From an early age, Gah-Yi Ban loved figuring out tough challenges.
“I have just loved solving puzzles and problems for as long as I can remember,” she says. “In fact, when I was six or seven, I remember saying my favorite books are Sherlock Holmes books. As I got a bit older, that interest spun into solving math or scientific problems.”
Raised in Australia by a family of Korean expats, Ban’s love of problem solving led her to pursue multiple master’s degrees and ultimately a Ph.D. in operations research at the University of California-Berkeley. It was a path that led her to London Business School where she is an assistant professor of management science and operations. Ban still loves to dicipher intellectual puzzles. “You give me a brain teaser and I’ll sit on it till I solve it,” she laughs. That affinity for problem solving has made Ban an exceptional business educator which is why she has been selected as a member of this year’s Best 40 Under 40 MBA Professors.
THE EIGHTH EDITION OF POETS&QUANTS’ BEST 40 UNDER 40 MBA PROFESSORS
Now in its eighth edition, the mission of the project has remained consistent: Identify young business school faculty from around the globe, educators who have demonstrated research acumen, teaching prowess, and impact on students, former students, their colleagues, and administrators.
Like Ban, many members of this year’s list were blessed with skills and interests in research and teaching at very young ages — before they had any idea what a business school professor was or did. Marco Clemente of the IÉSEG School of Management in France used to take walks through his neighborhood with his father who taught at a nearby school. He still remembers former students stopping his father on the street, just to tell him he was one of the best teachers they ever had. “They still remembered some of the subjects he taught them many years ago,” Clemente recalls. “Those moments planted the seeds of my passion for teaching and helping people grow. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and teach something that could positively affect the lives of my students, even after many years.”
Yale School of Management’s Tristan Botelho remembers going to libraries and book stores with his family as a child. His favorite books were on the shelves in the non-fiction section. He enjoyed reading about history so much that when he learned people got paid to research and write books, he sent a letter to a University of Cambridge professor expressing a keen interest in learning. An encouraging response further piqued his academic interests.
MORE THAN 2,000 NOMINATIONS AND 160 PROFESSORS WERE CONSIDERED THIS YEAR
For each of these stellar young professors, it was another highly competitive year to gain recognition and a spot on the 2020 list. In total, we received just over 2,000 nominations — compared to 2,643 last year and less than 800 the year before that. Some 160 professors were considered, compared to 188 last year and 91 the prior year. To whittle down the list of nominations, we spread all 2,000 or so nominations across our editorial staff to read and research. Each professor is graded on two categories — research and teaching — and given a score on a 1 to 10 scale
For research, we consider the volume of Google Scholar citations, especially in the past five years. Then, we take into account research grants and awards as well as major media appearances or mentions, evidence that a professor’s research has made some impact. tIn some cases, research led to courses being created or certificate programs launched. To evaluate a professor’s teaching prowess, we carefully read every nomination and consider teaching awards, recognitions and grants. The sheer volume of recommendations is important but not enough. After all, some professors on this year’s list attracted as many as 200 nominations, while others had just one or two.
After each professor is given scores for research and teaching, the research score is given a 30% weight while teaching receives the remaining 70%. Once we have a list of about 60 professors, we do a final review among all editorial staff to select the final 40 professors. It doesn’t happen often, but it is possible for a single school to get multiple professors on the list. Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, Imperial College Business School, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, the University of California-Riverside’s Anderson Graduate School of Management, and the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business all pulled off that feat this year.
MOST INTERNATIONAL B-SCHOOL PROFESSORS EVER ON THE LIST
The 2020 honor roll includes 12 women, four fewer than last year’s reccord 16. There are 12 professors on the list from international schools, up from 11 last year, and the highest ever represented.
The 35-year-old Ban from London Business School is one example of the international experience many top young professors bring to a classroom, having lived on four different continents now. Ban’s teaching background goes back to a young age when she began to help her friends with schoolwork. Yet, like so many of the professors who make the 40-under-40 list, she did not expect to have a career as an academic in a business school.
In fact, while starting her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, Ban wasn’t sure she would even become a professor. The problems that could be solved via Wall Street or a tech company were seemed attractive to her. “But once I got hooked on research I loved it so much that I went for academic jobs when I finished my Ph.D.,” Ban says. She also realized that if she was working on conquering the sorts of problems she wanted to solve, it’d be more impactful at a business school than just one specific company. “That was the most attractive thing about working at a business school,” explains Ban. Now that she has spent some time working as an academic in business education, she believes it’s the most awesome job in the world. “On the one hand, you can keep doing your research,” says Ban, who teaches the core full-time MBA course Decision Models. “But on the other hand, you can impact students that are practitioners from all sorts of industries and all sorts of companies. You can have an impact on how they do their business right away. To me, that’s the most fulfilling part of this career.”
There is little doubt that she has made a meaningful difference to her students. “Professor Gah-Yi Ban has great knowledge of the subject and her style of teaching was very interesting,” wrote one student in nominating her. “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 could be applied.”