Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren once mused that “the art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” That’s an art that our 40 top business school professors under the age of 40 share with each other. They draw students into often esoteric subjects, inspire deeper thinking and engaged discussion, assisting in the discovery of new and powerful ideas.
For the sixth time in the last eight years, Poets&Quants searched near and far to uncover this remarkable group of men and women, some of whom have barely reached the age of 35, yet they have made a name for themselves as rising stars in business academia. We asked B-school officials, students and alumni for favorites and then sorted through the nominations to come up with this year's Poets&Quants' list of the world’s top 40 business profs under 40.
This year’s call for nominations brought in close to 800 submissions, crushing last year’s record of 430. Another first: a new record number of nominations for one given professor. Students, alumni, and colleagues of Imperial College Business School’s Ileana Stigliani declared their appreciation for the 38-year-old 135 times over, a new all-time high that beat last year’s 72 nominations for Ivey Business School’s Ning Su. In total, 91 individual professors were proposed this year.
Of the entries we did receive, our assessment to narrow down the top 40 remained centered on research and teaching with an emphasis on high student impact. The final 40 hail from Miami to Michigan, Carnegie Mellon University to the University of Canterbury, London Business School to Nanyang Business School, and many points in between. They are a diverse group, with a record 17 of the 40 at schools outside the U.S., up from just five in the inaugural 40 under 40 list published by Poets&Quants in 2011. Ten of the 40 profs on the 2018 list are women, roughly the same as the 11 women who made the cut seven years ago.
“Institutions believe that great researchers are the best professors. Students believe that those who engage students class after class are the best professors,” Wharton MBA Angela Chang says. We couldn’t agree more and with that, we commenced our search for the best business professors under 40 years old who score high marks in both the key areas of research contributions to their field and impact on students.
One such nominee was Natalya Vinokurova, a Wharton management professor nominated by Chang and nearly two dozen other students, alumni, and Wharton professors. Vinokurova, 38, has made a name for herself in looking at competitive strategy, organizational behavior, and public policy as they relate to decision-making and innovation management. She’s won awards that aptly define her research as “most novel,” and she’s received several honorable mentions and best paper nominations from the strategic management community. Yet her excellence as a researcher is not to be outdone by her teaching performance, which is where she shines brightest. According to some of the nominations, her allegiance to students makes her especially outstanding, the spark that has earned her two “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty” teaching awards — the professional achievement which Vinokurova says she is most proud of.
Each testimony consistently spoke of Vinokurova’s profound dedication and mentorship that helps students identify and prioritize what’s most important to them. One Wharton alumnus placed Vinokurova’s name next to some of Wharton’s biggest heavyweights: “I had some pretty spectacular professors at Wharton (Adam Grant, Cade Massey, David Wessels, and David Bell to name a few) and even amongst these names Natalya was a standout. It’s my view that she, more than any other professor at Wharton, is the perfect confluence of teacher, researcher, and mentor.”
As always, going above and beyond is a consistent trait among best business professors. Another: a passion for their discipline that’s so extraordinary, students can’t help but be inspired to learn. In no other case is this more attested to than with Imperial’s Ileana Stigliani. In the unprecedented 135 nominations she acquired, students praised her for the way she captivates her classroom with a contagious passion for design thinking, a relatively new and unconventional business school topic.
“She introduced me to the world of design thinking with bountiful amounts of energy and enthusiasm,” one student exclaims. “I feel Dr. Stigliani’s teaching in service design is helping a new generation of business managers embrace the value of innovative design thinking in creating more effective human-friendly business operations,” says another.
Sometimes, it seems, MBA students must be convinced of the value of what they’re learning. Rather than an aggravation, many of this year’s top 40 agree that this healthy skepticism is one of their favorite parts of the job. In fact, most say it’s is what they appreciate most about teaching MBAs.
“They’re not a passive audience,” says Anuj Shah, a 34-year-old professor of behavioral science at Chicago Booth. “They’re willing to have a conversation, and that conversation sometimes highlights some of my own blind spots.”
Thirty-five-year-old Paolo Taticchi from Imperial College Business School says, “I like their critical mindset and their ambition. They are always ready to challenge you!”
Paolo Aversa, 35, of Cass Business School in London, echoes Shah and Taticchi when he’s asked to share the best part about teaching MBAs. “The fact that they are often ambitious and not afraid to challenge my arguments.” To note, when asked what’s the most challenging aspect of teaching MBAs, Aversa gave the exact same answer. “Too much of a good thing,” he says.
When it comes to this innate ambition and students’ willingness to cross-examine an instructor, one Columbia Business School professor used it as an opportunity to counter widely held stereotypes about MBAs. Says Dan Wang, “There are lots of stereotypes about MBA students being Type-A managers who only care about efficiency and shareholder value. This is not true at all. My favorite part of teaching is getting to know each student individually. It is such a privilege to be responsible for creating an environment in which students are not afraid to share their knowledge so that their experiences can be synthesized into useful lessons for each class.”
Courtesy of Forbes/ Poets&Quants