The World’s Best 40 Under 40 MBA Professors

Tristan Botelho of the Yale School of Management. Courtesy photo

Like Sezer, many professors on this year’s list have hobbies and passions that go beyond research and the classroom. Adrian Ward, a 33-year-old marketing professor at the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business, used to play in several rock bands in high school and college. While he says he still enjoys playing music, he spends more time now hiking, walking his dogs, and exploring Austin’s robust music and restaurant scene. “All hobbies that — thankfully — require much less skill than playing a musical interest,” Ward says of his post-rock band life.

Fellow UT-Austin McCombs professor Patrick Badolato says he’s all about staying active outside of the classroom. The 39-year-old accounting professor enjoys all forms of challenging exercise, especially activities like biking and running to work. Badolato is very much a competitor and plays Australian Rules Football with a local team, the Austin Crows. If that competitive drive really kicks in, Badolato can reportedly be caught racing MBA students on “slow-moving scooters” during his bike or run to work.

The University of California-San Diego’s Marta Serra-Garcia takes advantage of their local surroundings. Besides investing much of her personal time with her three daughters, the economics and strategy professor says she enjoys San Diego’s year-round perfect weather by doing pilates, running, and standup paddleboarding at La Jolla Shores.

Adrian Ward of the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business. Courtesy photo


When it comes to innovating business education, UCLA Anderson School of Management professor Auyon Siddiq says he’d add more experiential learning. “I think the ‘sage on a stage’ lecture format has its limitations, and business schools would do well to emphasize collaborative and hands-on learning in addition to lectures,” the 32-year-old says.

While Thomas Roulet of the University of Cambridge’s Judge School of Business says he loves that his MBA program has smaller classes, he’d make them even smaller. “Faculty-student interaction is essential,” he says, noting how undergrads at Cambridge are taught through “basically one hour debates with two or three students. And I think the school of the future will need more of those forms of interaction,” Roulet says.

Hengchen Dai, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management says that she hopes to see a greater connection between business and policy application in research. “We can show students how research from our fields has directly impacted business and policymakers and made employees and consumers happier, healthier, and productive,” the 31-year-old says.

Oxford’s Michael Gill would add more integration to business education. Internal integration, by which I mean uniting different groups within business schools (accounting, OB, etc.) and drawing together different departments across universities (e.g., psychology, sociology),” he explains. “External integration, whereby we collaborate with a range of organizations across sectors in terms of our teaching and assessment. I think such integration enables us to understand phenomena in a more holistic way and to tackle world-scale problems.”

Auyon Siddiq of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Courtesy photo


As leading researchers and teachers, these young professors realize they can have a role in helping to shape the future of companies and work. Cambridge Judge’s Roulet says he’d like to see companies and organizations do a better job of actually caring for their employees. “We need a lot more compassion and understanding, and we need more human contact between managers and their employees.”

UCLA’s Dai concurs. “Making employees and contractors feel valued and appreciated by managers, colleagues, and customers,” Dai says. “Besides motivating employees to better serve customers, organizations can also consider encouraging customers to behave in ways that can motivate employees.”

Michael Gill of the University of Oxford’s Said Business School says companies should be more aware and appreciative of how they can help or harm the mental health of their employees. “Many people find fulfillment at work while others suffer, often in silence,” he says. “These experiences have profound implications for organizations as well as wider society and warrant greater attention.”

UCLA’s Siddiq says he’d like to see companies build a bigger culture of data literacy. “Many organizations have taken significant and important steps towards developing their analytics capabilities, often by hiring data scientists,” he says. “What I think is equally (if not more) valuable than building a specialized team of experts is to develop an organization-wide appreciation for the fundamentals, such as using data to quantify uncertainty, or identifying and tracking key metrics. Organizations that emphasize broad data literacy alongside hiring specialists will be ahead of the curve in their ability to extract value from data.”

Tim Johnson, a professor of management and public policy at Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management, believes organizations should do a better job respecting the privacy of their employees and customers. “The temptation to capitalize on every piece of data that can be collected actively or passively ought to be weighed against the risks of creating an environment in which individuals’ daily lives are thoroughly recorded and scrutinized,” he says. “I’m the last person to be able to offer insight on what the right balance looks like, but I would like to see more organizations thinking about that topic.”


To be sure, today’s business professors not only have an impact on the world’s future leaders, but also on the next generation of B-school faculty. When Yale’s Tristan Botelho received the letter from the Cambridge professor he reached out to as a child, it impacted his path forward of becoming a professor. “From then on, it was really exciting for me to think about all these questions I had about the world. And to think about that it was someone’s job to research and answer those questions,” he says.

A son of immigrants, Botelho and his older sister were the first in their family to go to college. And now both he and his sister are professors. Last year, Botelho traveled to Cambridge to give a talk. Before doing so, he reached out to the professor he wrote to as a child. The email had a picture of the professor’s response and asked if he’d be willing to meet with Botelho while he was there. The professor obliged.

That generosity isn’t easily forgotten and the professors on this year’s list feel lucky returning that giving spirit to their own students. “Business students have such different experiences and I feel very lucky that I get to spend time working with them,” Kenan-Flagler’s Sezer says. “These are young people who really want to make a difference in the world and I find it so meaningful.”

See the next page for an entire list of this year’s Best 40 Under 40 Professors with links to profiles of each professor.


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