They’d rather be anywhere else. Who wants to give up their weekends for class? Fact is, Executive MBA students are usually the go-to leaders at their firms. They crunch the numbers, lead the teams, and close the deals that matter. They’re already clocking long hours, carrying heavy loads, and sacrificing family time. Who wants to calculate a Net Present Value or deliver another PowerPoint?
It takes humility to return to business school. In unfamiliar terrain, some EMBAs devolve from confident leaders to awkward novices. That’s where great teachers come into play. They’ve never forgotten what it means to be a learner. Looking out, they can see themselves in their students. Sometimes, they can even feel the doubt and fatigue that can seep in early on. So they work to make the material relevant – urgent even – so students can see why it matters…and how they can put it to work immediately.
AS ENTERTAINING AS INSIGHTFUL
In the classroom, you’re only as moving as you are memorable. That’s why great teachers often eschew the standard lecture for theatrics. At Duke University’s Fuqua School, Qi Chen teaches managerial accounting. On the surface, the topic lacks the drama of leading marketing campaigns or cultural transformations. In Chen’s hands, managerial accounting is an instrument to craft stories and convey organizational truths.
“He was able to take a topic that is so core to making decisions as a manager and make it challenging yet approachable,” explains Jessica Stark, a 2022 grad and P&Q Best & Brightest EMBA. “He also knew how to inject joy into the class sessions by including memes. He acted as a CEO of a Stuffed Bear company so well that he deserved an Oscar, and had a case-themed playlist before class (I will always think of him when I hear DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean”).”
Yes, great teachers take lessons from branding: they apply clear and consistent messaging, backed by memorable visuals and stories, with the intent to connect and serve. Many times, this enables them to convey content in fresh ways. That is a gift possessed by Kandarp Mehta, who teaches Negotiations out of IESE Business School’s Dubai campus. Before business school, Jennifer Chung – a lawyer by trade – had take several negotiation courses. She expected the same tired “do this” and “don’t do this” – programming that seasoned execs might dismiss as “pro forma.” Instead, she found the course “transformative.”
“We use language from the class to this very day,” she tells P&Q. “Professor Mehta clearly spent time getting to know who we were as individuals, tailored a program of exercises for us, previewed the psychology of what to expect during a negotiation, and then guided us with compassion and thoughtfulness throughout the program. His post-class feedback was also thorough and helpful, and the combination of it all gave me so many more tools for my negotiations toolkit than I ever expected was possible.”
As time passes, some lessons will be forgotten by executive MBAs. That doesn’t mean great teachers haven’t imprinted on their students. Take Nelson Repenning, who teaches Organizations Lab at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. According to Rhamey Elhosseiny, a ’22 grad, Repenning mixed work design frameworks with cognitive psychology to make his tools more practical and effective. Long-term, Repenning’s legacy will be acting as a voice in Elhosseiny’s head – replete with a question that can start a productive dialogue with anyone at any level.
“Prof. Repenning taught us to ask “What’s the one thing getting in the way of doing your job?” in our organization. I love asking the question with our sales team, technicians, field operations teams, billers, collectors, and order entry specialists. It’s a simple and disarming phrase and ultimately signals to the organization your role is to help solve problems where the work is being done. Practically, it yields enormous insight into how work is being done and what I can do to help. Whether its issues in hiring and ramping up team members, challenges sharing branch office space, or a burdensome customer billing process, I’m equipped with finding ways to solve problems with our team.”
Which professors are making the biggest impact on Executive MBAs? This year, when P&Q surveyed the Best & Brightest Executive MBAs – 101 graduates of the Class of 2022 from 49 schools – we asked them to share their favorite faculty member and how this person made a difference in their careers. From Brigham Young University to the Yale School of Management, here are 24 more business professors whose lessons will reverberate far beyond the semester.
“It was Colby Wright, my finance professor. However, it wasn’t what he taught me in the classroom that meant the most to me. Colby was our class director, our conduit to the department for all things regarding the program. In the third semester, there was a group discussion in the Leading and Thriving class, where the role of women in the workplace was discussed. I found a few of the examples and ideas presented by the professor outrageously discriminatory and was furious. Colby heard about the situation and asked me to come into his office to be a listening ear and understand better my experience. As I sat in his office and poured out my heart, he was genuinely interested in my perspective and together we put a plan in place to create a more inclusive culture and environment for the program. I suggested some tactical near-term fixes that would improve the female experience of the program and I felt sure they would be shared and followed up with. I really appreciate his commitment to inclusion.” Katie Cardon, Brigham Young University (Marriott)
“Professor Khaled Soufani on Corporate Finance. As I have no prior knowledge on this subject, I was lacking of confidence at the beginning. Mind-blowing might exaggerate a bit, but Professor Soufani did find a way to illustrate the complex concepts with daily encounters and real-life examples. He was our programme director also and he was always there to encourage us during the pandemic to alleviate our distress. I do find his charismatic character and unwavering support a source of strength to overcome all the challenges during the 20 months.”
Meimei ZHAO, Cambridge Judge
“Professor Sanjay Dhar’s classes, despite the virtual format, were full of energy. He was able to draw in students and moderate stimulating debates. He both challenged and nurtured us. He was also proactive in scheduling time with his students, giving us the opportunity to meet with him individually for career, life, and class advice. Eric Budish and Ann McGill were also stand-out professors, among a very long list of others.”
Leslie DeMoss, University of Chicago (Booth)
“My favorite professor by far was Paul Johnson, who taught Value Investing. He showed up to class every day willing to bring everyone excitement with practical, real-world examples. He constantly allowed individuals to openly ask questions and engaged in critical discussions that disrupted book-ready answers. Paul challenged us to believe in ourselves, follow our guts, and engage in critical decision-making when thinking about future investment opportunities. He finally ended the class with real-world advice for professionals seeking to succeed providing concepts in a very practical manner.”
Maria Villaquiran, Columbia Business School
“The entire faculty has been amazing, making it a difficult task to narrow down my favorite professor to just one. That said, David Juran, our Professor of Managerial Statistics, stands out as I reflect on the program. Professor Juran’s course was one of the first classes we took in our first year. He managed to distill and present difficult material in a manner that was readily digestible to all. If Statistics was our class’s EMBA baptism-by-fire, Professor Juran was the head of the Burn Care Unit! He made himself available to us both inside and outside of the classroom, applying salve to any of our self-doubts and ensuring that we possessed the knowledge and abilities to succeed in his course – as well as the broader program.”
Sam Raimist, Cornell University (Johnson)
“Dr. Frank T. Rothaermel is my favorite professor period. Dr. Rothaermel is simply a class act. He personifies excellence and genuinely cares about each of his students. Dr. Rothaermel connects with his students with such authenticity, that every student has a special and unique connection with him. His style of teaching is unparalleled; he brought Strategic Management to life with his passion for the subject, by sharing his unique experiences, and with the use of Oxford style debates to reinforce the concepts taught. I looked forward to Strategic Management every week. The concepts that I learned in Dr. Rothaermel’s class were immediately put into practice and I am a better person and a better leader having been taught by the best!”
Adanna Ohaegbulam, Georgia Tech (Scheller)
“Jeremy Ghez was one of our first professors, and set the tone for us through his teaching on the Business Environment. We had contact throughout the EMBA with Professor Ghez, thanks to the pedagogy of his curriculum; whilst we were turning in assignments very often, we are now very well equipped for success in this VUCA environment. Furthermore, Jeremy is very active in panel discussions, podcast interviews, and in the media – all of which we were able to access easily, to follow closely the evolving business environment. This brought a real ‘theory-to-practice’ aspect to this subject, and further reinforced how we should be thinking about our own business projects. Perhaps it was because this was such a key year for the Business Environment, there was no shortage of impactful subjects to talk about given that we started during the COVID-19 pandemic, and ended with the war in Ukraine. Jeremy also had an excellent reading list especially for someone like me with a more scientific background. Age of Discovery is one that I go back to often.”
Emma Kearney, HEC Paris
“If I have to choose, I´d say Professor Mark Blyth who led our Money, Power, Taxes and Growth class, which was absolutely phenomenal. It challenged my understanding of the global economy. The classes would generally start with a “What if everything we think we know is wrong?” question. We debated about a very wide range of concepts such as Modern Monetary Theory, the Racial Wealth Gap in the US, Trade Wars, the negative implications of corporate tax avoidance on inequality, and the interrelationship between anger and the rise of populism. Professor Blyth was engaging, fun, thought-provoking, genuine – and what I liked the most is that he really enjoyed being challenged and was open for any possible debate.”
Emanuel Cheszes, IE Business School
“Professor Henrik Bresman, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour at INSEAD, who taught us Leading People & Organization (LPO) course during our first module of the GEMBA programme. Prof. Bresman had the difficult task of being the first faculty to kickstart the programme and I have to say he left upon myself a lasting impression. The content of his module was very relevant and exciting, and it kept me going and wanting to find out more on the topics we went through for that session. Topics we went through such as Organizational Culture, Groupthink, Psychological Safety and Power still sticks vividly in my mind even as we go into our last core module and somehow always finds ways to pop out at work when dealing with bosses, my team. and the institution. He was very engaging, approachable and enthusiastic when teaching and kept pushing us for more in depth discussion on the topic at hand.”
Rena Dharmawan, INSEAD
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.