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Harvard | Ms. Big 4 M&A Manager
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2021 Best 40-Under-40 Professors: Anne-Sophie Chaxel, HEC Paris

Anne-Sophie Chaxel of HEC Paris is a 2021 Best 40 Under 40 Business School Professor. Courtesy photo

Anne-Sophie Chaxel

Associate Professor

HEC Paris

Anne-Sophie Chaxel is an award-winning marketing professor at HEC Paris. With nearly 70 nominations, she was also among our most highly nominated professors on this year’s list. Chaxel’s strong balance of teaching and research prowess is evidenced by two of her most recent recognitions. This past year, Chaxel received the Vernimmen Teaching Prize, which rewards the HEC professor who achieved the highest performance in teaching during the year across all disciplines and is based on a student vote. And she was also recognized as a 2019 Young Scholar by the Marketing Science Institute.

“My research is on judgment and decision-making — and usually, it means looking at biases in choice,” Chaxel says. “My most recent research really started with the observation that during the COVID-19 crisis we have seen a number of so-called experts in the media sharing their opinions about a wide range of topics, and really making a number of what we call in the paper ‘unsubstantiated claims.'”

Current age: 39

At current institution since what year? 2019

Education: Ph.D., Cornell University (2012); MSc in Management, HEC Paris (2005)

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Advanced Marketing Strategy, Branding, Marketing Management

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was writing up my MSc Thesis at HEC Paris back in 2005. I loved doing it – and in parallel, I thought my professors were living a pretty good life…. so I talked about it with my thesis supervisor, and from then it was the beginning of my academic life.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research is on judgment and decision-making – and usually, it means looking at biases in choice. My most recent research really started with the observation that during the COVID-19 crisis we have seen a number of so-called experts in the media sharing their opinions about a wide range of topics, and really making a number of what we call in the paper “unsubstantiated claims”. And most of the time it looks like it is expected from people to be able to make a clear distinction between what is true and what is not true. But the fact is, most of the time it is actually very hard to do so, and that’s simply because there is a lot of uncertainty in the information that is shared. So that’s why I decided to examine how people’s preference for a source of information – say, for instance, a public figure – would influence the extent to which people actually believe those unsubstantiated claims. I find that people distort their truth judgments in comparison to the control group in the same direction as their preferences. Because both people who like and dislike the public figure do so, overall it explains why people with different preferences literally live in different truth systems. Therefore to a large extent truth distortion contributes to explaining polarization in society, and why a number of people disagree on what is true or not true.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I’d be a pianist

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I always come out of the classroom thinking about everything I could improve the next time around. So I rarely teach the exact same thing twice…

One word that describes my first time teaching: Surprising

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: You’ll always have fun so long as you do not take yourself too seriously

Professor I most admire and why: I’ll have to give this one to my former advisor at Cornell University, Jay Russo. I have learned a lot with him of course when it comes to research – but I was also a TA for him in his Judgment and Decision-Making course, and I saw how he was managing his classroom.

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I love how they are able to relate my classroom content to their own individual prior experiences, either as consumers or as managers. I love those classroom discussions – they are value-add for everyone.

What is most challenging? Physically, teaching several hours a day (sometimes 8 hours in Exec MBA) can be really draining.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Open-minded

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Close-minded

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… fair

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? playing the piano, running after my two toddlers, and watching Netflix.

How will you spend your summer? We are adopting two kittens at the end of July- so likely we will stay in Paris and welcome them in their new home.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: In France, that would be anywhere in the Provence region. But my husband is from Australia, so we love going to the Blue Mountains not too far from Sydney. Unfortunately, this has not been possible for a very long time. Now of course because of COVID, but before that as well because of devasting fires.

Favorite book(s): The Little Prince, St Exupery

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I like Sci-Fi shows. So right now I am watching Shadow and Bone on Netflix – but I have also liked Dark, the OA, The Witcher, the Umbrella Academy…

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I like all types of music, but usually happy music with strong female leads. Can be Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira…

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… If there is one thing that deeply struck me during the COVID-19 is that students really want contact and relationships with their professors. So I’d say a better split between what can be taught digitally, and what requires a classroom – but thinking of the classroom more than ever before as a place of discussion and exchange – and strong relationship building between profs and students.

In my opinion, companies, and organizations today need to do a better job at… empathy

I’m grateful for… my family’s health during the COVID-19 crisis.

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

“During my MBA Journey, my most memorable professor was Anne Sophie Chaxel. The professor’s enthusiasm and real-world examples made a very technical subject relevant and entertaining. She did a fantastic job of bringing the stories to life. She always takes the time to make sure that everyone understood the material, and she also tells us a bunch of interesting stories to help us remember the content. she cracks jokes to entertain and engage the class; she made learning fun as crazy as that sounds! Furthermore, my favorite professor always encourages us to perform well academically, but she’s concerned with more than just grades. In fact, she cares about each of her students as people. In addition to her passion, she was an inspirational professor. Anne Sophie’s belief in her students inspired me to understand the reason behind marketing courses.”

“Anne Sophie is a real asset for our MBA. Her branding and advanced marketing courses are among the most popular seminars of the program. She has a unique ability to combine rigorous academic research with practical knowledge and to translate even the most sophisticated models into usable tools that students can easily apply. Her stellar teaching evaluations clearly demonstrate that our participants love the content of her courses as much as they appreciate her multi-faceted pedagogical style. However, what truly defines Anne Sophie is her ability to look ahead and identify new topics that will be relevant not only for the students of today, but also for the leaders of tomorrow. Even the best professors are sometimes lenient and tend to replicate material that ‘works well’. Conversely, Anne Sophie is not afraid of systematically questioning the relevance of what she teaches, and is constantly searching for new approaches and ideas. Her continuous drive for innovation guarantees that our students are equipped with long-lasting knowledge that will help them make a real impact in the years to come.”

“Anne-Sophie Chaxel was great at introducing herself and the session we were going to have together. She presented modern clean slides, her voice was clear. That helped understanding all the concepts. Anne-Sophie illustrated the course with great examples; that made the course fun and even more captivating. Finally, Anne-Sophie was great at customizing the course to our needs and could answer all the questions we had. Fantastic!”

“Sophie’s energy is contagious. Her teaching style is interactive and transparent. It helped me understand the concepts like I have been working in marketing for a long time. She gives close attention to everyone in the class and encourages everybody to speak.”

“During my MBA Journey, my most memorable professor was Anne Sophie CHAXEL. The professor’s enthusiasm and real-world examples made a very technical subject relevant and entertaining. She did a fantastic job of bringing the stories to life. She always takes the time to make sure that everyone understood the material, and she also tells us a bunch of interesting stories to help us remember the content. she cracks jokes to entertain and engage the class; she made learning fun as crazy as that sounds! Furthermore, my favorite professor always encourages us to perform well academically, but she’s concerned with more than just grades. In fact, she cares about each of her students as people. In addition to her passion, she was an inspirational professor. Anne Sophie’s belief in her students inspired me to understand the reason behind marketing courses.”

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