2020 Best Undergraduate Business Professors: Michael McLaughlin, Washington University in St. Louis (Olin)

Michael McLaughlin of Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School is a 2020 Poets&Quants Best Undergraduate Business School Professor

Michael McLaughlin

Lecturer of Accounting

Washington University in St. Louis (Olin Business School)

Of all the professors on this year’s list of Best Undergraduate Business School professors, there might not be one that cares more about their students than Michael McLaughlin.

“I don’t know how to explain it, but they mean the world to me,” McLaughlin says of his students. “I love them like they are my own children.”

Want some proof? McLaughlin has been known to bring jugglers and magicians into his classroom, just to help his students not become bored. He’s hosted a burrito-eating contest. He’s gone to their baseball games and singing competitions. And if they’ve needed internships, he’s connected them with jobs. If that didn’t work, he hired them himself.

“Business students are going to run companies one day, with many employees and communities affected by their leadership,” McLaughlin says. “I can thus have a positive influence by molding tomorrow’s business leaders into people of integrity. These undergrads are at a formative point in their lives, where they need to decide whether they’re going to be ethical, how they’re going to treat people, etc. I can help them choose the right path so that they become outstanding leaders both in the business world and in their communities.”

Current age: 39

At current institution since what year? 2015

Education: Ph.D. (Washington University in St. Louis)

List of courses you currently teach: (1) Financial Accounting, (2) Managerial Accounting, (3) Cost Analysis and Control (4) Taxation of Business Entities


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I connected with the undergraduate students at Olin in a way I hadn’t thought was possible.  I don’t know how to explain it, but they mean the world to me.  I love them like they are my own children.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? 

I’m a lecturer so I’m not currently doing academic research.  However, I’m currently doing research on accounting frauds for a podcast I’ll be launching this fall.  The most significant finding is the lengths some people will go to in order to increase their wealth.  In my opinion, it is infinitely more important to be able to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and be proud of the person you are, rather than to constantly seek to accumulate wealth.  Money should be a byproduct of success, not the end goal.  A great life is one full of meaning and purpose, where you invest in relationships and make other people better off.  It inspires me that many of my students get that message, and I believe they are going to make this world a better place.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… focusing 100% of my time on my company, Edspira.  Edspira is a YouTube channel and website I created to make a high-quality business education freely accessible to anyone in the world, regardless of their income, race, ethnicity, or country of origin.  So far, I’ve made 825 video tutorials for the Edspira YouTube channel that provide help with accounting, finance, and other business subjects.

But now Edspira is expanding to do a lot more for students.  When companies began canceling internships due to COVID-19, I guaranteed a summer internship to all current and former students.  I found some of my students internships at other companies, and I hired the remaining 26 students to work as paid interns for Edspira.  We’re now offering pro bono consulting to companies, which has a double benefit:  my students get experiential learning,  and companies get free assistance during a difficult time.  Some of the Edspira interns are also working to help Edspira grow.  For example, I have a team of design interns who are helping improve the look of some free study outlines I’m going to release this fall.  I also have a team of strategy interns who are helping me come up with new types of content (the podcast, a new video series, etc.) that will provide an even better educational experience.

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

There are professors who are smarter than me, and there are professors who are better presenters than me.  But no one cares about their students more than I do.  When my students were bored, I brought in jugglers and magicians and had a burrito-eating contest.  When students asked me to come to their baseball games or singing competitions, I was there.  And when they needed internships, I connected them with jobs or hired them myself.  They know I love them and that I will be there for them when they need me.

One word that describes my first time teaching: excited.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: always do what is in the best interest of your students, even if it gets you fired.

Professor I most admire and why:  Jim Cox.  Jim is a marketing professor who retired from Illinois State University several years ago.  Jim is the first person who encouraged me to pursue a PhD.  Without Jim’s mentorship and support, I probably wouldn’t even have a bachelor’s degree.  This is because I had a difficult time going to college.

I was removed from my home at age 16 after experiencing child abuse, and by age 17 I was living by myself in a campground.  I bounced around 3 different community colleges before I was able to get my associate’s degree in 2004, when I was approaching 24 years old.  I then transferred to a 4-year university, Illinois State, which is where Jim taught marketing.  On the first day of classes that fall semester of 2004, I saw the massive amount of students on campus and I panicked.  For some reason, I felt like I didn’t belong, and I wanted to leave school.  But before I did, I went to the school library and called Jim from a pay phone (I had met him while I was in community college, so we knew each other pre-ISU).  I told Jim that I felt like I didn’t belong, and he listened patiently.  When I was done talking, Jim told me that what I was feeling was completely normal, and that lots of students felt like this.  He then asked me to promise him something:  he asked me to promise that no matter what happened that day, no matter how bad I felt, that I would attend all my classes.  I agreed to do that, and everything turned out fine.  I have wondered many times how life would be different for me if Jim didn’t pick up the phone that day, or if he had been too busy to talk to me.  Jim changed my life, and I am doing my very best to pay it forward to my students.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? 

Business students are going to run companies one day, with many employees and communities affected by their leadership.  I can thus have a positive influence by molding tomorrow’s business leaders into people of integrity.  These undergrads are at a formative point in their lives, where they need to decide whether they’re going to be ethical, how they’re going to treat people, etc.  I can help them choose the right path, so that they become outstanding leaders both in the business world and in their communities.

What is most challenging?

Feeling like I am not doing enough. There is always more you could be doing to make a difference, but sometimes you need to rest and give yourself a break.

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

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: self-serving

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… tough but fair


What are your hobbies?

I love camping and spending time outdoors.  I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and Ozark Trail in 2012 to raise money for a school for blind children, and this gave me a much greater appreciation for nature.  I also love reading books; I read 20 last summer and 17 the summer before that.  This summer I’m trying to read War and Peace.

How will you spend your summer? 

(1) Prepping to teach a new course this fall, Taxation of Business Entities, (2) Trying to give the Edspira interns a meaningful experience, (3) creating new videos for Edspira, which I will release this fall, and (4) creating the podcast, which I will also release this fall.  I’ve also been connecting with former students on Zoom; I love hearing updates!

Favorite place(s) to vacation: I love southern Illinois (Giant City State Park, Garden of the Gods) and rural Missouri (Johnson Shut-ins State Park, Elephant Rocks State Park).

Favorite book(s): Walden

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

The Shawshank Redemption.  Despite everything that happened to the main character, he never lost hope and did something great with his life.  He also managed to make a positive impact on people’s lives even though he was incarcerated.

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

I grew up in the 90’s so Nirvana was my favorite band growing up.  I also liked Jimi Hendrix because he was such a phenomenal guitar player.  Aaliyah had an incredible voice, I never get tired of listening to her.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… a focus on producing leaders of integrity, not just placing people into high-paying jobs.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… recruiting people from underrepresented groups (gender, race, ethnicity) and providing them with a supportive work environment.

I’m grateful for… my wife Brooke and my students.  They both love me and think the world of me even though I don’t deserve it.  I hope they know I love them back!

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

“Michael has gone above and beyond to facilitate his students’ success. Upon the mass-internship cancellations of COVID-19 he has done more than any professor I have seen. Michael has offered paid internships at his own startup, be it content or consulting, as well as to place students within his vast network. He is known throughout the school for immense kindness and unparalleled dedication to his students.”

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