2024 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Agni Orfanoudaki, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

Agni Orfanoudaki
Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

“Agni is one of the most engaging and passionate teachers at Oxford. I am currently in her Machine Learning for Business class and it by far has been my favorite. She takes something as complex and nuanced as neural networks and brings the concepts back down to earth. Further, she shows how these innovations can bring exponential change to industries across the board.” – Lee McClellan

Agni Orfanoudaki, 29, is Associate Professor of Operations Management at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. She is also a Management Studies Fellow at Exeter College and a visiting scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School as a Harvard Data Science Initiative Fellow.

She received her PhD in Operations Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to starting her doctoral studies, Orfanoudaki worked as a business analyst at McKinsey and Company.

She currently leads the Data-Driven Decisions Lab (3DL) at Oxford, conducting theoretical and empirical research leveraging machine learning, optimization, and stochastic processes. Her research has been awarded the William Pierskalla Best Paper Award. She is also the recipient of the Bayer Women in Operations Research Scholarship and the Theodore Vassilakis Graduate Research Fellowship.

In 2023, Orfanoudaki received the Teaching Excellence Award for early-career faculty from the Social Sciences Division of the University of Oxford. She serves as a scientific advisor to the International Olympic Committee and the Greek government with respect to the use of artificial intelligence. She has been part of research collaborations with numerous institutions, including a major medical society, two international reinsurance companies, an air carrier, and more than eight healthcare systems in the US and Europe.


At current institution since what year? September 2021
Education: PhD in Operations Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Technology and Operations Management, Machine Learning for Business


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… Growing up, I started envisioning a career in academia, drawn by the allure of teaching and constantly discovering new ideas. My passion for academia was cemented during my undergraduate studies at the Athens University of Economics and Business, where I first learned the fundamentals of operations research. This field, which seamlessly integrates mathematical modeling with data-driven techniques to solve real-world issues, instantly resonated with me. Encouraged by my mentor, Prof. Christos Tarantilis, and fueled by my enthusiasm for operations research, I decided to pursue a doctoral degree in the United States to realize my dream of becoming a business school professor.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research aims to address the challenge of how machine learning models impact real-world decision-making. Using datasets from industry and academic partners and guided by business problems, I work on developing new methodologies and quantitative frameworks in multiple application areas—ranging from healthcare to revenue management and infrastructure. My research aims to optimize the performance of AI-enhanced business processes by studying the interactions between algorithms and decision-makers, aiming to identify new hybrid models that incorporate human intuition into machine learning model training and deployment. Moreover, together with my students, we work on proposing new interpretable algorithms for dynamic decision-making and new data-driven forms of delivering health care that can improve patient outcomes and hospital efficiency.

However, the area I am most excited about is the field of Algorithmic Insurance. Throughout my work in the healthcare setting, I noticed that despite the significant amount of excitement around the potential of AI, there is still a significant amount of reservation in deploying these algorithms in practice. Policymakers worldwide are actively working to minimize AI risk through regulatory frameworks. However, I realized that regulation alone is insufficient to address these concerns due to the size and the constantly evolving nature of the market for data-driven models. Thus, I proposed an alternative solution for AI risk management through mathematical tools that evaluate and accordingly insure algorithmic recommendations. My work has led to the development of the first financial-based risk evaluation framework for AI-enhanced decisions and the associated insurance contracts. Our models provide a quantitative mechanism for responsible AI adoption that minimizes the risk of AI suggestions, setting the foundations of a new research area and a class of insurance that protects decision-makers from AI errors. Our work has already been adopted by some of the biggest insurance institutions in the world, and thus, I aspire to set the paradigm on how to conduct AI risk evaluation in the future.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I would be an entrepreneur. Inspired by my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, I would follow in their footsteps and develop my own venture.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? My aspiration to conduct research with real-world impact and my passion to encourage my students to broaden their horizons.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Rewarding

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: The role of a business school professor goes well beyond just research and teaching. It encompasses mentoring, building professional networks, and often serving as a trusted advisor to students who are exploring their future career options. It was only when I became a faculty member that I fully appreciated the impact that we carry on our students’ personal and professional growth, which is both a tremendous responsibility and a remarkable opportunity. The environment of Oxford and the academic ties that are built within Exeter College highlight this aspect of my role even more, as I formally serve as advisor and mentor to both graduate and undergraduate students.

Professor I most admire and why: I deeply admire my doctoral advisor, Prof. Dimitris Bertsimas, who is currently the Associate Dean of Business Analytics and the faculty director of the Master of Business Analytics program at MIT. Describing all of Prof. Bertsimas’ accomplishments in a few sentences is impossible because he has won almost every major award in operations research, having been an incredibly influential figure in our field both as a researcher and as an educator. Dimitris has shaped my academic identity, inspiring me to conduct high-impact research, to be ambitious, and to firmly believe in my ability and responsibility to positively affect the world. What I respect most is his dedication to his PhD students and his passion for new research ideas.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Unlike many disciplines that require a narrow focus, business education attracts individuals from varied backgrounds. In my classroom, I have had the opportunity to meet brilliant scientists, successful physicians, accomplished lawyers, social entrepreneurs, and even Olympic athletes. This inherent diversity in the types of people who will pursue business school education tremendously enriches the teaching experience. Witnessing the dynamic exchange of ideas this mix stimulates is incredibly rewarding. Each session becomes a unique experience, with students actively driving the discussion, ensuring that no two lectures are the same. This constant variety keeps each class engaging and full of fresh insights, making every lecture a new adventure and a potential source of new research ideas that stem from practical challenges.

What is most challenging? While the diversity of the students’ backgrounds is one of the most exciting aspects of being a business school professor, it can also prove challenging. Some of our students arrive with deep specialization in specific business areas, i.e., operations management, while others might have minimal or no prior business education at all. On the one hand, this diversity greatly enriches the learning experience, but on the other hand, it also makes it essential to balance the curriculum to ensure that all students remain engaged and benefit from the course. To navigate this complexity, I focus on modulating the depth and pace of the course material. One effective strategy has been to leverage the expertise of well-versed students in the subject matter. By involving them in leading discussions, they not only reinforce their own learning but also enhance the understanding of their peers. I have found that this approach not only democratizes the learning process but also empowers students to take the lead in their educational journey, effectively transforming them from passive recipients into active contributors. Thus, the course can challenge each student appropriately, keeping the classroom dynamic and interactive.

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

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… I believe students would describe me as fair and supportive, ensuring that each student’s effort is appropriately recognized. Business school students make a significant choice to pursue their education amid numerous other life opportunities. My assessments aim to ensure that they achieve the learning goals that we set in the classroom. As such, I am committed to being supportive and providing encouragement and resources to those who might struggle. I prioritize giving constructive feedback that not only aims to enhance their current academic skills but also to prepare them effectively for their future careers. This balance of fairness, support, and actionable advice forms the core of my approach to grading, helping students feel valued and equipped for success.


What are your hobbies? Downhill skiing in the winter and scuba diving in the summer.

How will you spend your summer? We have planned a family trip to visit the national parks of Tanzania.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Summer vacation in the Greek islands.

Favorite book(s): One of my favorite books is Nikos Kazantzakis’ “Report to Greco.” In this book, Kazantzakis blends his personal history with broader cultural and historical reflections, highlighting the interplay that we all face in our lives between individual identity and cultural heritage. This fictionalized autobiography stages a dialogue between Kazantzakis and the Renaissance painter El Greco, weaving existential questions with personal experiences, thereby reflecting on the nature of human existence and spiritual freedom. It deeply resonates with me due to its rich exploration of cultural, philosophical, and artistic themes, tied together by the cultural heritage of my homeland, Crete.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show, and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? My favorite movie is “Cinema Paradiso,” directed by Giuseppe Tornatore with a memorable score by Ennio Morricone. Growing up, watching movies was a favorite activity I shared with my father. My grandfather used to own movie theaters, and thus, we spent a lot of time together watching movies in the cinema. This film, in particular, reminds me of my father, making it more than just entertainment but a link to cherished memories. It’s also his favorite, which adds to its special place in my heart.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s), and why? I do not have one genre of music that is my favorite. Depending on the occasion, I enjoy listening to different kinds of artists. I particularly enjoy artists like Imam Baildi, Maraveyas, and Giannis Haroulis from my home country. They have a unique way of blending traditional music with modern instruments, which revitalizes well-known songs in a refreshing way. Additionally, I have developed a deep appreciation for Spanish-language artists while learning Spanish. Among my favorites are Melendi, Juan Luis Guerra, and the ensemble Buena Vista Social Club.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… If I had my way, the business school of the future would serve as the core department of the university aimed at major challenges that require cross-disciplinary collaborations. Our field needs to forge stronger connections with other academic departments—including engineering, law, philosophy, humanities, and science—to address more effectively the complex and multifaceted problems that today’s business leaders face, as exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Business schools would not just teach business; they would serve as dynamic hubs, bringing together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers in a collaborative space to generate solutions to global issues.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… ensuring sustainable business operations and demonstrating environmental responsibility. It is imperative that we recognize the severe and immediate risks posed by climate change, which threatens ecosystems, economies, and communities worldwide. Businesses have a pivotal role to play. They must adopt more sustainable practices, not only to mitigate their environmental impact but also to lead by example in transitioning to a low-carbon economy. This involves everything from reducing waste and energy consumption to investing in renewable energy and sustainable supply chains. It is not just about corporate responsibility; it’s a fundamental business imperative to ensure long-term viability in a world facing profound environmental challenges.

I’m grateful for … all the unwavering support and encouragement that I have received throughout my entire academic journey from my family and my husband, Álvaro.


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