2021 Best 40-Under-40 Professors: Wesley Wu-Yi Koo, INSEAD

Wesley Koo is a 2021 Best 40 Under 40 Professor. Courtesy photo

Wesley Wu-Yi Koo

Assistant Professor of Strategy


With more than 70 nominations, INSEAD’s Wesley Wu-Yi Koo was one of our most popular and highly nominated professors on this year’s list. Koo teaches the Technology & Innovation Strategy MBA elective course and a foundations of strategy and organizations doctoral-level course at INSEAD. Koo has won multiple research grants and awards already in his young career.

Not surprisingly, many current and former students had glowing reviews of Koo’s teaching and as a mentor.

“Wesley is a thoughtful and well-researched professor who seamlessly combines real-world and theory in a fun engaging way,” one person told us. “He is dynamic and encouraging to us and has inspired many of us to pursue technology as a field of study or work after our MBAs.”

Said another: “Wesley provided me with unique frameworks to think about the digital trading platform I am working on, which aims to disrupt the protein-based agri-commodity trading industry. This way of thinking allowed me to explore new functionalities for the platform, some of which have been implemented today. Wesley backs up the theoretical with perfect real-world examples and encourages thoughtful discussion.”

Current age: 33

At current institution since what year? 2018


Ph.D. – Stanford University, Department of Management Science & Engineering (2018)

Bachelor of Science – MIT, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering (2009)

Bachelor of Science – MIT, Sloan School of Management (2009)

List of MBA courses you currently teach:

Technology & Innovation Strategy (MBA elective)

Foundations of Strategy and Organisations (Ph.D. core course)

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… When I started doing research on the effects of government policies on entrepreneurship. I realized that a career in business academia would allow one to influence both private entities and public policy.

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

One ongoing project of mine (collaboration with two other scholars) is an examination of how knowledge diffuses in an online community for programmers. One particularly interesting discovery is that users are more likely to learn from other users in the same time zone than from users in more distant time zones, potentially due to the temporal order at which posts are listed on the platform. For example, users in Turkey are more likely to learn from users in Israel and Ukraine than from users in western Europe. A deep-dive into these “vertical bridges” of learning could produce valuable lessons for global knowledge diffusion, especially for the diffusion of digital knowledge. The big message is that the digitization of learning enables global knowledge flows, but there exist hidden frictions associated with people’s physical locations. It is important to pay attention to the “offline interface” when looking at online interactions.

If I weren’t a business school professor… An entrepreneur, a venture capitalist, or a think tank researcher. To be honest, I have no idea.

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

Strong willingness to experiment with new concepts and teaching methods. Also, a healthy dose of self-deprecation.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Bombastic.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: By and large, students are very supportive of the professor. Also, don’t try too hard to impress the students. If you are sincere in your effort, they will feel it.

Professor I most admire and why: I admire a number of professors, many of who have advised me on career and on life. Here, I want to take the opportunity to recognize one professor with whom I have only had a brief interaction: Professor Stephen H. Schneider. A renowned environmental biologist, he travelled around the world to educate students, scholars, policymakers about the effects of climate change on biological systems. He was deeply passionate about his research and thought of science as a “contact sport” between different disciplines and schools of thought. His vigor is evidenced by how he, during our first encounter, threw his name card at me as if he was throwing a ninja star; I’ve kept that name card in the back of my wallet till this day. Specifically, I admire his emphasis on turning scientific research into meaningful policy implications. That is a big reason why I chose to pursue a career in academia in the first place. Professor Schneider passed away unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism during a research trip. He is missed by many, who will hopefully continue to fight the good fight.

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Encouraging debate between students with diverging viewpoints.

What is most challenging?

Teaching hungry students (actual hunger, as in needing more food).

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

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

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

What are your hobbies?

Playing sports with friends, social gaming, binge-browsing Wikipedia. Avid fan of Chelsea FC.

How will you spend your summer?

I will spend my summer moving between Singapore and Los Angeles. In Singapore, my partner and I will take daily strolls around the local hawkers and shophouses. We will (try to) wake up early to avoid the scorching sun. In Los Angeles, we will spend some quality time with my family, including two large puppies and two cats who will sneak into our laps at any given chance. We will challenge my 90-year-old grandparents in Mahjong, and they will beat us beyond shadow of doubt.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Southeast Asia (especially Borobudur) and Spain (especially Santiago de Compostela).

Favorite book(s): A Thousand Splendid Suns.

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

Coco. The music, the animation, and the story which reflects a rich cultural heritage and family values.

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

I find most fascinating music with cultural and historic roots. On a normal day, I might play Portuguese Fado or Mongolian Khoomii in the background.

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… If I had my way, the business school of the future would mix students of different age groups. Currently, the assumption is that people should pursue an MBA in their 20s and early 30s. That assumption needs to be challenged because an MBA classroom could be greatly enriched by the presence of older students who may have more experience in senior roles. Moreover, older students could also benefit from the presence of younger peers, who might be more aware of the latest technological and business trends.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Managing expectations and defining success. There is too much emphasis in certain parts of the world on achieving a billion-dollar valuation, so much so that running a sustainable business is sometimes seen as a failure. Even worse, sustainable businesses are sometimes pressured by investors to shut down because they cannot achieve exponential growth, without regard for existing employees and user bases. Impact is and should be treated as manifold.

I’m grateful for… Nurturing and help from family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. Being born in a relatively peaceful time in history.

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

“The first course I’ve every taken related to tech is the Technology Innovation Strategy class taught by professor Wesley at INSEAD Singapore campus. It sure exceeded my expectations and increased my interest in this field. The topics and cases chosen by Wesley in class were interesting to all students coming from various backgrounds. Covering this much of interesting knowledge, approach and thought process in only 1 course is a great success achieved by prof Wesley through his great ability of engaging us in class, bringing in impressive speakers for related topics, showcasing the evolution of gadgets to help us better understand the theory in practice and giving us the opportunity to work on a tech innovation strategy project with full creative freedom while applying the strategies acquired. After having graduated from INSEAD, I still go back to his lessons as a reference to help me tackle cases at work.”

“Wesley’s course connected a lot of elements that made it a deep learning experience. He brings very relevant guest speakers who not only know the theory but are actually implementing technological innovations. Further, he brings props and tech pieces relevant or appearing in the cases being discussed so the students can actually connect with the case. Additionally, he makes sure the cases are relevant and that everyone in the room feels included and safe to speak. Finally, he is not afraid to make fun of himself, which is great for lightening the mood.”

“Wesley’s Technology and Innovation strategy MBA course stress not only the frameworks but also applying those frameworks to real-world problems. For example, at the end of the intensive case-driven and guest lecture heavy course, students (in groups) apply the concepts of the course to a real-world problem from the industry – in parallel to the course, students reach out to strategy leaders in the tech industry to seek live projects to apply the course frameworks. The mini-conference at the end of the course is a capstone project for the course for groups to present their real-world projects which they worked on in collaboration with the industry leaders. While the course curriculum and guest participation are as rich as the other courses at INSEAD, Wesley’s efforts to put the learnings into action is what differentiates him from the pack. As someone without any background in technology, with the help of the course and fellow students, I was able to work with a C-level executive at a leading IOT company to layout the expansion strategies in the healthcare space.”

“Inspirational professor on many levels. Takes the time to meet with students, ensures that the class is fully engaged and delivers key messages about the impact of technology very well. Wesley brings in a wealth of knowledge from external speakers, who are equally inspirational. Overall, a very balanced and strong profile, definitely worthy of being the top 10 of 40 under 40s.”


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