Research and teaching are the two areas we evaluate when sifting through thousands of nominations to compile our Best 40 Under 40 Professors list each year. Arizona State University’s Ned Wellman excels in both categories. With thousands of Google Scholar citations, and dozens of nominations singing his praises, the 37-year-old assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the W. P. Carey School of Business rose to the top of this year’s list. Wellman’s Negotiations class, which he teaches to full-time and evening MBA students has been a particular hit among the MBAs at the Carey School. But, perhaps more importantly, Wellman is more than a teacher and is an advocate, according to at least one nominator.
“Prof. Wellman is an advocate for his students in every sense,” the nominator said. “In his Negotiations course, he runs a class structured around active learning and experience. We navigated many different types of negotiation scenarios to prepare us for as many real situations we may experience as possible. As I was working on starting a small business for my summer internship, the most difficult negotiation I encountered was a virtual mirror of a case we studied in class. Having prior experience in this situation made it possible for me to remain calm, stay focused on my goals and reservation points, and ultimately complete the negotiation successfully. Prof. Wellman was also available throughout the summer to offer advice and support. When I later received a job offer, Prof. Wellman took the time to review my offer with me and suggested strategies for negotiating my terms. Prof. Wellman is invested in our success and is dedicated to ensuring that we have a meaningful and impactful MBA experience.”
Outside of the classroom, Wellman spends a lot of time with his family. An avid basketball player and fan, Wellman says he plans on spending a fair amount of his time this summer in what he calls “Daddy Basketball Camp” with his three young kids.
Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship
Current age: 37
At current institution since what year? 2013
Education: B. A. in Psychology and minor in Business Administration (Summa cum Laude) in 2005 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Ph.D. in Management and Organizations from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
List of MBA courses you currently teach: MGT 530: Negotiations (I teach in both the full-time and Evening MBA programs). Starting in the Fall of 2020, I will also be teaching Leadership Development to the full-time MBA students and taking over as faculty director of our executive mentoring program for the full-time MBAs.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was working as a consultant and realized that businesses could benefit from understanding and applying insights from psychology and other social sciences. Around the same time, I also realized I wanted to be my own boss.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
I study leadership. One project of mine that I am very excited about looks how formal leadership roles are distributed in teams. The traditional assumption is that it is most effective for teams to use pyramid-shaped formal leadership structures, with one or a few leaders and everyone else having lower levels of authority. My coauthors and I found that these structures are only effective when team members can easily assess one another’s preferences about how to proceed on their tasks (for instance, when the team works on a stable, repetitive task). When work is more varied and ambiguous, a pyramid is actually one of the least effective ways to structure formal leadership, and other approaches (for instance, an inverse-pyramid shaped leadership structure) seem to be more effective. I conducted this research with some colleagues at ASU and it is currently in press at Academy of Management Journal. I think our work has important implications for how the members of organizations think about assigning people to leadership positions.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I would either be in a band or running my own business – probably one related to sustainability.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
I hope my students would say that I care about them, that I am enthusiastic about the subjects that I teach, and that I do a good job of engaging them and giving them hands-on learning opportunities.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Nervous! I was teaching Organizational Behavior at Michigan as a Ph.D. student. I was holding a remote clicker and I got so excited about a point I was making that I accidentally flung it across the room. I still get energized when I teach, but now I experience that energy more as excitement than anxiety.
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: The flexibility can be a double-edged sword. When I was working as a consultant it bothered me that I couldn’t control my own schedule. But I never thought about work much when I was not in the office, and I didn’t feel guilty for not working nights and weekends. Now that I am a professor, I have much more control over my schedule. But I also will occasionally wake up at 3 am with a research idea running through my head and be tempted to get out of bed and start working on it. Figuring out how to set reasonable boundaries around work and avoid overworking has been a big challenge for me.
Professor I most admire and why: I have benefitted from so many amazing role models and mentors that it is very hard to choose only one. However, if I had to pick, I would go with my father, Henry Wellman. He is a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Michigan. He is an amazing researcher who has modeled how to do what you love, how to mentor doctoral students, and how to balance work and family. He was also very supportive while I was working on my dissertation.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
We have great students here at ASU. I am continually inspired by them. What I enjoy most about teaching is that I feel like I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. Our students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and I really appreciate when they share their views and experiences related to the topics we are covering in class.
What is most challenging?
At the moment my biggest challenge is figuring out how to best engage with students virtually due to the COVID pandemic. Prior to this year I had never taught online and I had to move two classes online at very short notice. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much interaction and action learning is possible teaching remotely, but there was definitely a steep learning curve for me.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Authentic.
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Checked-out.
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair but surprisingly tough! I am an easy-going guy, and students sometimes think that will translate to my grading. They don’t always realize that I also read and write papers for a living. As a result, I have a pretty sharp eye for mistakes and hold them to high standards, particularly when it comes to their written work.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
My number one hobby outside of work is hanging out with my wife and three kids. Beyond that I enjoy playing basketball (shout out to the FSBA!), playing guitar, traveling, listening to live music, reading mystery novels, doing yoga, visiting with friends, and spending time in nature.
How will you spend your summer?
I am looking forward to moving several research projects forward, preparing my new leadership classes, and spending time with my family. If the pandemic subsides, we will visit the beach in California, go camping in the Arizona mountains, and do some “staycations” at the resorts in Scottsdale. If we have to stay in, I am looking forward to more working from home, lots of swimming, and continuing to conduct “Daddy Basketball Camp” with my kids.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: Hawaii
Favorite book(s): The Great Gatsby, The Fountainhead, and The Sun Also Rises.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I am enjoying the Last Dance documentary about the 1997 Chicago Bulls that is currently airing. Michael Jordan is one of my favorite players of all time (go Tar Heels!), and his drive to succeed was incredible. We often celebrate team greatness, and this series shows the sacrifices that it takes to reach such a high level of performance. I am also fascinated by Phil Jackson’s approach to leading all the great players and strong personalities on the Bulls.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I like most types of music. Some of my current favorite artists are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, OutKast, Kendrick Lamar, Nirvana, Bon Iver, and Big Thief.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… I am going to cheat and say what I think we should have less of instead. That would be an emphasis on maximizing shareholder value as a management philosophy. To me, that way of thinking about things puts the cart before the horse. As Jack Welch once said, “Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy…. your main constituencies are your employees, your customers, and your products.” I would rather we focused on teaching business students to stay true to themselves, be leaders, work well with others, and dream big. I think we can have faith that value creation will inevitably happen if we give our very bright and talented students the support they need to do those things well.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Sustainability. I think there is a great opportunity for business leaders to figure out how to meet their goals for the present in a way that creates more rather than less opportunities in the future.
I’m grateful for… I am a lucky guy. I am very grateful for the love and support of my wife and my kids. I am doing my dream job. It’s a pretty sweet deal to be able to get up every morning and get paid to do things that in most cases I would be happy to do for free.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
“Many professors view teaching in a static way. The student shows up, the professor lectures, and the student learns. Dr. Wellman turns learning into a game. Every class is a learning lab where we spend only a little while digesting content and then immediately apply the skills we learned in a real-time simulation. Afterward, with the simulation is still fresh in our mind, we reflect and Dr. Wellman ties together our experiences with the theory he had shared earlier. Through his class, I’ve discovered that I am an absolute rubbish negotiator, but I have loved every moment of learning.” – Student
“Professor Wellman is an advocate for his students in every sense. In his Negotiations course, he runs a class structured around active learning and experience. We navigated many different types of negotiation scenarios to prepare us for as many real situations we may experience as possible. As I was working on starting a small business for my summer internship, the most difficult negotiation I encountered was a virtual mirror of a case we studied in class. Having prior experience in this situation made it possible for me to remain calm, stay focused on my goals and reservation points, and ultimately complete the negotiation successfully. Professor Wellman was also available throughout the summer to offer advice and support. When I later received a job offer, Professor Wellman took the time to review my offer with me and suggested strategies for negotiating my terms. Prof. Wellman is invested in our success and is dedicated to ensuring that we have a meaningful and impactful MBA experience.” – Student
“Ned is one of the best professors I have interacted with in my MBA. He has the ability to design practice-oriented courses that left a strong impact on my skills, career and personality. He also has the ability to understand different students and work with their strengths and weaknesses.” – Student
“In one of the most collaborative and approachable MBA programs in the U.S., Professor Wellman was one of the easiest to get build a connection with. Don’t let that think he was just genuine and personable – his course content and teaching style was effective and tangible. I can say his classes was one of the most impactful on my career moving forward. He also took his research experience and applied it to classroom discussion, helping us students to better understand new developments in management theory.” – Student