2023 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Willy Bolander, Texas A&M University, College of Engineering 

Congrats to Willy Bolander of Texas A&M University, College of Engineering for being named a 2023 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professor.

Willy Bolander

Texas A&M University, College of Engineering 

“Willy is an outstanding researcher and mentor. He goes above and beyond to assist all who request his help. He works harder than most while also balancing the responsibilities that come with having eight children. Yes, EIGHT children — seven of which he has adopted to make a positive impact on their lives. He has a big heart, an admirable work ethic, and a publication record that most would envy (including 32 publications, and six in our top marketing journal). And he’s only 39!”Alec Pappas

Willy Bolander, 39, is the Rader II professor and associate director of the Read Center for Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University, College of Engineering, (a business program within the engineering department). He started the role in January 2023, and formerly taught at the Rockwood School of Marketing, College of Business at Florida State University. He also hosts The Sales Lab Podcast. 

Bolander researches influence, persuasion, and leadership in sales organizations and has published in, among other outlets, the Journal of Marketing (JM), the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science (JAMS), and the Journal of Business Ethics. Insights from his work have been featured in a variety of media including Forbes.com, Big Think, Fast Company, Fox News, and Training and Development Magazine

He has received the American Marketing Association (AMA) Sales SIG’s research excellence award twice, the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management’s (JPSSM) Jolson Award for best contribution to practice, and the Marketing Educator’s Association’s best sales paper award. He was also recognized as an outstanding reviewer by JAMS and was a finalist for the AMA-EBSCO Responsible Research in Marketing Award. 

He serves on the Editorial Review Board for JM and is an associate/area editor at JAMS, JPSSM, and the Journal of Retailing. He earned tenure at the age of 34 and was promoted to Full Professor at the age of 38. At 39, he watched his first doctoral student earn tenure at an R1 university.

BACKGROUND

At current institution since what year? Jan. 2023, before that at Florida State University since 2011.

Education: 

  • Ph.D., Marketing – the University of Houston, Bauer College of Business
  • BBA – Kennesaw State University, Coles College of Business

List of MBA courses you teach: Over the past decade, he’s taught MBA courses in Business-to-Business Marketing, Customer Relationship Management, and Sales Leadership.

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I realized that business professors can (and should!) still be heavily involved with industry and that collecting data / conducting research in many ways mirrors the consulting process. I would never feel comfortable being detached from, for lack of a better phrase, the “real world” of business. Being a business professor allows for an ideal balance of intellectual stimulation and hard practical reality. I wouldn’t want my collar getting too white.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? In simplest terms, I look for ways to enhance salesperson performance and reduce turnover. It is most satisfying to identify variables that really help firms but don’t cost much. For example, in my work on salespeople’s internal social networks (i.e., relationships inside their own organizations), we can identify relationship patterns that predict performance above and beyond the salesperson’s efforts with customers. In other words, without working more hours, or finding additional prospects, salespeople are able to enhance their actual sales output through the things they learn from their peers. This is quite interesting as it forces us to acknowledge the various stakeholders with whom salespeople must maintain relationships in order to maximize their success. 

If I weren’t a business school professor… I was a musician in a previous life. It was a lot of fun, but I don’t think I had the talent to continue that long-term. Maybe I would try a run as a comedian?

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I insist on class sessions being an exercise in co-creation. For example, I try my hardest not to use pre-made presentation materials (i.e., slides). I know what I want to communicate in each class, and I know most of what needs to wind up on the whiteboard by the end of the session, but I find it very boring for me and very uninspiring for the students if I merely bark information at them. My class sessions are discussions and the content needs to emerge from the back-and-forth happening in the room. If class isn’t a dialog, then why have a class at all? Students can find pre-made content on YouTube. Class time is for co-creation.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Stiff? Young? Haha.

Professor I most admire and why: Andris Zoltners. I didn’t know him, but I was able to watch him present a few times. I always appreciated his direct way of speaking on these occasions. More importantly, I admire him for how embedded he was in the business world through his research and consulting activities. All business professors should aspire to this level of impact. 

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? A lot of what I teach comes down to influence, persuasion, and leadership. Often, these activities occur in the context of selling and sales management, but these concepts, like much of what is taught in business courses, can be applied in so many different arenas. Non-profits “sell” to donors and volunteers. Couples “sell” to each other to start and maintain relationships. Parents “sell” to children and vice versa. It is nice to teach concepts and skills that are so useful. 

What is most challenging? The balance between teaching, research, and service is an ongoing challenge. How to allocate your time, how to keep everything up and running, when to say yes or no, etc.

In a word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious

In a word, describe your least favorite type of student:  Shallow-thinking (if I use a hyphen, that counts as one word right?)

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… All bark and very little bite

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? I was skateboarding with my kids every day for the last few years, but after a few blows to the head on concrete ramps (even with a helmet) it became clear that this was not a sustainable pursuit. I guess I need something new. Please email your suggestions to wcbolander@tamu.edu. 

How will you spend your summer? This summer is my first time not teaching in over a decade. I have several research projects to advance and will be visiting several company headquarters to talk about collaboration opportunities with Texas A&M and the Read Center.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Greece. I found myself surprisingly affected by the history, and unsurprisingly affected by the food. 

Favorite book(s): Good question. Maybe something from Carl Sagan or Christopher Hitchens.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?  Netflix’s “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” is amazing. The first time I watched it I shrugged it off but then later that night I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It is hilarious and confounding. I would love to be in the writer’s room as they develop their ideas. 

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Experimental music with an odd time signature, interesting composition, or some unique instruments. Something I can’t quite figure out (which probably explains my answer to the previous question). Something along the lines of the Mars Volta, King Gizzard, or Nick Cave.

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Sales! There is no reason that a person should be able to graduate with a business degree without taking a sales class. Business students all have to pass a class on using data, spreadsheets, and technology because they will all use these things regardless of their eventual jobs. Well… they should take a sales class for the exact same reason.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Strategic patience. We love to use strategic language, but we don’t always fully embrace the long-term nature of strategy. There is often a temptation to “fail fast,” and “adapt,” yet there is a difference between flailing reactively and purposeful, strategic adaptation. You don’t have to make dramatic changes every few months. If you’ve been thoughtful about setting your strategy, then be patient enough for that strategy to pan out. 

I’m grateful for… I have people around me I love, and who I think kind of like me too. What more could I ask for?

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE 2023 ROSTER OF THE WORLD’S BEST 40-UNDER-40 MBA PROFESSORS

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