2020 Best Undergraduate Professors: Mike Bednar, University of Illinois Gies College of Business

Michael Bednar of the University of Illinois Gies College of Business is a 2020 Poets&Quants Best Undergraduate Business School Professor

Mike Bednar

Associate Professor of Business Administration

Gies College of Business, University of Illinois

Michael (Mike) Bednar is an award-winning professor at the University of Illinois Gies College of Business. Bednar has received numerous teaching awards since beginning his career at the University of Illinois in 2008 including the Gies College of Business Excellence in Graduate Teaching Award in 2019 and the Dean’s Impact Award in 2018. In addition to the teaching awards, Bednar has more than 1,500 Google Scholar citations. That balanced proficiency in research and teaching is what landed him on this year’s list.

Bednar is no stranger to teaching in a business school. His father was a business professor and as an undergraduate student studying accounting at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business, Bednar says he was around even more “great professors” that helped him realize the positive impact good professors can have on a student’s life. Bednar’s research currently focuses on corporate governance and executive leadership.

“One project I’m working on with a former Ph.D. student is about how being known for different kinds of stakeholder management can affect CEO job prospects and compensation,” Bednar says. “We look at two different types of stakeholder management that firms can be known for.”

Current age: 42

At current institution since what year? 2008

Education: B.S., Accounting, Brigham Young University, 2002; Ph.D., Strategic Management, University of Texas at Austin, 2008

List of courses you currently teach: Business in Action, Designing and Managing Organizations


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… Growing up, my Dad was a business professor so that obviously had some influence.  I also had great professors in college who helped me to realize the positive impact that professors can have in the lives of students.

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

Most of my research is in the realm of corporate governance and executive leadership.  One project I’m working on with a former Ph.D. student is about how being known for different kinds of stakeholder management can affect CEO job prospects and compensation.  We look at two different types of stakeholder management that firms can be known for.  The first is what we call a reputation for “doing good”, which is going above and beyond what is required, while the other is what we call a reputation for “avoiding harm.”  Part of what we find is that when the firm isn’t performing well financially, being known for “doing good” doesn’t help CEOs keep their jobs but being known for “avoiding harm” does seem to help.  At the same time, being known for “doing good” does appear to be associated with greater CEO compensation.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… Hard to say because at this point it is hard to imagine being anything else.  At one point in my life, I was planning on being a medical doctor.

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

I genuinely care about students and I try to create a fun and safe learning environment where students can openly discuss ideas.  I also try to connect the theories that we talk about in class to the real world and I think students appreciate the chance to apply what they are learning to real-life situations.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Terrifying and Exhilarating (sorry two words)

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: I’m not sure I realized how difficult it is to balance the often competing demands of research, teaching, and service.

Professor I most admire and why: There are lots of professors that have had a positive impact on me, so it is hard to choose one.  My graduate advisor, Jim Westphal, is someone I admire greatly.  He has always been an amazing mentor to me.  He has accomplished so much in this profession and yet is very humble.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

I’ve found that business students are always looking for ways to apply new knowledge.  One of the most enjoyable things for me over the past several years has been teaching a class where students partner with real companies and work during the semester to try a solve a real business problem.  It’s so rewarding when students can see that they are making a positive impact on a real organization.

What is most challenging?

Sometimes students can be so focused on grades rather than actually learning and becoming better people and professionals.

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

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair


What are your hobbies?

Playing mediocre golf, running, spending time with my family

How will you spend your summer?

Thanks to COVID, mostly at home with my family.  I have a number of research projects that I am working on this summer and I am prepping for online classes in the fall.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: North Carolina, Hawaii

Favorite book(s): “How will you measure your life” by Clayton Christensen.  This book suggests that the theories we teach in business school can be applied to ourselves in ways that can help us lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

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

Probably Remember the Titans.  I like it because my wife and I can watch with our kids.  But it also has a great message about overcoming adversity and the impact that great leaders can have.

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

I have the worst playlist.  It consists primarily of little kid songs downloaded for dance recitals and long car rides. But nothing beats “Eye of the Tiger” during the last part of a run.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Opportunities for students to connect with real organizations where they can put into practice what they are learning in their courses

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Articulating their purpose and then helping people throughout the organization to connect their work to the larger purposes of the organization

I’m grateful for… My family, my health, an amazing job with great colleagues

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

“To say Michael Bednar is passionate about experiential learning is a major understatement. Professor Bednar helped design – and now teaches – Business in Action, which is the largest undergraduate experiential learning course in the nation. Every third-year Gies student will go through the Business in Action class, which is built around action learning. He says it is the perfect complement to traditional academic classwork because students can cross subject boundaries and put theory and concepts into action. It also shows them that there are no easy answers and often no single solution to most problems. For this reason and many more, Professor Bednar has been rated as “Excellent” by his students every year since joining the College in 2008.”

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