What to Look for in MBA Faculty

Research MBA Faculty

As you’re weighing the pros and cons of various MBA programs, you’ve probably come across some advice along the lines of “an MBA is all about the people, stupid!”

This idea is generally correct: the professors you work with are a huge part of your MBA experience. These are the guys and gals that will actually deliver your business education, and give you invaluable access to influential people at your target companies.

So how do you assess the faculty at any given MBA program? In many fields, academia is a career path in its own right: You expect your philosophy professor to have spent years and years studying philosophy. But if your Entrepreneurship 101 professor is coming from academia, well, your alarm bells should be ringing. The hallmark of great MBA faculty is a wealth of practical, real-world experience. The saying “those who can’t do, teach,” does not apply to this gang. There are three key factors to look for in your ideal MBA faculty.

Experience

While you can’t exactly ask your professor for a resume, you can certainly look them up. Between LinkedIn and departmental CVs, there should be a relatively clear record of their career. So what do you look for? Business skill is most easily assessed by classic measures of success in the business world: executive leadership, quarter upon quarter of growth, above market-average ROIs, etc. But that is not the only kind of experience that matters when it comes to MBA faculty.

Going back to that Entrepreneurship 101 professor, would you rather be taught by someone who has attempted to launch a business half a dozen times, with only two of those start-ups becoming successful, or someone who has had one success, in the first and only entrepreneurial attempt they’ve made? The first person likely has a lot more to teach you, because they have much more experience with what goes wrong. The second person, the one-and-done success, likely suffers from a severe case of survivorship bias. So don’t write off a professor who has a mixed background—those less-than-shining moments might actually be what makes them an invaluable teacher. 

Passion

Remember that incredibly enthusiastic history teacher you had in high school that was so passionate that he reenacted historical events in wacky and, um, memorable ways? You want that kind of passion in your MBA program professors, too. This will not only make your experience more fun, but the quality of your education will be better.

There are two kinds of passion to look for: a passion for their subject, and a passion for teaching. The first is an obvious benefit—a professor truly passionate about their field is not only going to be well-versed in the subject but also more likely to be well-connected within their industry, offering you valuable connections. The second kind of passion—a passion for teaching—is often overlooked but also essential. Not everyone is naturally a teacher, and while some professors are highly experienced and very knowledgeable, without a knack for passing on that information, they aren’t much good to you.

Reputation

It can be difficult to assess various professors’ experience and passion from the outside, and that’s why reputation is so important. Maybe you recognize a name because they specialize in a field you work in, or because they have reached YouTube star-level fame, like Bruce Greenwald, Stanford GSB’s highly sought-after master of value investing. However, many great professors have a more low-profile reputation, and you can get a very good idea of whether you’d like to have them standing at the front of your lecture hall just by giving them a quick search.

Find talks they’ve given on YouTube, read or listen to past interviews, or look up their written works. Finally, if possible, speak to their students. You should be contacting alumni or current students at the various programs you are pursuing,[LINK to an article about this?] and as you do so, ask them about their favorite professors, or stand out classes. 

Getting a sense of the faculty’s reputation, as well as their experience and passion, will go a long way in telling you what your experience at one program or another might be like. This information may even tip the scales when you’re deciding between programs come spring.

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