Energy is a contagious phenomenon. And according to his nominators, Thomas Roulet brings a lot of it to his teaching and the classroom every day. “He always came to class energized and knew how to both connect with the class and present the material in an understandable and enjoyable manner,” one nominator said of Roulet, who is a senior lecturer and the deputy director of the MBA program at the University of Cambridge’s Judge School of Business.
“He is talented in teaching MBA students about his professional area with wide knowledge and a way to involve the class. Meanwhile, he is very energetic to support the students for extracurricular activities” said another. “For instance, our team for a business competition got him as an advisor. He was always quite helpful to brush up our business idea, and we successfully got selected as a semifinalist of the competition.”
Roulet saw the promise of an academic career in an unusual place: the trading floor of an investment bank in London. It was there where he became fascinated by what he calls “the inter-personal and status dynamics of this field.” That is when he made a sharp left turn into university life, ultimately earning his Ph.D. from HEC Paris in 2014. Before landing at Judge Business School in Cambridge, he made stops at the University of Bath and King’s College London.
A winner of myriad research and teaching awards, Roulet was one of the higher-rated professors on this year’s list. With more than 550 Google Scholar citations, Roulet, 34, already has a solid research foundation beneath him. His research and work has been featured in many international publications, including The Financial Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, and others.
When not in the classroom, Roulet says he loves to cook — but rarely follows recipes. A native of the South of France, Roulet also says that’s his favorite spot to vacation and where he tries to get back to as much as possible.
Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the MBA
Current age: 34
At current institution since what year? 2018
Education: Ph.D. (HEC Paris); MPhil (SciencesPo); MSc (Audencia)
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Organizational Behavior; Leadership
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I worked on the trading floor of an investment bank in London and got fascinated by the inter-personal and status dynamics of this field – and I wanted to better understand them!
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
One thing I study is negative social evaluations – when organizations or individuals are negatively perceived. For example, I study stigma within organizations, scandals and controversies. In my forthcoming book “The Power of Being Divisive” I examine how politicians, organizations, leaders engage in controversies to attract attention, gain visibility, and sometimes benefit from the resulting polarization. I make the point that stigma can sometimes be a positive thing. I hope this pitch is intriguing enough so that the book sells more than one copy (my mom preordered one!).
If I weren’t a business school professor… Before starting my academic career, I worked in the investment banking industry. It was quite an exciting and intellectually stimulating career and I had a lot of fun doing this – so maybe I would have remained in that field! However, I don’t think I cared enough about the job to be a great banker – I used to make huge mistakes in my spreadsheets!
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
I wish it was my clever insights into the modern world of business – but what comes up most often in my teaching evaluations is my thick French accent and me over-using the f*** word (pardon my French).
One word that describes my first time teaching: Exciting! We often forget how impactful we can be as academics through our interactions with students in the classroom. It is a privilege to teach and there are no better opportunities to try to inspire others than through classroom interactions.
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:
Being a business school professor is actually a very challenging work – and I put a lot more hours in now than I used to as a banker. We have to teach, manage programmes, keep in touch with the students and mentor some of their projects, talk to the media and also produce and publish top-notch research – which is one of the most competitive thing one can imagine. This something students do not always know about, still, being research active is what makes us stand at the forefront of knowledge in our respective fields, and thus ensures students get content that will give them an edge.
Professor I most admire and why:
I have a lot of admiration for some other 40 under 40! For example, some of the Ph.D. students who graduated just before me in my programme and went onto amazing careers. For example, I have been inspired by Deborah Philippe at HEC Lausanne, who does both amazing research on social evaluations and plays a key role as Vice Rector of the University of Lausanne. Jean-Philippe Vergne’s pioneering research on stigma and piracy has also greatly inspired mine, and his research programme on cryptocurrency is fascinating. He built a research centre on this phenomenon at Ivey Business School.
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
We are lucky to have very diverse cohorts at the Judge Business School – with students coming from very different sectors, countries and backgrounds. Business students do not necessarily all come from the business sector, but business skills can be applied in a variety of contexts – that’s why we can get such great discussions in class.
What is most challenging?
Getting to know all the students well to make my teaching as relevant as possible – understanding where they come from and where they want to go. But this is also a part of my job I love!
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: open-minded
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: too serious
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Wanting to read about new ideas and be inspired – and I often do when going through my students’ essays.
LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
I love (and spend way too much time) cooking but I hate following recipes. I usually read a few for inspiration then I wing it… with more or less success.
When I’m not cooking at home, I’m having dinner in College. In Cambridge, we have the chance to benefit from a collegial university where we congregate with other colleagues from other disciplines for Harry Potter type dinners every week. Students also attend those “formal” dinners and this interdisciplinary mingling is what makes Cambridge so inspiring.
How will you spend your summer?
With COVID who knows. But we need to be sure we are ready for what is coming our way – by adapting our teaching to the context in both its content and in its format, while retaining all the benefits of being in such inspiring place as Cambridge.
Favorite place(s) to vacation:
My mother’s family was from the South of France so I love to go spend some lazy time there. But my favorite city in the world is Madrid – mainly for the food, the wine, and the people!
I love Houellebecq books (Atomized is one of my favorite) – not great to cheer you up, but certainly a nice way to read philosophy without even realizing. Houellebecq also makes a great case study for my research as he is pretty controversial.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
Because I often miss home, I love movies about Paris. And the best ones are by Christophe Honoré (e.g. Love Songs, In Paris).
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
I love French electronic music (cocorico). I never start my class without a song by the Daft Punk – just in case anybody still needs to wake up!
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… I love that we have a smaller MBA programme in which it is much easier to know the students and interact with them. Faculty-student interaction is essential (in Cambridge, we teach undergrads through “supervisions” – basically 1 hour debates with 2 or 3 students!) and I think the school of the future will need more of those forms of interactions.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Actually caring for their employees. We need a lot more compassion and understanding, and we need a more human contact between managers and their employees.
I’m grateful for… Being a professor – it never disappoints!
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
“One of the smartest, most effective, and engaging professors during my time at Cambridge. His wit, mixed with the depth of his knowledge, along with his helpfulness within and outside the class made him one of the most outstanding people I encountered there.” – Student
“Thomas has brought such energy to his teaching, combined with a strong approach to share the facts and feelings related to the social intricacies at the workplace, his MBA classes were simply great.” – Student
“Thomas has been very creative in his teaching methodology. From coming to classes in tuxedo, to playing music to ensuring the class discussed the cases from a devil’s advocate and the protagonist’s view, really made the learning enriched and enjoyable. Being one of the youngest professors, his lectures on organisational behaviour were a food for thought. It was a pleasant surprise to see him wearing a twin hat of executive director for MBA program at Judge Business School.” – Student
“Professor Roulet served not only as a wonderful lecturer but also an excellent mentor in a business strategy plan. He took a significant amount of time outside of his scheduled work to advise me and several other students about advanced business strategies. He is personable, kind, humorous, intelligent, and wise. His work ethic is noticeable in everything he does, and his dedication to student success goes beyond the classroom. I am proud to say that since having him as a lecturer and mentor, I can also say that he is a lifelong friend.” – Student