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Chicago Booth | Mr. Peru PE To Brazil MBB
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2021 Best 40-Under-40 Professors: Michelle Xue Zheng, CEIBS

Michelle Xue Zheng is a 2021 Best 40 Under 40 Professor. Courtesy photo

Michelle Xue Zheng

Assistant Professor of Management

China Europe International Business School (CEIBS)

With more than three dozen nominations, Michelle Xue Zheng was one of our most highly nominated professors this year. Zheng teaches Organization Behavior, Leadership Journey, and Managerial Decision Making across Boundaries at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai.

Not only is Zheng an incredibly popular and well-respected teacher within the MBA program at CEIBS, we chose her because of her recent research, which shows business school professors can and do contribute to greater societal good. Her research has been featured in publications like Forbes, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic.

“Recently, my co-authors and I examined whether mindfulness can neutralize the negative impact of COVID-19 stressors on employees’ sleep duration and work engagement,” Zheng says. “We conducted a field experiment in Wuhan, China, during the lockdown in 2020, in which we induced a state of mindfulness by asking participants to practice mindfulness continuously for ten days. The results show that the sleep duration of participants in the mindfulness condition, compared with the control condition, was less impacted by COVID-19 stressors (e.g., the increase of infections in the community). We found similar results in a 10-day daily diary study in the United Kingdom. These findings suggest that mindfulness is an evidence-based practice that can effectively neutralize the negative effects of COVID-19 stressors on sleep and work outcomes. I hope this research can help those who have suffered from the COVID-19 crisis.”

Current age: 38

At current institution since what year? 2015

Education: Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, National University of Singapore, Singapore; M.A. in Management, Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, France.

List of MBA courses you currently teach:

  • Organizational Behavior
  • Leadership Journey
  • Managerial Decision Making across Boundaries

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…

When I was very young, I already knew I wanted to be a business school professor. My mother was an award-winning Chinese literature elementary school teacher. My father earned a master’s degree in finance from a Chinese business school in the 1980s, which was very rare at that time in China. They inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. and become a professor. But I became even more certain about becoming a business school professor when I watched my Ph.D. supervisor Jayanth Narayanan teach negotiations and decision-making. I saw that professors don’t have to be studious and serious; teaching can be highly interactive and experiential for students.

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

Recently, my co-authors and I examined whether mindfulness can neutralize the negative impact of COVID-19 stressors on employees’ sleep duration and work engagement. We conducted a field experiment in Wuhan, China, during the lockdown in 2020, in which we induced a state of mindfulness by asking participants to practice mindfulness continuously for ten days. The results show that the sleep duration of participants in the mindfulness condition, compared with the control condition, was less impacted by COVID-19 stressors (e.g., the increase of infections in the community). We found similar results in a 10-day daily diary study in the United Kingdom. These findings suggest that mindfulness is an evidence-based practice that can effectively neutralize the negative effects of COVID-19 stressors on sleep and work outcomes. I hope this research can help those who have suffered from the COVID-19 crisis.

If I weren’t a business school professor… Since I am so passionate about analyzing people, I would probably be in a related profession such as a criminal profiler, psychiatrist, or linguistics expert.

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

I am very approachable. To my students, I am down-to-earth and authentic, just like an average next-door neighbor. Meanwhile I can connect with a wide range of people because I am a professor with many dimensions such as expertise in managing social relationships and hardship, rich personal experience, and a global background. My students, whether they are Chinese or international, can easily feel connected to me.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Surreal. I taught 120 Executive MBA students from all over the world for my very first time teaching at CEIBS. An incredibly exciting and humbling experience.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:

Being a good teacher and researcher requires a great deal of self-control and persistence. However, to achieve a healthy life, you should also strike a balance between “control” and “letting things go”. There is an aphorism I like to share with students when I teach resilience: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Professor I most admire and why:

To those amazing professors who have mentored, supported, and inspired me greatly on my journey to becoming a B-school professor – thank you! This is not a complete list, but special thanks to Jayanth Narayanan, Marius van Dijke, David De Cremer, Larry Farh, Katherine Xin, Sebastian Schuh, and Richard Carney.

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

I enjoy presenting evidence-based knowledge about managing one’s self, others, and organizations to help my students make better informed managerial decisions. Importantly, I do not simply lecture such knowledge; I use experiential learning techniques so the ideas stick with students beyond the classroom.

What is most challenging?

When students sit in my class and listen to what I have to say, they are entrusting me with a portion of their precious time. I feel a responsibility to make every student feel there are valuable lessons they can use when they walk out of my classroom. But it can be challenging for me to fulfill every student’s needs.

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

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

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

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies?

Having lived in five different countries and traveled in more than 30, I still love traveling around the world with my husband Richard, people watching, and trying different local cuisines. I also love reading fashion blogs and enjoy mixing and matching OOTD. I also practice mindfulness and meditation, as I teach in class.

How will you spend your summer?

Finding a good family resort to keep my 3-year-old daughter happy and squeezing in some time for my research. J

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Villefranche in Southern France, Lake Wynonah in Pennsylvania where my parents-in-law own a beautiful lake house, and Singapore where I love to eat Chilli Crab and Laksa.

Favorite book(s): Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems. I love how the author presents a stunning starry sky at the end of the book as a reward for the elephant’s anxious waiting. It is a great book for teaching children, like my 3-year-old daughter, about delaying gratification.

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 watching psychological thrillers because I love understanding people’s behaviors.

My favorite movie is La La Land because Ryan Gosling is my favorite actor, LOL. Kidding aside, for me, La La Land is not about Mia and Sebastian’s romance. The real charm of the movie is the shimmer of dreams and not giving up in pursuing those dreams. I see myself in Mia – an ambitious girl who goes to the big city to pursue her dreams without giving in to other temptations. It is very touching to see her eventually grow into an independent woman standing on her own two feet.

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

I became a fan of French chansons after studying in Paris. I like EDM because I lived in Rotterdam for 3 yearsJ. And because my favorite singer-songwriter is Jay Chou, I also like R&B and rock music.

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

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

Given that AI is reshaping the future workplace by handling more analytical tasks, the future of human-centered work is moving towards the “feeling economy”. Unique features that AI cannot and should not replace include people’s ability to be empathetic and emotional. Thus, the business school of the future should place more emphasis on developing students’ emotional intelligence, communication skills, empathy, and acumen about interpersonal relationships.

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

They need to do a better job at meeting employees’ expectations. Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic have changed employees’ expectations about organizations. It is increasingly challenging to keep employees committed, engaged, and productive. In order to “MEET” the challenges of today’s changing workplace, I often mention a MEET framework for organizations: Mindfulness and other stress reduction programs, Empathetic leadership, Equality in the workplace, and Trust in remote workers.

I’m grateful for… I am grateful for all the experiences (ups and downs) I have had and all the people I have met so far. I am grateful for all the nurturing workplaces I have worked in, unconditional family support, mentors, colleagues, friends, and for my own capacity to work through difficult times. My favorite poem, by Stephen King, illustrates the very essence of being mindful and grateful: “We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”

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

“As a fellow Professor of the Organizational Behavior department here at CEIBS, I am proud to nominate my colleague Michelle Xue Zheng for this year’s 40 under 40 list with Poets & Quants. As the former Associate Dean and Director of the MBA programme, I see in Michelle similar qualities to others previously included on this prestigious list that are required by this profession to really make an impact on future generations of business leaders. A topic very close to my heart, which is increasingly important for young professionals is mindfulness, particularly in light of the competitive nature of the MBA programme and their demanding post-MBA careers. From Michelle’s teaching, I have not only been impressed as to how she has woven this into the curriculum, but also the association our students now draw between success and wellbeing.”

“Michelle and I have taught together in various programs and I have witnessed her unique and highly effective style first-hand. Her classes are interactive, immersive, and she has emerged as one of the favorite professors among our MBA students. She never presents theories in a vacuum but uses innovative exercises to facilitate learning by doing. Anything can happen in her classroom. For example, you can see physical exercises in her leadership class in which she “handicaps” leaders of teams by blindfolding them to force leaders to learn how to empower others. She transforms her classroom into a safe space for students to experience important workplace challenges, take risks, and make mistakes. She acts like a director, striking the balance between spontaneity and order. She then co-builds theories with students based on their own reflections. The resulting “ah-ha” moments create deep and lasting learning and help students retain the lessons learned.”

“Through my rich experience recruiting CEIBS professors and training their teaching skills, Michelle definitely stands out as a great teacher. She is a well-established scholar in conflict management and leadership. Her teaching style, which originates from students’ needs, instantly makes the audience feel connected to her. She has the ability to use experiential learning approaches to make topics stick with students. These all make her a very convincing and powerful teacher in the classroom. She is the first professor to introduce a much-needed workshop “building personal resilience” for CEIBS staff during the COVID-19 crisis in May 2020 when face-to-face teaching was resumed. Especially lessons she drew from Wuhan residents strongly resonated with us. She dramatically transformed our view of coping with crises from focusing on improving our weaknesses to leveraging our strengths. To this day, this workshop has had a lasting impact on me and my colleagues in how we view our personal lives and career development.”

“Michelle is one of the best professors in the MBA program in terms of her research expertise and teaching performance. By focusing on conflict management and leadership development, her research (a dozen published papers) has made a unique theoretical contribution to the field as she brings positive psychology to organizational studies. These publications have been covered by high profile media in the Netherlands, United States, and China. Building on her expertise, Michelle uses research-led teaching materials. She illustrated the importance of bringing evidence-based management to the B-school classroom. She often jokes that her lessons are not based on Jeff Bezos’s opinions, but are backed up by cutting-edge findings from her and other credible scholars. Because she is an area expert, she is very charismatic and passionate in teaching topics such as OB and leadership. Clearly, students appreciate that –157 MBA students evaluated her OB teaching as 4.83 out of 5.”

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