Assistant Professor of Finance
Yale School of Management
Song Ma is an award-winning professor from the Yale School of Management. Ma has nearly 700 Google Scholar citations and earned more than a dozen in-depth nominations from faculty, students, and administrators.
“My research mainly focuses on entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial finance (like venture capital), and innovation,” Ma says. “In a recent paper titled ‘Killer Acquisitions,’ my coauthors and I show that the threat of future competition creates incentives for incumbent firms to acquire and even terminate innovative startups. Such “killer acquisitions” arise from an incumbent’s desire to prevent the profit cannibalization of existing products that overlap with the target’s innovation. The paper’s results have been widely cited in Congressional antitrust reports and antitrust lawsuits against big tech companies, and it has been incorporated into MBA and Ph.D. courses around the world.”
It is that sort of impact outside of and within the classroom that put Ma firmly on this year’s list of best 40 Under 40 Business School professors.
Current age: 33
At current institution since what year? 2016
Education: Ph.D. in Finance, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, 2016; BA in Economics, Zhejiang University, 2010
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Entrepreneurial Finance
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was a Ph.D. student working on my dissertation. I realized how much I enjoyed working on interesting and relevant questions, crafting a research paper using creative thinking and hard work, and communicating research to colleagues and students. Since then, I have loved my job more and more every day.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
My research mainly focuses on entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial finance (like venture capital), and innovation. In a recent paper titled “Killer Acquisitions,” my coauthors and I show that the threat of future competition creates incentives for incumbent firms to acquire and even terminate innovative startups. Such “killer acquisitions” arise from an incumbent’s desire to prevent the profit cannibalization of existing products that overlap with the target’s innovation. The paper’s results have been widely cited in Congressional antitrust reports and antitrust lawsuits against big tech companies, and it has been incorporated into MBA and Ph.D. courses around the world. I also enjoy exploring new data science technologies and using them in empirical economic research. Most recently, these technologies include unstructured data analysis (such as textual analysis and video analysis) and other machine learning-based methods.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I would most likely be busy building my own startup (and may have failed a few times). Most of my family and friends always knew that I would pursue an entrepreneurship- and innovation-related career, since I had had a passion for it since I was very young. They were perhaps a bit surprised that I would engage with these fields as a professor/researcher.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
Maybe a few things. I use very simple language and examples to explain complicated concepts and frameworks. I also make an effort to engage everyone in my classes to join the discussion and make my classroom a welcoming place to share thoughts and ideas. Also, I think I am very organized and responsive when teaching.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Excited.
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Being a professor is a commitment to constant learning—and that is the best feature of the job. I learn so much from my students. They often bring me new things and ideas in the business world and push me to think about them. I also constantly learn from my colleagues and coauthors—they are all knowledgeable, fun, and kind. It is funny to say this, but one of the best parts of being a business school professor is to be around a lot of great professors all the time and to learn new things every day.
Professor I most admire and why: There are so many whom I deeply admire, particularly my colleagues and mentors at Yale SOM, that I don’t want to slight anybody by picking just one. But I don’t think there would be anything amiss about giving special recognition to my two Ph.D. advisors, John Graham and David T. Robinson from Duke Fuqua. They are both great researchers, award-winning teachers (I learned so much about teaching MBAs from my TA experience with both), and strong and committed community builders. They have also been supportive of me and of their students and junior colleagues.
TEACHING MBA STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
Our students have big ideas and big dreams, and I love my role as someone who can provide a little help on their way to make their dreams come true.
What is most challenging?
Class time is limited, which makes it impossible to cover all the materials that I would like to share with students. Sometimes I record videos or organize extra (optional) class sessions to discuss interesting issues that I do not have time to share during normal class hours.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Creative
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Arrogant
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair
LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? I spend most of my time working on research and being with my family. I used to have a lot of hobbies but “lost” most of them along the way. Luckily, I am picking them up as my daughters are becoming interested in them—piano, chess, tennis, etc. One hobby that I do for myself is woodworking—I built a small woodworking workshop in my basement, and I build simple stuff for myself and friends. I think there are a lot of similarities between academic research and woodworking. They both involve creative thinking, hard work, careful handling of materials, and checking for robustness and strength (which means very different things in research and woodworking).
How will you spend your summer? … This reminds me that I should start planning for it! But I am sure I will have a lot of time budgeted for doing research and family.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: The next place! But more seriously, we always enjoy visiting our family in China. Also, due to the pandemic, our family canceled a spring trip to Istanbul, Turkey, and we still hope to make it there in the near future!
Favorite book(s): My favorite book is always the one I’m currently reading. Recently I have been reading A History of the World in 100 Objects, recommended by a colleague. It is a wonderful book that tells the story of human history using intimate and telling objects. I recently also re-read, for research, Prophet of Innovation, a biography of Joseph Schumpeter, whose ideas deeply influenced and still are guiding how we think about entrepreneurship and innovation.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? As with books, I like things I recently watched or am watching. I liked The Queen’s Gambit last year—partially because I enjoyed watching it with my older daughter, who started to get interested in chess. Notes to Netflix: I hope there can be a kid-friendly version of the show, so I don’t need to do the censoring myself for my 7-year-old.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
I am a fan of most music.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… I can think of three things. First, a focus on reaching optimal decisions and efficient operations when people disagree. Teaching students the ability to find common ground and build consensus is so important if we want to make progress in any area. Second, a focus on adapting business and management education for broader contexts, particularly social problems. I think Yale SOM is doing many such explorations, and I wholeheartedly support those experiments. Third, be more international all around (with students, faculty, teaching materials, research, etc.).
In my opinion, companies, and organizations today need to do a better job at… inclusion and diversity.
I’m grateful for… My family, especially my wife, and our kids and supportive parents. I am also extremely grateful for my colleagues at Yale SOM, who have built a supportive research environment.
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
“Professor Ma uses an interactive teaching method, which is case-based while incorporating the latest concepts from private equity / venture capital funding. It was an honor to be a teaching assistant for Professor Ma, an experience that allowed me to deepen my understanding of private markets and innovation economics. “—Matthew Blumberg, MBA ’17
“Song is my favorite professor at Yale SOM. I loved how engaging his sessions were. The real-life examples he used to draw associations with the concepts, along with a touch of humor, made studying Entrepreneurial Finance so much fun! I would recommend Song Ma for all possible awards for making finance so palatable and fun.” — Maiya Massakbayeva, MAM ’22
“Professor Ma went way above and beyond to make optimal use of new technologies to overcome some pretty unprecedented circumstances and deliver course content in an impactful and engaging way. Entrepreneurial finance is a nuanced field, and he struck the perfect balance between hitting all the high-level points while providing real-world examples that are applicable to our respective careers, all without getting bogged down in the minutiae of each individual topic. He cares a lot about his students, and it shows, both through regular class sessions and his one-on-one engagement outside the classroom.” – Brian Teixeira, MBA ’21
I have known Song in various capacities. I was his student, his teaching assistant, and he provided mentorship to a case competition team I led.
“I’m nominating Song because he was the most stand-out professor I had at SOM. His class, Entrepreneurial Finance, is beloved not only at the School of Management, but also across many other Yale Graduate Schools.”
“It’s a poorly kept secret that the best professors are typically industry practitioners who are doing a second act in MBA education. As a traditional academic researcher, Song disproves that theory.”
“As a professor, Song was 1) Extremely engaging and built great rapport, especially considering that his classes were often oversubscribed at 70+ students each; he’s also fun and hilarious, I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in any of my classes. 2) He provides his students with a solid theoretical and high level foundation that enhances their understanding, judgement and decision-making in both the realms of entrepreneurship and finance. 3) Song is also extremely focused on teaching the hard skills that so many MBA students crave – financial modeling, understanding cash-flow management, looking beneath a pitch-deck to apply various frameworks of industry and company analysis, putting together a compelling investment memo, and more.”
“Having entered business school with virtually no background in finance or entrepreneurship, Song’s class taught me the skills I needed to thrive and receive an offer of continued employment from the venture capital firm I interned at over the summer after my first year.”
“As Song’s teaching assistant, I observed that he was highly focused on being accessible to students and soliciting constant feedback using periodic informal surveys to ensure that his material was relevant and being internalized. One experience that is particularly powerful comes to mind – in response to an insensitive comment made by a student about a diverse founder, Song dedicated an entire section of a later lesson to methodically walking the class through the entire body of research related to diversity in venture capital and entrepreneurship, showing the class just what a complicated, difficult, but also understandable topic it is.” —Grady Lenkin, MBA ’20