2020 Best Undergraduate Business Professors: Adam Aiken, Elon University

Adam Aiken of Elon University’s Love School of Business is a 2020 Poets&Quants Best Undergraduate Business School Professor  

Adam Aiken

Associate Professor of Finance 

Elon University

Adam Aiken is relatively new to teaching at a business school, joining Elon University’s Love School of Business faculty in 2015, but he’s not new to universities. Or finance. Aiken says he realized he might want to be a business school professor “back in the early 2000s when I was working at a university endowment and realized I wanted to spend time figuring out what might actually be true in finance. Still working on that.”

Since becoming a business school professor, Aiken has been a publishing machine, earning hundreds of Google Scholar citations. Aiken’s research focuses on the performance of hedge funds as well as individual investors. If he wasn’t a business school professor, Aiken says he’d still be “sitting in front of a computer somewhere doing something finance related.”

Current age: 42

At current institution since what year? 2015

Education: BSBA University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, MA Duke University, Ph.D. Arizona State University

List of courses you currently teach: Advanced Managerial Finance (Undergrad), Financial Modeling (Undergrad), Data Analysis in Finance (Undergrad), Investment Seminar (Undergrad), Finance Foundations (MBA), Financial Management (MBA)


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… back in the early 2000s when I was working at a university endowment and realized I wanted to spend time figuring out what might actually be true in finance. Still working on that.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Most of my research has focused on the performance of hedge funds, but recent work has also looked at the individual investor. I believe that work with my co-authors has led to a better understanding of how sophisticated investors form their portfolios and generate their returns.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… also sitting in front of a computer somewhere doing something finance related.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

I try my best to link theory and practice. Without a framework, you miss the deeper connections. Without the application, you miss the interview.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Crisis (it was the summer of 2008).

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Take more programming classes.

Professor I most admire and why: Many faculty have influenced me with their kindness, dedication to students, and careful research. This is especially true of the professors who have entered academia after me. I try to learn as much as I can from them at Elon, at conferences, and on social media like Twitter.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

Seeing students recognize the important role that business and markets play in our lives and then wanting to use these institutions to make things better.

What is most challenging?

Keeping everyone going in the same direction until that last day of class in May.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Passive

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… fair. I try to create assignments that reflect the type of thinking and tasks that students will encounter on the job. I never make something difficult just to be difficult.


What are your hobbies?

Mainly piano and guitar these days. My three-and-a-half-year-old son Elliot keeps me busy.

How will you spend your summer?

I spend most of the summer on research, class prep, and projects around the house. We usually have vacations and conferences to attend as well, but, obviously, not this year.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Anywhere with food and a view. Actually, anywhere that isn’t my basement office would be nice right about now.

Favorite book(s): I’m not sure I have a set of favorites, but I enjoy authors like Neal Stephenson, Umberto Eco, Hilary Mantel, and Alan Furst.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

I grew up with The Simpsons and PBS Mystery. These are my comfort shows.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?

I don’t have a favorite, but Elliot and I listen to a lot of Pete Seeger, Springsteen, and Rolling Stones together. I wish I could play Chopin better.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Interdisciplinary work across campus. That might mean more math and computer science, more sociology and history to understand the how business reflects the good and the bad of broader society, or classes for engineering students to help them start a business. I think that this would help students move beyond simply learning about something and to actually doing it.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… going beyond issuing statements about important issues, such as racial and gender inequities, climate change, and data privacy. Businesses and markets can help to solve complex problems and I’m cautiously optimistic. But, we’re currently leaving a lot of work for the next generations.

I’m grateful for… my family, friends, and every single opportunity that I’ve been given throughout my life.

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:

“Adam is an accomplished colleague who is dedicated to student learning. Four years ago, Adam was scheduled to start a sabbatical. Two days before it started, I called him at 9 pm to ask if he would postpone it. We had an unexpected resignation. Adam said he’d call me back in 15 minutes and he did, to tell me he’d postpone the sabbatical because students would suffer. He’s also an accomplished teacher who publishes in the very best journals.”

– Dean Raghu Tadepalli

“Adam has a reputation among students as being the smartest person they have ever met and relish getting to be in his classes to soak up his knowledge. While they know his classes are “hard” they also know he is fair and challenges them to prepare them to be successful and make a difference in the industry after school. As a colleague he is constantly giving his time to mentor others: students, fellow professors, and even advice for folks in industry.” – Kate Upton, Ph.D., Director of the Reed Finance Center, Associate Professor of Finance, Elon University

“Adam consistently develops and updates the curriculum within the department to include the necessary topics and technologies that prepare our graduates for successful careers in finance and to become responsible leaders within the field. He challenges our students to be rigorous and thorough in their inquiries and to make well-informed decisions. As a colleague, I am grateful for Adam’s mentorship in curricular design and pedagogical approach, as well as always being there as a sounding board for research ideas.” – Margarita Kaprielyan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Finance, Elon University

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