The World’s Best 40 Under 40 MBA Professors

Laura Noval of Imperial College Business School in London. Courtesy photo


Similar to Ban, Laura Noval is a child of the globe. The 36-year-old assistant professor of organizational behavior at Imperial College Business School in London has lived in six different countries and speaks six different languages. Originally from Argentina, Noval had an early career in hotel management that took her to the U.S. and eventually to Europe to start an MBA program at ESMT in Berlin.

“I’ve always had an interest in psychology at work but doing the MBA was when I started doing research on it,” Noval says of the time she first started thinking about becoming a business school professor. While earning her MBA, she began asking her professors what it would be like to be a faculty member. But before jumping into that path, Noval says she wanted to work at a “normal job” for a bit to see if she liked it. “I then decided to wait a bit to be sure before jumping to the Ph.D.,” she says.

Noval kept in contact with a professor she had been doing research with at ESMT in Berlin. It took about a year for Noval to decide she enjoyed the work and began applying to Ph.D. programs. While earning her MBA, Noval also started wondering about what prompts people to do things that harm others to benefit themselves, which led to some of her early research that has now led her to explore “mindful meta-awareness.”

The ability to speak six different languages and have experiences in so many different countries is certainly an asset in the increasingly global MBA classroom. “It’s helpful to have that background to not be identified as being from one country,” says Noval, who appropriately teaches Global Management.

“I love how interactive Dr. Noval’s lectures are and how easy they are to integrate into one’s life,” one nominator said of Noval. “I felt like I was learning life skills more than just examinable content which made it super easy to engage. I also enjoy the different forms of content she incorporates into her lectures.”


Ned Wellman of Arizona State’s W. P. Carey School of Business. Courtesy photo

Arizona State’s Ned Wellman is an example of someone interested in the power of leadership from a young age. A high school basketball player from Michigan, Wellman had a hoops coach who changed his immediate and long-term trajectory. “I had a really dynamic and effective basketball coach that transformed our program and took us from middle of the pack to a state champion basketball team in three years,” Wellman says. It was the school’s first state championship in boys basketball. Wellman was soon curious and interested in how one person could make that sort of impact and inspire that much positive change in a group of people.

Wellman took that interest with him to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he majored in psychology and minored in business administration. Because of Wellman’s early experience with positive leaders and role models in his life, he thought that every leader he met would be the same. “I just assumed since I had been exposed to so many good leaders that when I got to the workplace, everyone would be a good leader,” Wellman shares. But when he started working as a human resources consultant for Deloitte, he quickly learned that wouldn’t necessarily be the case. “What really surprised me was how many companies suffered from a lack of leadership,” he recalls.

So Wellman thought back to his days in high school and the impact made by his high school coach, Brian Townsend, now a college athletics administrator at the University of Michigan. “He (Townsend) convinced everyone pretty quickly that we could win a state championship,” Wellman remembers. “And I don’t think anyone even had that on their radar before he arrived. We just assumed my high school was going to be mediocre at basketball and that’s just the way it was.”

To turn things around, Townsend created a year-round training program, assessed people for their strengths and weaknesses, and smartly hired several new assistant coaches. Wellman took note of the transformation and led to his decision to study leadership and management in the Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. His interests matched him with a young upcoming professor at Ross — Scott DeRue. Now the dean of Michigan’s Ross School, DeRue informed much of Wellman’s early research. “It was a natural fit for us to work together,” Wellman says of the partnership.

With more than 2,000 Google Scholar citations, Wellman is one of the most influential researchers on this year’s list. He also received dozens of glowing nominations. According to many of the recommenders, it is clear that Wellman has adopted some of those early lessons learned from Townsend’s leadership abilities. “Ned is one of the best professors I have interacted with in my MBA,” one nominator enthused. “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.”


Ovul Sezer of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Courtesy photo

Ovul Sezer, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, was sold on the opportunity to become an educator the moment she found out someone could actually make money to research and teach. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is actually a job and you get paid.’ It seemed so amazing to me as a deal,” the 33-year-old says. That aha moment occurred when she was an undergraduate student at Harvard.

As a young child in school, Sezer recalls sharing what she learned from assigned readings that some friends failed to complete. “I was the super nerdy one,” recalls Sezer who adds that she was more than happy to recount what they missed. “In a very animated way,” she says, laughing.

That sense of theater and interest in observing and understanding people led not only her decision to become a professor but also to a unique side-hustle. “I always remember myself wondering about people,” she says. “If I think about the very early years of my life, I think about how much I loved people watching.”

Business students exploring the local comedy scene around Chapel Hill, North Carolina, have likely noticed a familiar face on the stages of local comedy clubs. In her spare time, Sezer moonlights as a standup comedian. “There are some differences but also some striking similarities,” Sezer says of being a standup comedian and professor. “Comedy and organizational behavior are both studies of when things go wrong,” Sezer explains. “In science, it might not be humorous but it’s the same as identifying problems and then trying to make people’s lives better.”

Grabbing the audience’s attention early in a performance is also important on the stage and in the classroom, Sezer says. “I have to capture the audience and sort of signal to my students that we’re in this together. I need to get them with me on the same journey. And humor is a tremendous way of doing that.” Sezer continues. “The number one thing about humor and teaching is it immediately creates a bond.”

“There is something so magical about laughter. And when you can share that with others, people start to feel more comfortable and like they can share their thoughts and ideas with others. I want to create that psychologically-safe place for students.”

The dozens of students who nominated Sezer to our 40-under-40 list agreed. “Ovul simply radiates energy, intellect, and creativity,” one told us. “Whether it’s having an hours-long conversation about a research project in her office or seeing her wit and generosity on full display in the classroom (or watching her deliver a great punchline in her stand-up comedy), Ovul has a way of making you feel mentally and spiritually uplifted – your day is somehow that much brighter, your mind inevitably more engaged in thinking deeply about the world around you for having crossed paths with her for a little while. It’s no surprise to me that UNC Kenan-Flagler students value her so highly. We all do!”

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.