal articles and conference presentations. He is a founder and leading researchers for the research field of FinTech. On top of being a high calibre researcher, Professor Cong demonstrates a focus on teaching students: this is demonstrated by his Quantimental Investments class, which teaches cutting edge evaluation techniques and decision-making in the corporate setting. Finally, as a former undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I’ve been blessed with his mentorship and research help. With Professor Cong as one of my reference letters, I will be attending the Stanford GSB for a Ph.D. in Finance after having worked as a researcher at AQR Capital Management.”