Professor to Know: Alex Edmans, London Business School

Alex Edmans

There’s one thing that every top business school around the world has in common: impressive faculty. That’s because MBA programs know that their offerings are only as exceptional as their professors, and that’s definitely the case at the London Business School.

Faculty at LBS are at the forefront of innovative business thinking. They’re influential business leaders, managers and policy makers who conduct world-class research and teach topnotch courses. In fact, according to a recent review published in 2014, London Business School received a top four rating for its research performance. And there’s no better representation of LBS’s faculty than finance professor Alex Edmans.

About Professor Alex Edmans

Professor Edmans graduated from Oxford University in 2001 with his bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management. From there, he pursued a career at Morgan Stanley working in investment banking and fixed income sales and trading. Then, a few years later in 2003, he went back to school to receive his Ph.D. in Finance from MIT Sloan as a Fulbright Scholar. In 2007, he became a professor at Wharton, earning his tenure by 2013 before moving to LBS. And, so far, Professor Edmans’ teaching career has been prestigious.

Over the past six years, he’s won 14 teaching awards. At Wharton, he was the highest-rated finance professor in the MBA program before his departure and was even chosen as the Faculty Graduation Speaker to the MBA class of 2014. And then, just this year at LBS, he was given the MBA Class of 2016 teaching award for the highest-rated professor school-wide and the Best Teacher: MBA 2016 award.

Outside of his exceptional teaching, Alex Edmans is a prolific researcher, blogger and Twitter user (you can follow him @aedmans). His blog, Access to Finance, covers a variety of topics and excels at making finance research available to anyone and everyone. It’s written for people with a non-finance background who might not normally be interested in finance but want to stay on top of current trends and events.

As for Edmans’ research, his most recent publication was published in the Journal of Financial Economics on October 27, 2016. Titled “The Source of Information in Prices and Investment-Price Sensitivity,” it discusses the value of financial markets to the real economy. Other research topics have included “Equity Vesting and Investment,” “Blockholders” and “Governing Multiple Firms.”

As you can see by just the most basic facts, Alex Edmans isn’t an ordinary professor. But that’s just the surface. We wanted to get to know Professor Edmans, so we asked him five questions about his life and work as a faculty member at the London Business School.

  1. What do you love most about teaching at the London Business School?

I really enjoy the diversity of the student body—not just nationalities, but also educational and career backgrounds. This brings lots of different perspectives to class.

I also enjoy the fact that I teach core courses. It’s easy to teach an elective since students have self-selected into the class, so you know they’ll like it. The core is challenging because I teach students who may not like finance, may even be scared of finance, and only take it because they have to. I like this challenge. It means that I have to make finance interesting and accessible, and hopefully, students end up enjoying the class even if they dreaded it to start with.

  1. What do you hope students take away from your research, teaching, and speaking?

Teaching: I would like students to be able to think for themselves and understand the intuition behind the concepts, which they can apply to any real-world situation—rather than just knowing the formulas that they can plug numbers into in order to solve an exam problem.

Research: The importance of large-scale, rigorous, academic research in a world where policy is increasingly formed on anecdote or myth. That “academic” research isn’t irrelevant but has substantial relevance for the real world.

Speaking: I give a number of talks on personal leadership, not just finance. I would like students to choose careers that are personally fulfilling, rather than just the career that happens to be hot at the moment. And I would like students to be mentally present in everything they do, not just physically present.

  1. In an era where corporate responsibility is becoming more important than ever, what do MBAs need to know and keep in mind?

That companies should do things for intrinsic and not instrumental value—even if there is no clear profit benefit for an action. This applies to your personal life too—to help a classmate even if you don’t clearly benefit from it, or learn something even if it won’t be on the exam.

  1. Which of your blogs would you most recommend for MBAs to read?

My blog, Access To Finance, aims to make finance accessible to a general audience by taking complex academic papers, or topical issues (such as Brexit or the current debate on executive pay), and making them simple. Which articles in the blog to read depends on the MBA’s interest, and so it’s hard for me to recommend some over others. My Twitter feed @aedmans also aims to showcase simple, accessible articles on real world finance.

I would also recommend two talks that I gave which may be of particular interest to MBAs. One is my TEDx talk, “The Social Responsibility of Business”, on the business case for sustainability, and the other is “Fulfilling Careers and Full Lives”, the final lecture of my MBA course, which is similar to a graduation speech in that it provides general advice for how MBAs can make the most of their talents and opportunities to serve society, but aims to do so in a concrete and actionable rather than sugary and saccharine way.

  1. What makes your teaching/classes different at LBS?

In every class, I have an “extra-curricular break,” which takes a complex academic paper with real-world relevance and makes it accessible for a practitioner. Indeed, my blog spun out of these extra-curricular breaks.

  • While a core class is theoretical and rigorous, I always try to emphasize the evidence to the real world, drawing from my own practitioner and policy experience.
  • I cold-call students. This is absolutely not to scare them, but to keep the class interactive and the students engaged, and to give the students practice in solving problems themselves, rather than just following someone else. It also ensures the pace of the class is not dictated by the students with finance backgrounds; cold-calling means that a broad set of students end up contributing.
  • I play music before class and during the breaks, and dress down. This is absolutely not intended to be a gimmick. Instead, it is to conduct class in as relaxed an atmosphere as possible, to make students relaxed about asking questions and not be afraid to be cold-called. The music aims to bring energy to the class, which is particularly important when studying finance at 8:15 am on Monday morning!


About the Author

Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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