“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
That axiom from Oliver Wendell Holmes deserves to be posted in Anne-Laure Sellier’s classroom. Just ask Liz Miller, a 2020 MBA graduate of HEC Paris. At 8 a.m., Miller would sit for her Decision-Making and Influence class, riveted by Sellier’s “energy and passion.” Enthusiasm may grab a class’ attention, but Sellier – a master marketer – also understood how to hold it. In her classroom, she would also conduct experiments, ones that hit home for her students.
“For example, in our class discussion about conformity, she brought a box of dried insects and tried to get each person to eat one, using different influence techniques to convince the students,” Miller reminisces. “She got all but two students to eat bugs that day. I was able to resist her tactics.”
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Unconventional? Sure, but unforgettable too – the kind that stretches her students to risk, reflect, and revise. Still, there is another axiom that fits Sellier to a tee. Authored by Maya Angelou, it cuts to the heart of what makes a professor like Anne-Laura Sellier so special…
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
It is this commitment to reach out and connect, says Miller, which sets Sellier apart. “She took the time to meet individually with students outside of class to discuss career planning over a coffee. I love seeing someone who is passionate about what she does and goes the extra mile to help others.”
DEFINING AND DEFENDING
What makes a business school professor exceptional? Greatness takes many forms…but it is something quickly recognized and long appreciated. That’s because MBAs aren’t wide-eyed undergrads who parrot whatever a professor tells them. They are grizzled professionals who want to know what matters, how it works, and when it applies. In a word, MBA students demand results. Delivering that requires hard-earned experience, never-ending curiosity, and world-class salesmanship.
You’ll find all three in business school. The best faculty has a gift for simplifying the complex and translating the contradictions. They don’t just dole out answers; they demand that students dig deep, pushing them to think, act, and grow. In the process, they guide them to a purpose and a path. Great MBA professors don’t just invest time to learn about their students’ backgrounds as a courtesy; they leverage their strengths and passions in class to enrich the learning experience for all. And they aren’t afraid to delve into uncomfortable topics, either. More than expertise, these professors instill confidence, a vision that students can do and be what they imagine. Outside class, you’ll find top faculty counseling and opening doors for their protégés. In the end, these professors don’t just shape minds, they change lives.
Their ranks include Glenn Rowe, a strategy professor from Ivey. Riley Love enjoyed Rowe’s class so much that he was compelled to take a second. The reason? Simple: Glenn Rowe made him better.
“Glenn would challenge your thinking,” Love recalls. “Often, he would put you on the spot, making you defend the “why” behind your comment or opinion. Often, he agreed with you, but he wanted to make sure you could communicate the reasoning to your peers, a skill that the case method is extremely effective at teaching. Being a retired Navy man, this could be a little intimidating, but I felt like I left his classes more confident in myself and my ability as a communicator.”
LOOKING BACK TO LEAP FORWARD
For many, business school is a time to examine the world, to understand where industries and technologies are – and project the impact of where they are headed. In her Scaling Operations course, Anisha Mocherla took a journey backward. Taught by Wharton’s Gad Allon, the course focused on “common pitfalls” and “challenges” inherent to scaling – the same forces that haunted her in her previous role.
“Prior to Wharton, I worked at Lyft, where I helped the company scale its core driver operations,” Mocherla writes. “After taking this course, I was able to understand why Lyft faced some of its initial struggles with driver utilization and how another network platform can avoid these traps and replicate Lyft’s success with less friction. It was one of those surreal and iconic business school moments where you enrich your understanding of past experiences.”
However, Allon’s value extends beyond the classroom, Mocherla adds. “Professor Allon is genuinely invested in his students’ success. He is available to his students to share relevant research in their topics of interest and also to connect them with relevant opportunities.”
MAKING TIME FOR EVERYONE
That said, top MBA faculty often take unorthodox paths to spotlight their key points. Exhibit A comes courtesy of the University of Oxford. “Pegram Harrison takes insights from music, art, and the humanities and connects them to business,” writes Eli Mitchell-Larson, a 2020 grad. “It’s unconventional and a very “Oxford” approach to MBA content, but it generates some fascinating insights on leadership. I’m so happy to be taking his elective course where we take the best of Oxford’s museums and culture and apply those ideas to our business education.”
Some business faculty are so confident in their abilities that they’ll back them up with guarantees. That’s the case with Cornell University’s Craig Snow, who teaches business writing at the Johnson School. “Professor Snow is very honest with his feedback,” observes Kevin Shen. “He makes a promise to all the students that if they do all the work and apply the course’s concepts to their professional writing, they will be complimented on their efforts. And if anyone fails to receive a compliment within a year of taking his course, Professor Snow promises to take that student out to dinner the next time they meet. I don’t think he’s had to buy anyone dinner yet!”
For many, business school professors are role models. These men and women set a standard – the kind that students work day-and-night to meet. More than that, they devote time to supporting students as confidants and coaches. Risa Mish, for one, is running out of room for the teaching excellence awards she has earned at Cornell University. However, it isn’t just her teaching that has stuck with her students. For Deon Provost, it has been Mish’s selfless commitment to supporting her students that makes her a standout.
“For someone in such high demand, she nevertheless finds a way to make time for each student,” he writes. “I learned about tools in the classroom from her that I continue to apply every day. Beyond the classroom, Professor Mish has been an amazing mentor and sounding board for me. She has been a crucial ingredient to all my milestones and major decision points. A wise person once told me that the best leaders are the biggest givers. Few could claim to give as much as often and as cheerfully as Professor Mish does.”
GOING TO BUSINESS SCHOOL…TO UNDERSTAND YOUR SPOUSE
Alas, Allison Koester could give Mish a run for her money there. She is described as the “kindest, most driven professor at Georgetown” by Colin Miller. While Miller will never become an accountant, he does credit Koester for a feat that enhanced his marriage.
“After taking Professor Koester’s accounting class, I was finally able to understand what my wife, who is a CPA, was talking about when she told me about her workday.”
Each year, Poets&Quants reaches out to over 70 top business schools worldwide to nominate the Best & Brightest MBAs and the MBAs To Watch. As part of this process, the 242 candidates were asked to share what made their favorite faculty members such as difference-makers. To honor their commitment, here is what the Class of 2020 had to say about the impact that business school faculty made on their lives.
“This is honestly the most difficult question, as Darden has so many phenomenal teachers. If pressed, I’ll say Jacquie Doyle. I have taken four of her classes; after having her as an Operations professor during core of first year, I opted to take as many of her second-year electives as I could. Our first year, Jacquie came to a Section GWIB event, on a weekend no less, and showed she is not just a professor. She supports us beyond the classroom and takes an interest in our whole well-being. She puts a conscious effort into ensuring the content of her classes is applicable and meaningful; that is evident even by the names of some of her classes (i.e. “General Managers Taking Action” and “Character Traits and Success”). Her demeanor in class hits the perfect balance of playful sarcasm and deep care for her students. Somehow, the main message I have retained from all her classes is the important idea that good leaders and good people are not mutually exclusive and we should strive for both.”
Vita Wu, University of Virginia (Darden)