2024 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Zhengyuan Zhou, NYU Stern School of Business


Zhengyuan Zhou
NYU Stern School of Business

“Taking your class allowed me to understand the math under the hood and allowed me to recreate the model just in Excel, which is much more intuitive and easier to understand for our end users. It was awesome to be able to use what I learned from your class in my professional career.” – Student who works in pharmaceutical clinical trial operations

Zhengyuan Zhou, 33, is an assistant professor at New York University Stern School of Business in the Department of Technology, Operations and Statistics. He is also an associated faculty in the Department of Computer Science at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering and an affiliated faculty at NYU Center for Data Science.

He has had extensive tech industry experience, including Google, Oracle, IBM Research, Bytedance, and most recently, he has been a machine learning advisor for the startup Arena, which focuses on using deep reinforcement learning (RL) to drive improved outcomes in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) space and autonomous manufacturing.

His research interests lie at the intersection of reinforcement learning, stochastic optimization and game theory and focus on leveraging tools from those fields to develop methodological frameworks to solve data-driven decision-making problems. His research has attracted more than $1.5 million in funding from both public agencies such as the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research and industry players such as JP Morgan and Bain & Company, among others.


At current institution since what year? 2020


  • PhD in Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, 2019
  • Masters in computer science, in economics, and in statistics, Stanford University, 2016
  • Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, in Mathematics, UC Berkeley, 2013

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Decision Models and Analytics


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I realized during my PhD that data science and machine learning technology is bound to transform the business landscape in the decades to come.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research broadly focuses on leveraging and developing reinforcement learning tools to learn optimal policies in a diverse range of applications of societal interest, such as revenue management in retailers and online platforms, inventory and logistics management in supply chains, and load balancing in energy markets, to name just a few. One particular research thread I developed in this vein is a methodological framework for learning prescriptive policies from observation data that have missing counterfactual outcomes, which is being applied in a range of real-world settings:

  • The Japan Ministry of Environment for personalized household energy savings programs
  • Researchers in Europe to help design personalized employment programs for unemployed immigrants in Belgium
  • Operating room procedure scheduling in a Stanford hospital
  • Auto-bidding in first-price auctions at Verizon Media, a large demand side platform in the US

If I weren’t a business school professor… I would be an entrepreneur.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?I have an open mind and learn from my students and colleagues every day.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Thrilled

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: There’s a lot to learn from MBA students, many of whom are world-class achievers.

Professor I most admire and why: Edward Thorp, an unconventional applied mathematician who has upended a whole population’s prejudice that something is infeasible– and in the process changed a field – every time he murmured “let’s see if it can be done”.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? They have exceptionally curious minds.

What is most challenging? Adapting methodologies to the ever-changing world

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… Fair


What are your hobbies? Swimming

How will you spend your summer? Learn an entire new field and make a (small) dent in it

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Library

Favorite book(s): A Man for All Markets, When Genius Failed, The Snowball

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? The Big Short. It constantly reminds me to be rational.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Be at the forefront of integrating state-of-the-art technologies in business education, in which Stern is currently leading the way.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… embracing the active learning paradigm.

I’m grateful for… Being a professor at NYU Stern School of Business. NYU Stern provides an excellent environment for interdisciplinary research in business and has a fantastic body of highly motivated students.


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