2021 Best 40-Under-40 Professors: Alessandro Sancino, Open University Business School

Alessandro Sancino is a 40 Under 40 Business School Professor. Courtesy photo

Alessandro Sancino

Associate Professor

Open University Business School (UK), part-time & University of Milan-Bicocca (IT)

With nearly 1,200 Google Scholar citations and more than three dozen nominations, Alessandro Sancino of Open University Business School was one of the most nominated professors and most impactful researchers on this year’s 40 Under 40 list. He truly meets the balance of strong research background and classroom effectiveness we set out to measure in this recognition. We also like that Sancino’s focus area within business education falls into the social enterprise and social impact categories.

“I am currently researching the role of local and place-based leadership and how to organize at the local level for social impact and around grand challenges,” Sancino says. “I have discovered how much we think and understand organizations – of any type – as siloed buildings and as financial flows and not as societal actors in relations among them, in relation with the environment, and as a community of people who share the same destiny. So, my research mainly touches issues of collaborative governance, public leadership, and sustainability.”

Current age: 38

At current institution since what year? At the Open University Business School since end of 2013 and at University of Milan-Bicocca since 2020

Education: Ph.D. in Public Management (University of Parma, in consortium with Bocconi University, Catholic University, University of Modena & Reggio Emilia & University of Trento, Italy); Master of Science and Bachelor in “Economics and Management of Public Administrations and International Institutions” at Bocconi University (IT)

List of MBA courses you currently teach:

MBA: Leadership and Management of Public Services

Postgraduate: Management and Sustainable Innovation

Undergraduate: Leadership in a Changing World


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was sixteen. I was at high school and it came a university professor to give a session on university degree opportunities. He also ended up speaking about his daily life. I quite liked it and, more generally, I always liked the idea of being an educator and a mentor, having had admiration for those who were my educators and mentors at that time of my life.

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

I am currently researching the role of local and place-based leadership and how to organize at the local level for social impact and around grand challenges. I have discovered how much we think and understand organizations – of any type – as siloed buildings and as financial flows and not as societal actors in relations among them, in relation with the environment, and as a community of people who share the same destiny. So, my research mainly touches issues of collaborative governance, public leadership, and sustainability. I am incredibly passionate about these topics. My most recent research project aims to use quasi-experimental action research and Mode 2 research where the role of the researcher is that of the designer of social change initiatives working in a transdisciplinary way alongside professionals and citizens.

If I weren’t a business school professor… Option 1: I would have opened a Pub on a beach in Ibiza, Spain; Option 2 I would have tried to be a soccer coach; Option 3: a politician.

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

The passion and the empathy I think I transmit and the ability to create a space for respectful dialogue and for sharing meaningful and/or lived experiences. I strongly believe, especially when teaching at the postgraduate level, in the idea of co-production of knowledge between the professor and all the participants. Finally, I believe I am quite good in finding right materials and topics that give opportunities to see in practice and to experience what is discussed and/or written in teaching resources.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Energy

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: The process for publishing articles could work and ensure rigorousness, but many times could be random, slow, and not very transparent. So, if you get a reject, it is part of the game and we should learn to share not only successes, but also defeats. However, all in all, I love my job and its international dimension is something which makes one of the best jobs to enter in contact with cultures and people from all over the world.

Professor I most admire and why: I have the privilege of working with many professors I admire, but I will say here two professors I admire, but I have not met yet, in the hope they can read the interview and grab a coffee with me. Prof. Archon Fung at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, because of his commitment to make democracy work; and Prof. Oto Scharmer at MIT because of his commitment to build a more sustainable and equitable economy.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

I enjoy the possibility of inspiring other people to find their vocation and build up their own capabilities to make a positive difference in the world. I see this as a kind of legacy I can make in this word and which gives sense not only to my work, but more broadly to my existence.

What is most challenging?

In my career journey, and especially where I started in Italy, I found very challenging to get stability and a tenure. So, you might work well and be passionate of your job, but not be sure to have the job the next year because of the lack of funding.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: A student who is curious and passionate about applying what she/he learns into the real word

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: A student who studies in a mnemonic way and that sees the module just as a bureaucratic burden to address before getting a formal title

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


What are your hobbies?

I love traveling, and I like very good food, especially if shared in company with friends from all over the world. I like very much soccer and I support both national and local teams. I also try to do some running exercise, but I am quite intermittent on that.

How will you spend your summer?

I hope I can work for the summer by the sea in Calabria, South Italy, where my wife was born. Of course, I will take two weeks completely off.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Ibiza and Formentera in Spain as sea locations and Andalo and Molveno, two close villages in the Italian dolomites’ mountains

Favorite book(s): “The Dolphin: Story of a Dreamer” by Sergio Bambaren and “Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville.

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

My favorite movie is The Ignorant Fairies by Turkish-Italian film director Ferzan Özpetek. I also like tv series on Politics (e.g. House of Cards and the Italian tv series 1992, 1993, 1994) and more generally tv programs on travel and food.

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

I like contemporary pop music.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… More engagement on social challenges, more open to different stakeholders and to partnerships, more glocal – that is more international but more local at the same time

In my opinion, companies, and organizations today need to do a better job at… Creating not only extractive economic value, but putting integrated value – social, economic, environmental – at the center of their purpose.

I’m grateful for… the support I always got from my family for allowing me to pursue this career

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

“I support the nomination of Professor Sancino, because I was lucky enough to have been a student of his in the degree course in Management and Sustainable Innovation and his innovative way of teaching allowed me to develop a critical thinking towards the world. Prof sancino also followed me in my master’s thesis path and it was an experience that enriched me a lot because it gave me the opportunity to do a field research comparing myself with avant-garde companies.”

“Alessandro is an extremely engaging, knowledgeable, unbiased, critical, and humanly and professionally highly competent professor. He manages to engage and motivate students towards the topics of public value, public management and social impact by communicating with passion while applying scientific research methods. He guided me wisely and skillfully toward the completion of my academic career and was at all times an excellent counterpart for reflections and brainstorming-sessions on public value and implications for public entities and leaders.”

“I have worked with Alessandro across a number of programmes, qualifications and modules as well as other initiatives in the School. He is an outstanding academic who manages to combine fantastic research with a real passion for teaching and supporting both his colleagues as well as the students. On a personal level he has taken time out to support me in my own research for which Alessandro receives nothing……no credit, kudos. This, though, sums him up in that he is willing to support others even when it takes him away from his own priorities and for whcih he is unlikely to get anythibg back (other than the gratitude of the individuals he supports). I have nothing but admiration for all that he does. As I say, he is an outstanding academic, passionate about his work, diligent and supportive. He does all this and manages it all with a smile on his face, too. Really, if there is anyone more deserving of this award then they truly must be wonderful as, quite frankly, Alessandro would be right up there as first choice in my book, every time!”

“I am currently serving as our faculty’s Associate Dean for Learning Design and Development and am nominating Dr Sancino for his highly innovative approach to practice-relevant learning in business management education. Dr Sancino’s teaching utilises the affordances of the online medium to enhance the student experience. More specifically, his recently launched module for the Undergraduate Business Programme’s BA (Hons) Business Management degree, ‘Leadership in a Changing World’, brings the current leadership environment and context to life for our students. His innovative design, which encourages students to participate in Twitter to discuss key leadership theories and concepts, provided a highly relevant context in which to explore leadership. Considering the importance of social media (and indeed Twitter, especially) in the recent global leadership and political debates, students were able to learn in practice how social media and participation in other forms of public citizenship impact directly on our notions of leadership, leading and followership. Student feedback has been highly positive, as well as student engagement and success. These are especially important skills as students navigate the challenges of remote working and new practice contexts. Dr Sancino’s leadership of the module, its wider team of academics and student participants is a model for engaging in the wider practice context and helping students to engage in real world challenges.”


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