“Wonderful person and an extraordinary teacher. Talented yet very humble human being. His Course delivery was excellent. First Professor that I saw got a standing ovation at the end of a course.” – Bakary Kamateh
Matthew Lee, 38, is Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at NYU Stern School of Business.
Lee’s research focuses on organizational hybridity, and in particular how businesses organize to simultaneously manage social welfare and environmental sustainability goals alongside commercial performance.
“For instance, some of my recent work studies framing strategies of an anti-Mafia social movement-turned-business, how social categories affect impact investing decisions, and how the perceptions of entrepreneurs that claim to pursue a social impact differ according to the entrepreneur’s gender,” he tells Poets&Quants.
Lee serves on the editorial review boards at Administrative Science Quarterly and Academy of Management Journal, two of the leading journals in organization theory and management.
Before joining NYU, he was a professor at INSEAD in Singapore following his doctoral studies at Harvard Business School. He also worked as a strategy consultant at The Bridgespan Group, advising social sector organizations on strategy and planning.
At current institution since what year? 2019
Education: Doctor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; Bachelor’s, Pennsylvania State University
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Core MBA strategy
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… My first full-time job was in strategy consulting for a social sector consulting firm, Bridgespan. It was incredibly fulfilling and interesting work trying to bring management ideas to non-profits, but I realized after a while that there are a huge number of organizations working on big problems in the world. A single consultant can only work on so many projects.
The idea of being a business school professor came when I realized that my work could have a much broader effect if I moved ‘upstream’ into doing research and disseminating those ideas through teaching and publication.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? All of my work focuses on the issue of social-financial hybridity in organizations: is it really possible for organizations and markets to operate according to a “double bottom-line” that values both financial and social welfare? My research shows how managers and regulators can use “hard” tools, like organization design, and also “soft” tools, like framing, to make these models work.
If I weren’t a business school professor… I think that there are some big social problems that will reach a tipping point of urgency in our lifetimes. One is climate change. Another is inequality of opportunity, particularly as it occurs through the way we educate and care for young children. That urgency will mean opportunities to change things. Organizations like the ones I study and teach about are going to be an important part of the solution to these problems, but government has an equally, if not more important role. So if I weren’t a professor, I think I’d be working on these problems, whether as an entrepreneur or as a policymaker.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? You’d have to ask my students, but what I’m always thinking about in the classroom is how to strike the right balance between engaging deeply with complex ideas while also simplifying and get to the essence of things. Also, how to keep a good energy in the classroom so that everyone is in a good headspace. Classroom “vibes”—the culture and norms—are so important for learning, even online.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Bumbling!
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: The job is never really done. There are ten times more courses and cases that I would love to develop than I have time for. Same thing with research.
Professor I most admire and why: Jonathan Haidt here at NYU Stern is a total star. He’s brilliant, humble, and fearlessly brings his research and ideas to the public conversation.
TEACHING MBA STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I learn so much from my students every time I teach. Our MBA students are exceptionally connected to the cutting edge of what is going on in business and society. And so a lot of the ideas and examples they bring into the classroom are a year or two ahead of what is being talked about in the media. They also don’t always neatly fit the frameworks we study in strategy, which makes for a fun and interesting conversations in class.
What is most challenging? Figuring out how to connect with and guide students who are overwhelmed with recruiting and all of the other parts of student life.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: I really admire those students who do the analysis and are willing to put themselves out there by taking a position on an issue, but at the same time have the humility and maturity to change their minds. They are also the ones who seem to get the most out of class.
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: The only students I don’t like are the ones who don’t show up.
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… I don’t particularly enjoy grading (does anyone?), but I think students would describe me as fair.
LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? I enjoy traveling and running. I participated in community music groups for most of my life. I’m a lifelong fan of the Philadelphia 76ers.
How will you spend your summer? I’ve not gotten that far yet.
Favorite place(s) to vacation: Nepal, China, Sri Lanka, and upstate New York.
Favorite book(s): To Kill a Mockingbird is the one I always come back to. I’m also blown away by Ted Chiang’s short story anthologies.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? The Wire. Where do I begin? It’s about how imperfect people grapple with broken institutions – the drug trade, criminal justice, politics, and public schools. It shows us how these big social issues work through the stories of beautiful, relatable characters. I don’t think we’ll ever see another show like it.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I listen to a mix of classical and EDM while working.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… One thing that needs to happen is a shift in the curriculum to affirm the role that business leaders have in society. Managers need a structured way of thinking about what it means to have a healthy economy and communities, and the role of business in that alongside government and civil society. I think that our students are actually way ahead of us in recognizing the need for this.
We’ll also need different formats and more focused content. Business schools will need to figure out how to engage with a broader set of managers, at more points throughout their careers, and in shorter and more focused formats. That will require new business models. Virtual and “hybrid” learning will be a big part of that.
In my opinion, companies, and organizations today need to do a better job at… Recognizing their interdependence with employees, customers, and government and with each other. I think we’re seeing the limits of our current system. To solve real problems, we need a clearer set of rules and a mindset toward cooperation.
I’m grateful for… All of my students, my family (and dog!), my health, and the amazing privilege I have to work with my students to better understand organizations and organizing.