2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Y. Sekou Bermiss, University of Texas at Austin (McCombs)

Y. Sekou Bermiss

Associate Professor of Management

University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business

For management professor Y. Sekou Bermiss, academic research centers on how value is socially constructed in organizational settings. In particular, he investigates how market perceptions of financial performance, organizational identity, and human capital affect firm performance, reputation, and survival. His work has been published in various academic journals, edited volumes, magazines, the Harvard Business Review blog, and heard on National Public Radio. Inside the lecture hall, he delivers course content related to academic research combined with experiential learning. For instance, demonstrating how competition can influence spending decisions via a live auction he organizes. Each year, students stand in awe of how much others are willing to spend simply to avoid losing. Professor Bermiss teaches in the undergraduate business honors program at Texas McCombs, an elite program for high-performing students. He was elected to the Faculty Honor Roll by the Undergraduate Business Council and is often cited as a favorite professor including two of Poets&Quants’ 2018 Best & Brightest students Mickey Wolf and Karan Mahendroo. Professor Bermiss was recently chosen as the inaugural Research Fellow for the Filene Institute ‘War for Talent’ Center of Excellence, where he conducts research that explores topics critical to the future of consumer finance.

Age: 40

Education: PhD in Management and Organization, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management 

At current institution since: 2009

List of courses you currently teach:  Organizational Behavior, Managing Human Capital: People Analytics, Leading for Impact, Organizational Theory and Design

Twitter handle: @sekoubermiss

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I attended the PhD Project Conference (https://www.phdproject.org/) in Chicago, IL in 2001

“One word that describes my first time teaching…”  Adrenaline

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Currently I have a few projects looking at how political ideology impacts people within organizations.  An individual’s workplace is often the most politically diverse domain in their lives.  Political ideology can influence many important decisions that occur in the workplace such as the decision to depart an organization.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? The first time I saw stood on stage with the faculty and watched graduation from that perspective.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? There is a lot more innovation being done with curriculum including flipped classrooms, online classes, distance learning, etc.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” trying to fulfill my dream as a college basketball color commentator.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: It will be much harder than you think, but it will also be much more fulfilling than you think.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: Keith Murnighan– he was one of my first professors in graduate school at Northwestern and made a tremendous impression on me despite us never working together on a paper. When I was going through a particularly tough stretch in my program, Keith took time out of his busy schedule to personally help me.  He had somehow figured out how to be an amazing teacher, a prolific scholar, and generous colleague, and still find time for family, hobbies, and the sport section. Sadly, Keith passed away in 2016 at the way too early age of 67.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? Moderating a discussion or exercise and watching the “aha” moments occur.

What’s the biggest challenge? Assigning class participation grades!

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? As part of an in-class exercise, a student quickly sketched an alarmingly good portrait of my profile and put it on their mock product

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Fall asleep while I am looking at them and answering a question they just posed to me.

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? More students seem to be aiming to work with smaller firms or start-ups. Many more are embracing entrepreneurship as a path directly out of undergrad.   

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Demonstrate mastery of the class material on exams, discussions, and projects.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …”  Tough but fair.

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? “Money, Power, & Respect” The L.O.X.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Thoughtful

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Arrogant

“If my students can diagnose and repair issues within their organizations, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

Fun fact about yourself: I (occasionally) host a podcast about hip hop.

What are your hobbies? Watching sports and trying not to curse in front of my children, listening to podcasts, watching “prestige” television shows, basketball, golf

How did you spend your summer? Writing, writing, writing. And going on family vacations.

Favorite place to vacation: Caribbean

Favorite book: Fiction: Debt of Honor by Tom Clancy; non-fiction: Thurgood Marshall, American Revolutionary by Juan Williams

Favorite movie and/or television show: The Matrix Trilogy and The Wire

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: Hip Hop – Jay-Z

Bucket list item #1: Become conversant in Spanish

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? Balancing the need for schools to fund innovative research with the need to fund the instruction of practical skills to our students.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Closer collaboration between the different disciplines in both teaching and research.

“And much less of this…” Inertia that prevents us from changing process and programs that no longer benefit our students or faculty

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you: Watching my students take the knowledge I have taught them from my own research to heights I could have ever imagined (hopefully positive heights!).

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