2017 Top 40 Undergraduate Professors: David Ravenscraft, University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

David Ravenscraft

Fulton Global Business Distinguished Professor of Finance

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

While teaching and research are two key traits of many top professors, UNC’s David Ravenscraft has carved out a category of his own: service. In a 2016 Poets & Quants article highlighting students’ favorite undergraduate professors, one student replied, “I have seen the amount of time he devotes to his students. He spends hours over the summer refining the complex Excel models used in class, recruits impressive guest speakers, and willingly answers students’ phone calls late at night and on the weekends. He taught me that fulfillment in any career should not be defined solely by personal achievements; it should instead be measured by the impact we have on others.”

Ravenscraft, a finance professor, has said himself that he loves research and teaching, but recognizes that service is where the greatest impact is achieved. Not only does he talk the talk, he walks the walk. He’s highly recognized for his outstanding service to the business school, which includes former associate dean of both the BSBA Program and OneMBA. In the OneMBA, he’s credited as being the launchpad for the program, making a partnership between five top business schools so that business professionals who work and live around the world can work across cultures, time zones, and continents. He then used this success with OneMBA at the undergraduate level to expand the school’s Global Learning Opportunities in Business Education (GLOBE) Program with partners Chinese University of Hong Kong and Copenhagen Business School.

His dedication and acts of service have not gone unnoticed. Professor Ravenscraft has received numerous awards for teaching and dedication, including the Roy W. Holsten Exceptional Service Award – UNC’s highest honor for contributions to the business school community – and multiple teaching awards at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Kenan-Flagler dean, Doug Shackelford, calls him simply “a living legend” for his service contributions.

Age: 64

At current institution since: 1987

Education: PhD Economic, Industrial Organization, Northwestern University, 1980.

List of courses currently teaching: I have taught microeconomics and game theory, but my mergers and acquisition course is doing so well that I now teach 12 sections of it at the undergraduate, graduate, and executive education levels almost every year.

Fun fact about yourself: I took a year off between college and graduate school to join a dance troop and realized I needed to go to graduate school in something besides the arts.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I started researching mergers and acquisitions at the Federal Trade Commission after getting my Ph.D. in economics. I discovered that understanding all functional areas in business was important for a deep understanding of M&A.  

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” I would probably be a professor in economics. I knew I was destined to be a professor in high school when I gave a 20-minute presentation based on one graph (the age of first marriage over time) and no notes.

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Horrible! I almost quit, but I learn best from my mistakes and won a teaching award three years later.    

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? I get the most satisfaction from knowing I am having some impact. Given that undergraduates are making decisions that launch life-long careers, professors can have a long lasting positive influence on these critical decisions. I love getting notes from former students letting me know how my course or advice helped them in their careers.  

What is the biggest challenge that comes with teaching undergraduate business students? Since getting a job is so important, recruiting can interfere with class work and attendance even for the most dedicated students.  

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? Over my 30 years here, I have taught probably more than 7,000 students at all levels. Many have been very successful in investment banking, starting their own company or advancing to senior management levels. I could not select just one. My very favorites are those that give back in some meaningful way, including those who come back and present to my M&A class.  

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Violate the honor code. I have no tolerance for that. I have given only about 20 Fs in my 30 years at Kenan-Flagler Business School. All but three of those have been from honor code violations. Two of the other three did not take the final and were unresponsive to offers for a make-up exam. If you try, I will help you at least pass.      

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? I have six team projects that require students to value an acquisition from all major perspectives. The exam has six questions similar to the projects, but on a different acquisition. If they work together well as a team on each project, they will do well on the individual exam.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” Requiring a lot of work

“But I would describe myself as …” Reasonable if they do the work

What are your hobbies? Traveling and golf

How did you spend your summer? I am teaching almost year round. So, I worked on continually improving my course, engaged in some consulting and took a vacation to Nantucket.   

Favorite place to vacation: The Tuscany region of Italy

Favorite book: “Give and Take” by Adam Grant

Favorite movie and/or television show: “Game of Thrones” or as I call it “Games of Throne” since only the Iron Throne matters and the show is about all the games played to get there.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: I really like almost all kinds of music, but when alone I tend towards oldies.

Bucket list item #1: Write a book on M&A that makes the business press best seller list

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I am so fortunate to have many proud moments, but if I had to focus on one, it would probably my book with my mentor Mike Scherer entitled “Mergers, Sell-offs & Economic Efficiency.” This research book really launched a career that led to substantial M&A research, a successful M&A course and numerous M&A consulting/executive education opportunities.

If I were allowed a second, it would be helping develop and lead the Global Executive MBA Program, called OneMBA with four other partner schools around the world. The program has given around 1,500 students a very unique global MBA experience over the past 15 years.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? Hearing that Paul Fulton had given a chaired professorship in my name. So when I retire the Ravenscraft Global Business Distinguished Professorship will always exist at Kenan-Flagler Business School.   

Professor you most admire and why: Adam Grant at Wharton. He has been incredibly successful at teaching, research, and helping so many individuals. His best-selling books blend academic concepts and empirical research into important practical lessons. I first met him when he was a new assistant professor at Kenan-Flagler. I was Associate Dean of the Undergraduate Business Program at the time and asked him to serve on the undergraduate committee. He responded with, “How can I help and when can I start?” He practices what he preaches.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Unfortunately, since I do a lot of teaching, administrative work and consulting-executive education, I have not had much time for research lately. I am hoping to take a sabbatical to get to several M&A research projects.

Twitter handle: I typically spend so much time answering emails that I do not have time for additional communication from social media.   

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Applied theory and concepts that students can use right away, but also stand the test of time  

“And much less of this…” Requiring material to justify teaching load or the view of a particular administrator

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would look like for you: I have always sought balance in life, but never really achieved it. So, I would love to continue to see my M&A course in heavy demand, write a book and applied articles on how M&A can help firms succeed in an environment of rapid change and still make time for regular exercise, travel and being with family and friends.   

Students say…

“I have seen the amount of time he devotes to his students,” Burke Baldridge shares. “He spends hours over the summer refining the complex Excel models used in class, recruits impressive guest speakers, and willingly answers students’ phone calls late at night and on the weekends. He taught me that fulfillment in any career should not be defined solely by personal achievements; it should instead be measured by the impact we have on others.”

“I have rarely seen teachers with such a passion for teaching. I have also rarely seen teachers sacrifice personal time like this person does for the benefit of students.”

“Highly respected both as an educator here at Kenan-Flagler, and as a consultant for major firms.  Surprisingly, the most impressive thing about him is not his elite educational background or vast work experience or impressive research record, but rather, how humble he is about it all when preparing undergraduate business students for long, successful careers.”

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