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2021 Best 40-Under-40 Professors: Amanda Starc, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Amanda Starc of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management is a 2021 Best 40 Under 40 Professor. Courtesy photo

Amanda Starc

Associate Professor of Strategy

Kellogg School of Management

At Poets&Quants, we love when business school professors and students go beyond business in the traditional sense and cross boundaries into policy, environmental and sustainability issues, and social, racial, and economic justice issues. Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management’s Amanda Starc does just that through her research into Medicare and healthcare.

“Currently, I am spending a lot of time thinking about the relationship between competition and quality in healthcare markets. When product quality is difficult to observe, consumers and producers make suboptimal choices and investments. I’m looking at this problem for both insurance plans and hospitals. We argue that there are huge differences in mortality rates caused by the insurance plans in which Medicare beneficiaries enroll. Unfortunately, consumers do not know how to find plan that improve their health because there is not unbiased information about plan quality. This means plans do not have incentives to improve health outcomes.”

Starc comes highly recommended among alumni, students, and administrators and faculty at Kellogg. She also has nearly 800 Google Scholar citations and, unsurprisingly considering her research expertise, has a ton of media attention from major media outlets.

Current age: 36

At current institution since what year? 2016

Education: Ph.D. (Business Economics, Harvard, 2011), BA (Economics, Case Western Reserve, 2006)

List of MBA courses you currently teach: STRT- 431 (Business Strategy)

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I took an American business history class in graduate school. The Federalist Papers came alive for me in a business school classroom long before Hamilton debuted on Broadway!

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

Currently, I am spending a lot of time thinking about the relationship between competition and quality in healthcare markets. When product quality is difficult to observe, consumers and producers make suboptimal choices and investments. I’m looking at this problem for both insurance plans and hospitals. We argue that there are huge differences in mortality rates caused by the insurance plans in which Medicare beneficiaries enroll. Unfortunately, consumers do not know how to find plan that improve their health because there is not unbiased information about plan quality. This means plans do not have incentives to improve health outcomes.

Quality incentives are important for hospitals as well. For example, hospitals that can attract highly profitable patients may invest more in quality. These hospitals want to make themselves irreplaceable in private insurance networks. We find strong evidence that hospitals located near profitable patients have higher quality.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I’d never change out of yoga pants.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

My research exclusively studies healthcare markets, but I teach the core Strategy class. One of the great things about Healthcare at Kellogg is that we believe that a successful career in healthcare (in any role) rests on a foundation of Kellogg’s core course work. We practice what we preach.

One word that describes my first-time teaching: Tiring!

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That I would learn so much from my students. They make me a better economist by challenging me in the classroom.

Professor I most admire and why: Are you really going to make me choose between my fantastic colleagues? One of my favorite things about working at Kellogg is that the professors are not only brilliant but also extremely kind.

Outside of Kellogg, I will forever be grateful to my graduate advisors, including David Cutler and Ariel Pakes. In addition to being fantastic mentors, they are both first-rate economists. They taught me that a combination of economic theory and data can help us understand the world around us and also make it better. They each take very different approaches to data, and taught me the value of learning from people with diverse points of view. I hit the jackpot.

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Seeing that “a-ha” moment on a student’s face.

What is most challenging?

Students have so many demands on their time.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious.

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Certain.

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Tougher than they’d like, but more generous with partial credit than they expected.

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies?

Between research, teaching, and my (adorable) toddler, I don’t have a lot of extra free time. But I’m always trying to squeeze in a workout – preferably a run on a sunny morning.

How will you spend your summer?

Teaching. I have two sections at our downtown Chicago campus; Beyond that, I will probably be at the park with my toddler (see above).

Favorite place(s) to vacation: I’m just excited to get on a plane post-vaccine! A national park is always a great choice.

Favorite book(s): Hmmm … so many. The amazing women in my book club have great taste. If I must pick one, I’ll go with a book with a Northwestern/Chicago connection: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. The best book I have read in the past five years.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

We are writing a new case about the rise of streaming services, so I’m doing a lot of “research.” Ted Lasso is my current favorite. But it is a new golden age of television! Bridgerton was fun. For All Mankind is a great premise. The Undoing kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. I can’t wait for the next seasons of The Crown and Succession.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?

I love a good lady singer-songwriter. I’m currently reading Brandi Carlile’s memoir, and the accompanying Spotify playlist is fantastic. The new Fiona Apple album got me through early quarantine. I even got the toddler hooked on Dolly Parton (to my husband’s great chagrin).

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Two things.

First, more discussion of the interplay of public policy and firm strategy. Obviously, you can’t think about healthcare without thinking about government intervention. But we are also seeing broader discussions about the role of antitrust, especially with the rise of large tech firms. We need to talk more about how firms and managers will react to changing regulations.

Second, a greater willingness to be “wrong”! It is hard to know much without talking things through with other people. Kellogg has classrooms full of smart people with diverse perspectives. We should always be leveraging that to have a productive conversation, rather than getting to a single, “right” answer.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Encouraging people to disagree in productive ways (see above).

I’m grateful for… So much! I have the best job in the world. More importantly, I have a great husband and family that supports me and helps raise the coolest little guy. He’s the best.

And our nanny. The last year would not have been possible without her.

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:

“In a year significantly impacted by healthcare, Amanda’s research on the sometimes shocking variation in healthcare pricing, plan choice and providers has new meaning. She introduces students to frameworks for business strategy and how firms can create, capture and capitalize on value in the healthcare. In the pivot to teaching hybrid, Amanda engaged a platform tracks student participation ensuring that class includes diverse voices. An innovation, she will continue post-Covid. She published four papers in the last two years, exploring the public private-interface, Medicare, and drug costs and received a grant to the National Science Foundation. Amanda is a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Associate Editor of the Journal of Economics, and on the editorial board for the Journal of Risk and Insurance. Her expertise can be seen regularly in top-tier media including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR and Reuters.”

“I had Professor Starc for Strategy last fall and she was awesome. She made the content in her class engaging and always found a way to make it relevant to today’s business world. She was also always available outside of class and always would leave time to check in personally on how i was dealing with the remote learning.”

“Professor Starc does an incredible job incorporating economic frameworks to teach her strategy class. Crucially, she also then encourages her students to “break” the frameworks and think beyond solely frameworks to applicable business implications for the long term.”

“Professor Starc is very insightful, a tremendous orator, and has a unique ability to explore important business strategy concepts through topical, real-world situations.”

“She’s great. She is able to boil down complex strategies into the most simple of frameworks that I can’t help but see in every day life. I’m grateful to have had her for my core strategy class.”

DON’T MISS: POETS&QUANTS’ WORLD’S BEST 40-UNDER-40 BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSORS OF 2021