2023 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: David Tan, Foster School of Business, University of Washington

Congrats to David Tan of the Foster School of Business, University of Washington for being named a 2023 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professor.

David Tan

Foster School of Business, University of Washington

David is an incredibly creative and effective professor of corporate strategy. His classes are known for being engaging, energetic, and fast-paced. In one notable class on game theory and corporate optimization, utilizing a case on Birchbox, he had the entire class in stitches as we watched the decline of their stores through the lens of old Yelp reviews. David himself took on the role of Carolyn from Virginia who truly loved the new airbrush makeup system she tried out at their Soho store. While David might still be puzzling over what airbrushing is, for me the corporate strategy lesson stuck!” – Ester Allen

David Tan, 38, is Associate Professor at the Foster School of Business, University of Washington.

His research interests are in aspects of strategy outside of product markets, including labor markets and legal/regulatory environments. His work has been published in the Strategic Management Journal,  Organization Science, and others. He serves as Senior Editor of Organization Science.

He is the winner of two best conference paper awards in Stakeholder Strategy IG, Strategic Management Society’s Annual Conferences. He also won several teaching awards at UW Foster, including the Excellence in Teaching Award.


At current institution since what year? 2013

Education: PhD, Emory University, 2009

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Competitive Strategy


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I saw the movie, WarGames. There is a scene in the movie that I knew would be a great clip for a class on strategy (no spoilers!). It was so gratifying when I taught my first strategy class and finally got to use it, just as I imagined. I have been using it for 14 years now, and I still get a kick out of it every time. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I am currently interested in the social impact of business. I am especially interested in the context of public health. Some of my current research examines the role of firms in the opioid epidemic and the creation of dietary guidelines. One recent finding from this research is that secrecy may have shielded prescription opioid firms from being sued for their role in the opioid epidemic. 

If I weren’t a business school professor… I’d be an engineer or chef. I enjoy the expression of creativity in the service of practical, utilitarian needs. I think this is also what I enjoy about doing research and teaching in a business school. 

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? Probably my use of movie references and bad puns to illustrate concepts in class. My hope is that if students can recall the groan-worthy dad jokes from class, these will provide cognitive anchors for recalling the substantive concepts from class. 

One word that describes my first time teaching: Anxious.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: It has a lot in common with improv theater. 

Professor I most admire and why: I am lucky to have been around so many talented and inspiring professors over the years. I view my teaching and research philosophies as amalgamations of things I learned from my professors from when I was a student as well as colleagues in my school and in my field after becoming a professor. To this day, there are specific practices and values that I can trace to specific individuals. 


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? MBA students come from such a diverse variety of professional and personal backgrounds. Every new cohort gives me an opportunity to learn new things about the world. 

What is most challenging? MBA students come from such a diverse variety of backgrounds. Every cohort has its own unique interests and learning needs. Every cohort also develops its own unique culture and group dynamics. It is challenging but rewarding to adapt course material on the fly to the unique and evolving attributes of each cohort. 

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

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

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


What are your hobbies? I used to run cross country, so when I have time, I still enjoy running. Since moving to Seattle I have also discovered that I love cross country (skate) skiing. 

How will you spend your summer? Catching up on research projects, traveling to see family and friends, and perhaps remodeling my house. 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Generally anywhere with nice beaches or mountains. 

Favorite book(s): Great Gatsby 

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Parks and Recreation. We can learn a lot from Leslie Knope.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Probably classic rock because of the nostalgia. 


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Interactive, experiential learning. 

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Going beyond rudimentary metrics for evaluating people. 

I’m grateful for… The opportunity to play a small part in the academic and career journeys of my students. 


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