Thursday, August 25, 2011

MBA Professors: The Most Popular 10

NYU's Damodaran, tops on the list
What makes an outstanding business-school professor? Ask a few MBA students, and you might get a dozen answers, a dozen criteria, and many examples. 

Many will say the best professors are those who teach with passion, energy and excitement. The subject matter--whether it's first-year corporate finance or the mechanics of an intermediate-accounting course--comes alive. Those are the professors who present the principles of debit-credit accounting or the equations of Black-Scholes in a spirited way--as if they discover gold time and again.

Many will say the best are those who share details, memories and stories of having been on the front lines of business, those who were involved in heavyweight corporate strategy, major acquisitions and tense negotiations. They might be adjunct professors who can convey decades of experience within the outlines of a core course. They may have spent years on Wall Street, in boardrooms, or in Europe or Asia in special assignments.

Others will say the best are those who encourage and spawn new ideas. They have new theories or are preparing to unveil a batch of new ideas. They nurture innovation and clever ways of thinking. They have new ways of looking at stagnant business models. They offer new ways to value corporations or manage large organizations.  They cheer for and support students who have entrepreneurial instincts and interests.

A few weeks ago BusinessWeek tried to identify who might be the top (or favorite? or preferred?) professors in top business schools. (See It polled over 3,700 students at 30 business schools to come up with a top-10 list. Students were asked to name a favorite or popular professor on campus--not much more than that.  No criteria, no explanations.

At least 60 students from a school needed to respond to allow that school's results to be included in  national polling. A professor who made the final list received at least 20% of all votes on that campus. Students weren't required to explain why they preferred a professor, but could provide commentary.

Eight of the top 10 professors were from Consortium schools (and suggest the high probability that Consortium MBAs have had some interaction in the last few years with some of the country's most popular professors).  BusinessWeek presided over a popularity contest and promoted it just as that.  Students approach the MBA program and learning seriously, so they likely voted fairly. Not necessarily based on the grade they received. Or maybe the final grade spurred them to participate and vote.

Aswath Damodaran, a finance professor from NYU-Stern, topped the list. His specialty is corporate finance, more notably the equity valuation of companies. He's so popular that he has over 4,000 followers in Twitter. He has a Ph.d. degree from Consortium school UCLA-Anderson and taught at Consortium school UC-Berkeley-Haas before joining the staff at Stern. 

Damodaran writes a popular blog of corporate-finance topics, helpful for both students and practitioners on Wall Street (  In the past month, he blogged on such topics as "trapped cash" in corporations and the "equity risk premium." This week he offers rambling, reasoned "musings" on the share price of Bank of America. It's not just the topics he blogs on, but the enthusiastic, ponderous ways he shares ideas in finance.

Finance instructor Jim Nolen from Texas-McCombs was third on the popularity list. Students say they like him because he's a story-teller with a Texas accent. Nolen is an expert in small business and new-venture financing.  He teaches a popular course in financial management of small enterprises.  Texas students say they are entranced by his stories and experiences in business. According to BusinessWeek, they adore--most of all--how he has helped placed students in lucrative roles in finance.

Emory's Raymond Hill, a finance professor, was sixth on the list. Hill brought years of business experience before he joined Goizueta. He spent 11 years in investment banking at Lehman Brothers and over a decade at the utility Southern Company. He started out in academia, switched to investment banking and business, but returned to the campus. (He has a Ph.d. from MIT.)

At Lehman, he spent seven years in its Hong Kong office managing banking activities in Southeast Asia.  At Emory, he specializes in energy finance and project finance. Students cited his ability to relate arcane, difficult theory from texts (macroeconomics, e.g.) to current events and trends. 

Sharon Oster, an economics professor from Yale-SOM and its dean until a few weeks ago, was seventh on the list. As a woman in economics and business management, she has long been regarded a pioneer, having been at Yale for 37 years.  She specializes in economic competition, competitive analysis, and labor economics.  She has written extensively on regulation and non-profit management.

Students highlight her devotion to Yale's program and its students. Some say she tries to keep ties to every student she has taught while at Yale-SOM and can often prove it.

Other Consortium-school professors on the list include Gautam Ahuja, a strategy professor at Michigan-Ross (2nd on the list); Terry Taylor, an operations and technology management professor at UC-Berkeley-Haas (5th); Neil Morgan, a marketing professor from Indiana-Kelley (8th), and Eric Sussman, who specializes in real estate and accounting at UCLA-Anderson (9th). That Sussman is known to sing 1980s pop songs in class doesn't hurt his popularity.

BusinessWeek all but apologized that Oster from Yale is the only woman on its list. Students don't necessarily prefer male professors. The scarcity of women is likely due to the fact that women still comprise small numbers of experienced faculty members at business schools. And that is likely due to the lagging percentages of women at top business schools and women who pursue doctorates in finance, economics or business.

Being male isn't sufficient to be on the list, but it surely helps to have passion about the subject matter. And it helps to have an ability to tell stories, share experiences, write colorful blogs, keep the material relevant, be an unabashed promoter of the school, help in career placement, and maintain ties to most students who pass through the doors.

Tracy Williams

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