As an assistant professor of finance at The Wharton School, Alex Edmans often left others wondering where he’d pop up next.
There he was skating up and down the ice as captain of one of Wharton’s hockey teams, or walking the runway of an MBA fashion show, or jamming in the Battle of the Bands. He appeared in three Wharton Follies musicals. He donned gloves for the Wharton V. Penn Law Fight Night, boxing in the Blue Horizon boxing ring, made famous by Rocky Balboa himself.
As head coach for DetermiNation Philadelphia, the American Cancer Society’s endurance program, Edmans coached a group of Wharton MBAs through the city’s half and full marathons. After finishing his half, he ran back to the 12-mile mark to cheer on his students and run their last miles with them. He then ran to mile 25 to do the same for students running the full marathon. Wharton Against Cancer raised more than any other team, and it remains one of Edman’s proudest teaching moments.
“He was almost like the ‘Where’s Waldo?’ of Wharton. He was popping up everywhere, and I was thinking, ‘I don’t have the time to do 25% of what he does. How does he find the energy? When does this guy sleep?” says Luke Taylor, a Wharton professor of finance who joined the business school one year after Edmans in 2008.
“Alex is a truly unique person in our profession. He is uniquely successful as a scholar – he is one of the most successful researchers of his generation,” Taylor tells Poets&Quants. “And he is uniquely successful as a teacher. I think one of the reasons students love him is that he connects with them, and not just in the academic sense. He creates relationships with them and speaks to them about bigger picture things like purpose and what it means to have a meaningful career. I think they really appreciate that.”
POETS&QUANTS MBA PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR: ALEX EDMANS
In between the extracurriculars, Edmans, now a professor of finance at London Business School, pioneered research in corporate social responsibility (CSR) years before it became fashionable. He’s presented his research at the World Economic Forum in Davos and testified before the British Parliament. His TED Talk on what to trust in a post-truth world and a TEDx Talk at LBS on the social responsibility of business have garnered more than 2.4 million views.
He consults regularly with business practitioners and is the managing editor of the Review of Finance, one of the world’s premiere finance journals. He’s also won countless teaching awards –- as a teaching assistant at MIT, as an assistant and associate professor of finance at Wharton and as a professor at LBS.
For his pioneering research in CSR; for his impact and influence on hundreds of MBA students; and for his exhaustive efforts to disseminate research to not only business practitioners but a much wider audience, Alex Edmans is Poets&Quants‘ MBA Professor of the Year.
Edmans is the fifth professor to earn the honor. Past winners include Harvard’s Deepak Malhotra (2020), UVA Darden’s Lalin Anik (2019), Stanford’s Jennifer Aaker (2018), and Darden’s Greg Fairchild (2017).
“He has taken a personal body of research and converted it into something that has impact across three key communities: the academic community where he continues to be a leading light in producing top-quality research, his student community where he uses that research to teach key concepts around finance and responsibility, and the practitioner community where he’s had a real influence on policy and practice around the responsible business agenda,” says Tom Gosling, Executive Fellow of Finance at LBS, a position that connects the academic research of LBS faculty with corporate leaders.
“I just don’t see many people having that balanced of an impact across those three constituencies, with each one feeding off the other in a very successful way. I think that’s quite an inspirational model for other people in the profession.”
ON SOCCER, THE STOCK MARKET, AND FINDING ONE’S PASSION
People who know Edmans describe him as a generous colleague with boundless energy. He is tireless in his pursuit of a wide range of interests — from music to sports, to teaching, to rigorous scholarship — and he often talks about finding one’s passions in his lectures and public engagements. (You can find his lectures and talks all over YouTube or on his personal website.)
It’s not that he has endless energy, he says, but that he only pursues the things that energize him. That means saying “no” when necessary. “If a research project has a good chance of being published in a top journal, but I’m not passionate about the topic, I won’t do it,” he says.
Growing up in Reading, England, Edmans played for the national junior chess team and was a fanatic about soccer. (He told Poets&Quants in 2017 that if he wasn’t a business-school professor, and if ability were no object, he’d be the manager of a Premier League soccer club.) In his A-levels – the U.K.’s subject-based qualifications for getting into university – he studied a mix of STEM and humanities courses instead of picking one track as most students do. He studied economics at the University of Oxford because the English approach to the subject invites deep, lively debate.
“This is why I really like economics and business: On the one hand, you have some theories so it’s not purely subjective, but it’s not like physics where there’s a right or wrong answer,” Edmans tells Poets&Quants. “We can look at different theories of optimal taxation, for example, and I could argue that taxes should be higher, and you could argue that taxes should be lower. And we can both respect each other’s opinions.”
Edmans worked in investment banking at Morgan Stanley for about 2 years after university. He liked being 21 years old, in the room with the CFOs of top companies and working on complex deals that could shape the company’s future. His first big deal was covered by the Financial Times.
“And the day after, it just completely disappeared. I thought, ‘I spent seven, eight months of my life working on one company’s problems at one point in time,” Edmans says. “As a professor, if you find a general result, let’s say the effect of corporate governance on firm performance, well that’s timeless. That will apply to many companies in different industries across different periods of time.”
NEXT PAGE: Researching the business case for responsibility