It’s a room. There’s nothing special, just a podium surrounded by rows of desks. You’ll find a screen in some, whiteboards, and chalkboards in others. Many days, something truly transformative happens in rooms like these. Ideas are sparked and urgency spurred; barriers are leveled and confidence is instilled. Here, what’s complex is broken down into its interconnected parts — and what’s seemingly simple is peeled back to reveal its risks, limits, and contradictions.
“What would cause students to fill a class every quarter where the expected workload is easily over 15 hours every week? A great professor, that’s what.”
That’s the differentiator says Gabriela Arismendi, a 2021 graduate of the University of Chicago’s Booth School. She would know. As an MBA student, she had a front row seat to watching a master teacher at work in her Commercializing Innovation course. In an ordinary classroom, she watched Scott Meadow work his magic, a mix of no-nonsense Jack Welch and raconteur Walt Disney.
OWNING THE ROOM
“[Meadow] coolly walks around the room telling a story about a business or an idea or an entrepreneur,” Arismendi tells P&Q. “The room is captivated – and you see all heads turning as he makes his way around the room. You forget that you are learning as you feel like you are just listening to a really great story. Then, when tables are turned and it’s time for students to speak – he holds no punches. He expects students to provide thoughtful questions or comments that really contribute to student learning or they will get cut off. Hands shoot up when it’s time to talk and everyone is eager to meet the high expectations that he has set forth. By the end of the class, you know that you’ve earned your “I [heart] cash flow” button that he distributes to students to make sure they never forget it.”
Great teachers — they are the variable that truly set business schools apart. Anyone can teach out of a text. True masters make content personal and unforgettable with the examples, vignettes, and exercises they package together. There is no formula for success for these teachers. In business schools, you’ll find the most decorated professors may rely heavily on lectures, case method, projects, or simulations. However, they share one quality: they can bridge the real world and theory. In the process, they ask the questions that draw out the collective experiences and insights of their students. They are teachers first and researchers second. They are the ones who stick around to listen to pitches or dig through their network to find opportunities for their students. Most of all, these teachers haven’t lost touch with what it was like to be a learner — and the fear that comes with stepping into the spotlight and trying something new.
You’ll find this same spirit with “Dr. J.” That’s what the MBAs at Duke University call Dr. Jeremy Petranka. However, you won’t find the hardwood flair of the original Dr. J. in Petranka’s class. Instead, he takes a more traditional tact — and executes it to perfection.
“He lectures the old-fashioned way, crafting visuals on the whiteboard as the conversation unfolds, rather than relying on the ease of rote PowerPoint decks,” observes Mike Treiser, a 2021 Fuqua grad. “He poses questions not to have students prove whether we are prepared but to pull us into discussions that apply what we already know to illuminate things we don’t. He has high expectations for his students and makes sure we leave class having learned something.”
NO NEED FOR COFFEE WITH DR. GOH AROUND
Beyond his classroom prowess, Dr. J. sets himself apart by how deeply he invests time in his students. “In our first class, he lectured on the value of vulnerability, and even offered to meet with any of us who might experience anxiety or imposter’s syndrome,” Treiser adds. “He’s made good on that promise, filling his schedule with one-on-ones, not only with his students but also with their non-Fuqua partners. He has been an indispensable thought partner, confidante, and mentor to me and my co-president in student government.”
Maybe the biggest sign of a master teacher? Students file into class early, eager to dissect the previous night’s reading. That’s the case with Joel Goh at the National University of Singapore. You could call Goh a force multiplier, a catalyst who transmits his passion for operations and analytics — all while keeping his students engaged by taking his classes in unexpected and entertaining directions.
“Have you ever met someone that has a certain energy and good vibe that is simply infectious to everyone around him,” asks Tarun Bhatia, one of Goh’s former students. “Well, multiply that times 1,000 – that’s Professor Joel for you. I don’t think I’ve ever come across an individual with that much passion for his work. It was easy for me to get away with skipping my morning coffee on the day of his class!
In the end, great teachers clarify, connect, and elevate. The end result: they leave students with a deeper sense of their possibilities — and the courage to act on them. This year, there are many business school professors who fit this definition. To honor them, P&Q asked this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs and MBAs to Watch to share their favorite professor and what made them so special. From Stanford to IMD, here are the professors who made a real difference to MBAs over the past two years.
“Professor Puneet Manchanda from the marketing team has been my favourite MBA professor so far. His course on Digital Marketing is designed such that every student gets hands-on experiences with real-world practices that companies use to grow their business. Through a series of simulations and certifications, he has ensured that we clearly understand the fundamentals of marketing and experience first-hand the factors that drive value for companies. He actively promotes class discussions and constantly encourages students to share their experiences with the rest of the class, leading to a very engaged atmosphere. As a part of the curriculum, he also invites industry leaders to address the class and share their perspectives – a great exercise during which we have often seen real applications of concepts we have learned in class.”
Neha Tadichetty, University of Michigan (Ross)
“I’d have to say that my core Managerial Economics professor, Amit Khandelwal, truly was my favorite. This is because, at first, I couldn’t stand him. However, really it wasn’t him; it was the subject I couldn’t stand and more so myself trying desperately to understand it. I struggled the most with microeconomics in the beginning, and I was most afraid of it than any other subject heading into the rigorous core. Therefore, when Professor Khandelwal made it seem so natural, I was frustrated. But as time passed and he began to cold-call me in class, he wouldn’t let me off the hook if a question wasn’t clicking for me: he would have me work through the problem and break it down to its fundamental elements so that I could see how the pieces fit together. And when something clicked, there was the joy that I felt in my understanding of it and I could see reflected back in him—he really loves teaching and seeing his students succeed.
He is also a great storyteller and has a way of weaving great stories into the way he explains complicated economic concepts. Professor Khandelwal turned my most abhorred and feared subject into my favorite and most exciting subject. He was committed to making us feel free to make mistakes and learn from them. He made me a better thinker, a bigger risk-taker, and helped make this poet more of a quant than she ever thought she could be.”
Olivia Mell, Columbia Business School
“My favorite professor is Metin Sengul (Competitive Strategy and Strategic Management). He is incredibly engaging, effective, and exacting. He can peel away at weak, ineffective, or jargon-filled arguments with surgical efficiency to reveal a lack of preparation or understanding. I quickly learned that I needed to show up to Professor Sengul’s class prepared and sharp-witted. In his class, I felt like I was sitting in a boardroom at a meeting of personal consequence where I had to provide a concise, thoughtful perspective and effectively respond to challenges to my point of view.”
Gráinne Dunne, Boston College (Carroll)
“My favorite professor was John Wisneski, who taught Sources of Competitive Advantage, year one. John started every class with a 2-minute mindfulness practice that included a mini-meditation and thanking each other (classmates) for being a part of our growth process. Not only did I learn how to utilize strategic frameworks and how to create real added value, but how to be a conscious and forward-thinking leader that looked for my Ikigai.”
Simone Bayfield, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)
“I loved learning from and traveling to Russia with Renee Dye who teaches the core strategy course taken by every full-time MBA student at Goizueta. Her rich experience as a management consultant and c-suite executive allowed her to bring fascinating real-life board room stories and challenges to our class for discussion. She had high expectations for her students, and I always knew that I could expect lively (and sometimes heated) debates and discussions in every one of her classes. Professor Dye often also went beyond the classroom to provide meaningful professional experiences to her students. Knowing that I had a keen interest in impact investing, she provided me with the opportunity to complete a directed study on the topic under her supervision. Lastly, I consider her to be very brave for accompanying 25 MBA students on a 2-week trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg – what a blast we had!”
Anupama Tadanki, Emory University (Goizueta)
“Leslie Charm is my favorite professor. I chose my first elective course, Entrepreneurial Finance, even before starting the MBA. After being admitted to Babson, I started to use all of the resources that Babson had to offer even before the start of the semester. At that time, I was seeking help on some family business issues and I was referred to Les Charm. I was in for the greatest surprise. From that first meeting, I knew that Les would be an invaluable resource. Les is calm and intelligent, and willing not just to help you with the business problem but to guide you through it. Les has a unique way of teaching that makes you think objectively. I enjoyed every class he taught, every example he cited, and every case we analyzed with him. I will take his guiding principles with me forever: “What is the goal of the first meeting; Why is it important; Why should I care; Why should I believe you; and why should I invest in you.”
Jennifer Reed Papadopulos, Babson College (Olin)
“David Kryscynski, the core business strategy professor. On our first day of his class, he went around the classroom naming every student one by one. DK had spent his Christmas break memorizing 110 students’ names. That to me showed that he cared deeply about us and that he was interested in our success beyond just his course. DK is always there when I need help in life in general. For example, DK has a huge influence on me as I picked between two internships offered during the summer. He taught me how to base decisions on values not purely on monetary significance. DK also taught how to better handle conflict. His advice is the reason I was able to strengthen a few MBA relationships when they were at a tough point. I feel really lucky to have him as a mentor in my life, and I will forever value and cherish the learning and the relationship I have with him.”
Dunia Alrabadi, Brigham Young University (Marriott)
“My favorite MBA professor is Professor David Lei of the strategy department, for several reasons. One is the fact that his style of teaching is so practical; he uses everyday examples and presents key concepts in such a way that you don’t have to memorize anything. He teaches in a way that one truly understands the concepts and can apply them in the real world and at our future jobs. Two is the fact that he is so full of energy. No matter how you are feeling during his class, you are bound to be engaged, pay attention, and probably have a laugh or two before his class is over. Lastly, I can see just how passionate he is about imparting knowledge into others and how he gets so energized from teaching. Before him, I had never had a professor who gets so happy from interacting with his students…even virtually. Just having a professor who does all this and his outgoing and jovial personality makes him my favorite professor.”
Stacy C. Tubonemi, Southern Methodist University (Cox)
“I took New Venture Strategy with Professor Jim Schrager. He’s a powerful presenter and storyteller who actively engages the students in memorable ways, from entertaining tales about firefighters and chess players to long class discussions about cases enumerating all potential strategic options on the table – even ludicrous ones. He has spent many years ruthlessly refining his class materials, not only for maximum clarity but also for maximum retention in the minds of the students. Several months later, I can still recall the 9 core strategies and key questions from the class, and I still apply them to any business venture I encounter.”
Theodore Lim, University of Chicago (Booth)
“I never thought I would say my favorite classroom experience was on Zoom in the spring of 2020. Laurence Ales is an Economics professor who teaches the Global Economics core class at Tepper. His class was the perfect class to take during the pandemic as he was able to teach us how to interpret what was happening to the global economy and why. Each week, he would use examples from real time GDP and unemployment data to apply the concepts we were learning in class. He engaged students by inviting them to, in his words, “have a chat” during class. He always kept us laughing with little things like jazz music during breaks and using Star Wars to teach us about trade wars. Engaging students in a virtual environment is challenging and I am grateful for the effort he put in to make class an exciting experience.”
Melissa Bizzari, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)
“We are spoiled for choices at Cambridge when it comes to our teaching faculty. However, one of my favourites so far is Professor Mark de Rond, who teaches the Management Praxis II: Cambridge Negotiations Lab. During his course, we roleplay complex negotiations in groups and develop relational skills including empathy, collective problem solving and mutual value creation. Some of the scenarios included an internal company dispute and trying to secure consensus around the rebuilding of the World Trade Centre post 9/11. Professor de Rond has made these negotiations engaging over Zoom and has provided numerous interesting anecdotes from his experiences observing Army surgeons in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan and with the Cambridge Boat Race Team. He also has a Guinness World Record for the first-ever unsupported row of the Amazon.”
Aaron D’Souza, University of Cambridge (Judge)
“Many professors inspired me and allowed me to grow in ways that I did not expect. However, if I had to choose one, I would have to say Sinan Erzurumlu – Professor for Leading Sustainable innovation and Future Lab. Professor Sinan opened my eyes to the fact that although no one can fix all the problems, we can all take part in taking small action which collectively will affect change. He got me on that train and I have since taken steps in my personal, academic and professional life to affect change everywhere I can.”
Nathalya Mamane, Babson College (Olin)
“Ralf Boscheck. As our Economy Professor, he was famous in the class for different perspectives: the dense and almost unrecognizable handwriting on the blackboard, the 2000 years of economic philosophy in one hour, the most challenging quizzes, the Flower analysis model that works for all industries, and bad (occasionally good) jokes…
Despite that, he explained to us that management’s ultimate economic value is to create and improve trust. He taught us the shortness of life and the importance of time. He threw out uncountable deep questions and inspired insightful discussions. He himself is a role model of an authentic leader.”
Haichen Liu, IMD Business School
“My favorite MBA professor is Ned Rimer, faculty director of the Health Sector Management Program. He is an incredible professor and a great mentor. I thoroughly enjoyed his class and speaker sessions. Our spring 2020 classes with Ned started right in the middle of the COVID 19 pandemic. He spent time at the beginning of every class addressing the uncertainties due to the pandemic and offered support through additional office hours every week. Ned’s newsletters every Monday offered us hope and encouragement. He helped us navigate the internship search and provided us virtual networking opportunities. He went above-and-beyond to support our class during unprecedented times.
Dheera Keerthi Kattula, Boston University (Questrom)