2017 Top 40 Undergraduate Professors: Neeraj Bharadwaj, University of Tennessee at Knoxville (Haslam)

Neeraj Bharadwaj

Associate Professor of Marketing

University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Haslam College of Business

When you explore Neeraj Bharadwaj’s background as a professor, it’s not just his teaching experience at multiple top business schools that catches your eye, it’s that everywhere he goes, he gets top honors for his outstanding teaching. Over the course of his career, he’s accumulated 10 awards including Professor of the Year, Most Outstanding Faculty Member, and multiple Faculty of the Year awards. Add to the ever-growing list The Allen H. Keally Excellence in Teaching Award which he received this year from the Haslam College of Business. Bharadwaj’s remarkable impact is born of a passion for marketing that students say is infectious and his conscious effort to blend academics with real-world relevance.

Research-wise, Professor Bharadwaj is equally respected. His study of marketing strategy topics such as marketing accountability, methodologies for competing in the era of Big Data, and customer-focused enterprises has landed his research in top academic journals while case studies he’s written are among the most popular for Harvard Business Publishing.

Age: 53

At current institution since: 2013

Education: PhD, Marketing, University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2000.

List of courses currently teaching: Strategic Brand Management (Undergraduate); Marketing Strategy (Core MBA Marketing course)

Fun fact about yourself: I don’t always eat ice cream, but when I do…I prefer Babcock Hall’s Orange Custard Chocolate Chip.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I concluded reflecting on some career advice from a mentor (and executive at Miller Brewing Company):

“In any endeavor that you pursue, you should be: 1) learning, 2) applying what you are learning, and 3) having fun. If one of these is missing, the other two can compensate. If two are missing, then it is time for you to move on.”

My initial belief was that becoming a faculty member would allow me to achieve the criteria put forth in this maxim both in the classroom and in my research, and that has truly proven to be the case.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” I would be applying my skills to help benefit those at the “base of the pyramid.”

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Overly-scripted.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? I most enjoy hearing from my students post-graduation on how they were able to apply what they learned in my classes.

What is the biggest challenge that comes with teaching undergraduate business students? As one would expect, some are not as fully locked-in to a career path as are my graduate students. This pushes me to ensure that the concepts, tools, and analytical frameworks covered in my classes are equally applicable to managerial decision-making at: small- and medium-sized businesses versus multinational corporations; domestically- versus internationally-oriented firms; product- versus service-based companies; and for-profit versus not-for-profit enterprises.  

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? Instead of accepting a position that paid more, one of my students opted to pursue an opportunity at a non-profit as the employer better matched her passion for helping others. Her level of self-awareness impressed me immensely. I have subsequently encouraged my students to think deeply about the “intrinsic rewards” that will make them happiest (and, in turn, thrive), and seek out opportunities accordingly.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Asking for an introduction to a manager (who was a former student of mine) at a local company, and then not showing up for that scheduled meeting.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? S/he must demonstrate mastery of the course material in the quizzes, analytical exercises, and exams, and be able to showcase her/his learning via in-class comments, presentations, and written reports.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” Providing detailed, timely feedback and being fair.

“But I would describe myself as …” Being fair and providing detailed, timely feedback.

What are your hobbies? Playing basketball, listening to music, and traveling with my wife. I also enjoy nature, where some recent adventures have included: viewing the synchronous firefly migration at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park; taking in “totality” – the 2017 solar eclipse; cruising the Norwegian fjords; hiking Machu Picchu; and swimming in a cenote.

How did you spend your summer? In addition to working on my own research, I served as a guest editor on a special issue of the Journal of Product Innovation Management that was devoted to “Innovation in Data-Rich Environments” and chaired the fifth edition of the “Marketing Strategy Meets Wall Street” conference in San Francisco. To keep things in perspective, I spent ample time visiting with friends and family.

Favorite place to vacation: Bali

Favorite book: The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

Favorite movie and/or television show: Casino Royale

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Any live set with friends, especially at Red Rocks Amphitheatre or the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Bucket list item #1: Angkor Wat

What professional achievement are you most proud of? On the teaching front, it would have to be winning the Reggie Tate Excellence in Teaching Award while a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin. It was an early signal that an academic career was going to provide a life-long opportunity to learn, apply what I had learned, and have some fun along the way.

On the research front, it was being named finalist for the Harold H. Maynard Award for an interdisciplinary article regarding the marketing-finance interface that was published in the Journal of Marketing. That prompted me to continue pursuing research that delves into that realm.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? It would have to be the email that I received from a former MBA student at the University of Chicago. He detailed that his firm was competing to execute an equity transaction for a client firm. During a meeting with the client’s senior management, he utilized a perceptual map – an analytical tool he had picked up in my class – to show why his firm was superior to the alternatives. He ended the email saying: “Being able to position ourselves versus the competitors utilizing the client’s most important objectives really drove the message home…the transaction generated several hundred million dollars in revenue.”  

Professor you most admire and why: I am going to have to list a cadre of professors from my days as a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin: John Nevin, Jan Heide, Jeff Inman, David Mick, Craig Thompson, and Mark Suchman. On top of being such dedicated and successful scholars, each one exhibited integrity, humility, and patience in guiding students. I was truly fortunate to have had an opportunity to learn from and interact with each of these individuals.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I am working with an inter-disciplinary team to further investigate the relationship between brand equity and firm performance. The empirical testing reveals that strong brands can increase firm value by increasing cash flows in good and bad times. The relationships that we study have yet to be explicated theoretically and demonstrated empirically, and support the importance of marketing in creating shareholder value.

Twitter handle: Sorry, but I use this particular social media site only sparingly.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” more opportunities for students to engage in experiential learning involving issues that companies are and will be facing.

“And much less of this…” lecturing (i.e., less “sage on the stage”!)

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you: I wish to be able to answer in the affirmative that I did my part to: help equip my students with the skills needed to succeed in the age of temporary advantage; contribute to my department, college and university through my research, teaching, and service; and bring people together to benefit the greater good.

Students say…

“Dr. B has been the most influential professor I’ve had since coming to UTK in 2013.”

“He really wanted to get to know us on a personal level. He makes sure that we get our word in, that we get to participate in learning, and that we are able to synthesize our own thoughts.”

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