2024 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Sunkee Lee, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University

Sunkee Lee
Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University

“Professor Lee’s performance in the classroom is exemplary. His ability to engage students, facilitate meaningful discussions, and provide relevant real-world examples has left a lasting impact on the learning experiences of his students. Notably, Professor Lee was awarded the George Leland Bach Teaching Award for Excellence in the MBA Classroom during his first year teaching MBA students at the Tepper School. This award, in which he was nominated by graduating MBA students and given to only one faculty member annually, is a testament to his teaching.” – Anita Williams Woolley, Associate Dean, Research Professor of Organizational Behavior & Theory

Sunkee Lee, 39, is Frank A. and Helen E. Risch Associate Professor of Organizational Theory and Strategy at Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University.

His research interests include individual and organizational learning, organization design, and microfoundations of firm strategy and performance. He currently serves as an editorial board member of the Strategic Management Journal, Organization Science, and the Journal of Organization Design.

His work has been published in top management journals such as Management Science, Organization Science, and the Strategic Management Journal, and cited by global media outlets, including The Economist, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review.

His research has received several awards, including the William H. Newman Award for Best Paper Based on a Dissertation and the BPS Division Distinguished Student Paper Award at the 77th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, as well as the MK-AKMS Young Scholar Award at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management.

At the Tepper School, Lee teaches the core MBA strategy course, for which he was selected by his students as the recipient of the George Leland Bach Teaching Award for Excellence in the Classroom in 2022.

Lee joined the Tepper School in 2017 after completing his doctoral degree at INSEAD. In his early 20s, he served in the Republic of Korea Army for two years as a military intelligence agent.


At current institution since what year? 2017
Education: PhD in Management (Strategy), INSEAD; M.S. in Business Administration, Seoul National University; Bachelor of Business Administration, Korea University
List of MBA courses you currently teach: Corporate Strategy


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I realized, after three internships during my undergraduate years, that flexibility—both in terms of work schedule and the ideas I can pursue—was the most important criterion for me in choosing a career. At that time, my father was a professor, and he seemed to be living the life I envisioned. Given my interests in how organizations work, I decided to pursue a career as a business school professor. I took my first GMAT exam in 2009 as an undergraduate student and finally became a professor in 2017.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I’ve been researching the impact of physical workspaces on individuals’ task performance. Contrary to widespread beliefs, my research shows that unconventionally designed workspaces (typically characterized by bright or unusual colored walls, unique light fixtures, unconventional office furniture, vibrant artwork, the display of non-work-related objects, and a casual and playful atmosphere) do not always enhance creativity and can, in fact, hinder it.

If I weren’t a business school professor… pursuing a career as an interior designer would have been fascinating.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? My students tell me that I am good at facilitating discussions in the classroom!

One word that describes my first time teaching: Nervous!

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Having more gray hair can help you in the classroom (I’m slowly getting there).

Professor I most admire and why: This is a tough one because I have several professors whom I dearly admire. I’d say, though, that Phanish Puranam at INSEAD, who was my Ph.D. advisor, comes to mind first. He is one of the smartest and most nurturing people I’ve ever met, and it was such a great fortune to work with him.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? The diversity of backgrounds they bring to the class. I once had an ex-consultant, FBI agent, and medical doctor in the same classroom! Such diversity allows me to continuously learn new things.

What is most challenging? Developing course contents that every student can enjoy and learn from.

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… tough but fair.


What are your hobbies? Golfing, reading car reviews

How will you spend your summer? My parents are visiting me from South Korea. We will spend time in Pittsburgh and go on a road trip to Albany, NY where our family lived for nine years while my father did his Ph.D. We haven’t been back together for 29 years, so we are excited to visit old memories. My wife and toddler son are also going, so even more exciting!

Favorite place(s) to vacation: I love any place with warm weather, good food, and nice sandy beaches! Barcelona is one of my favorites!

Favorite book(s): My Sweet Orange Tree. There is something magical about the book that makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I don’t watch a lot of movies or TV shows, but my favorite movie is Inception (directed by Christopher Nolan), and my favorite TV show is Shark Tank. I guess I like the creativity in both of them.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? You might be surprised, but I actually enjoy listening to country music! (By the way, if you didn’t know, Taylor Swift debuted as a country singer!)


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… international trips. I think there is nothing better than learning about what is going on in the world than being there in person.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… retaining and developing talent. Adoption of AI is great, but AI can only be at its best when there are the right humans using it!

I’m grateful for… having parents who taught me the values of working hard and not giving up, and my wife and son, who make my life so full of happiness and love.


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