The 40 best B-School professors under 40

February 12, 2014, 10:12 PM UTC
Northwestern University’s Kelly Goldsmith

(Poets&Quants) — B-school professors at top institutions are under intense pressure. It comes from all sides — the publish-or-perish demands of academia, university administrators wrapped up in rankings, and ambitious students determined to squeeze every cent out of a $100,000+ investment.

Young professors face even more stress: Most are decades younger than their tenured colleagues and only a few years older than their students. They have to prove themselves to MBAs, faculty, and academic peers in their fields. However, a select few thrive in this academic crucible, outperforming senior teaching staff, winning the admiration of their students, and producing standout scholarship.

Poets&Quants’ “Top 40 Under 40” recognizes these rising stars, who represent elite schools from around the world and have excelled in research while overcoming the green-professor label in the classroom. To uncover this remarkable group of men and women, Poets&Quants asked B-school officials, faculty, students, and alumni for their top picks and put out an open nomination. The results poured in from U.S. heavyweights like Harvard, lesser known programs across the country, and a handful of international institutions, such as Europe’s ESSEC and IE business schools. Some MBA students organized Facebook polls to select their top prof nomination, others wrote vivid descriptions and robust arguments on why their instructors deserved consideration. Research chops were important but Poets&Quants gave more weight to teaching — even the best researchers must convey their material compellingly to be effective in the classroom.

These young professors come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, ranging from economics to behavioral science, marketing to entrepreneurship. They hail from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, India, China, Mexico, and Belgium, among others. Their research interests range from big data to entertainment marketing to negotiation strategy. However, a few common characteristics cut through the whole group: Most, if not all, of the top profs muster their youthful energy and Generation Y knowledge to create an engaging classroom environment, they build genuine and meaningful relationships with their students, and they pursue other professions or serious hobbies on the side.

Take, for instance, Leslie Robinson, 38, of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. The professor of business administration is one of the few instructors to make a repeat appearance on the “Top 40 Under 40” — an accomplishment that reflects her status as an outstanding academic and teacher. Robinson is credited with “bringing accounting to life” for her students — a task many would put on par with a miracle. From reviewing students’ backgrounds before the first day of class to running with MBAs in Reach the Beach, a 200-mile overnight relay, LesRob (as she’s affectionately called) has inspired a near cult-like adoration among her students — an entire class once serenaded her with Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”

Other “Top 40 Under 40” profs share Robinson’s zeal for connecting with students through extra-curricular activities. Duke University’s Bill Mayew, 39, played varsity basketball at UNC-Wilmington and still shoots hoops with MBAs. Not to be outdone, Greg Fisher, 37, of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business has 45 marathons and 16 ultra-marathons under his shoes. The South African is also an Ironman triathlete, thrice over.

Others, such as Markus Giesler, 37, pursue entirely different professions alongside their academic careers. The marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business maintains a recording studio in Germany and spends summers touring Europe with his band, the Rocksoldiers. These experiences color his classroom sessions and inform his research on entertainment and high-technology marketing. Adam Waytz of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, is also in the music industry. The boyish and bespeckled 33-year-old teaches values-based leadership and ethics in one world and tours the globe with his hip hop group, Kill the Vultures, in another.

These standout pedagogues bring their rich extracurricular lives to the classroom. Xiaoyan Zhang, 37, a finance professor at Purdue’s Krannert School, says she loses three pounds for every eight-week class she teaches.

Many of Poets&Quants’ top profs liven up intense, and doubtless dull, subjects with humor and interactive lessons. Northwestern University’s Kelly Goldsmith, 34, is known for her ready wit, enthusiasm, and anecdotes. The Kellogg professor of marketing includes comical clips of her stint on the TV reality series “Survivor: Africa” in the class’ end-of-year review video.

As might be expected, the top 40 are prolific scholars, producing seminal papers for esteemed journals. But many go beyond that and take their work beyond the ivory tower. German-born Nina Mazar, 34, of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management has presented her research on moral decision-making before the European Commission and the Canadian Revenue Agency.

Jeremey Kees, 35, of the Villanova School of Business conducted research on cigarette warning labels and anti-smoking interventions that played a key role in the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to add graphic images to cigarette packages. Kathleen Vohs, 39, of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School is credited with proving a principle that defines President Barack Obama’s daily routine: Her research found that decisions deplete energy; accordingly, the president leaves his clothing and food choices up to others to conserve his mental bandwidth for matters with more far-reaching implications.

Both inside and outside the classroom, Poets&Quants’ “Top 40 Under 40” are influencers in their fields who’ve had a remarkable impact on their students’ lives. And all of them are just getting started. If their previous successes are any indication, these top profs will be shaping business education and future MBAs for years to come.

Additional reporting by Andrea Carter and Maya Itah

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