Alan K. Koh
Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University
“He is one of the most passionate and sincere professors I’ve met. His passion for both company law and for teaching can be felt from the effort he puts into each seminar. He constantly provides relatable real-world examples to demystify company law and help us understand its relevance to accounting and business. I thoroughly enjoyed his seminars as he creates a highly effective learning environment where I am always curious about the topic and am eager to participate in the class discussion.” – Liao Qian Hong, student
Alan K. Koh, 31, is Assistant Professor of Business Law at Nanyang Technological University Business School in Singapore. He’s been with Nanyang since 2019. He currently teaches Company Law & Corporate Governance at Nanyang Business School and also teaches a seminar on Commercial Law in Asia at the University of Tokyo Faculty of Law.
His education includes a Dr jur from Goethe University Frankfurt Faculty of Law; an LLM from Boston University School of Law; and an LLB from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law.
Koh is regarded as a rising star in comparative corporate law and governance. He is the youngest tenure-track business law professor to join Nanyang Technological University (NTU). His scholarly contributions, which focus on Asian corporate law, have received international recognition. He is the first Singaporean elected member of the International Academy of Comparative Law, and among the youngest. He is winner of numerous prizes including the ALSB Ralph Bunche Award and the ASCL Younger Comparativists Committee Colin Picker Prize.
“When teaching NTU’s Company Law and Corporate Governance course, I apply other countries’ diverse experiences to contextualize Singapore’s legal and business practices, preparing students for international careers,” he tells Poets&Quants. “To help students assess business legal risk, I challenge them to devise not just one ‘correct’ solution, but rather a range of responses to a legal problem calibrated by risk tolerance and ethics considerations.”
He is highly regarded by both colleagues and students, judging by his numerous nominations.
“I nominate Alan Koh for his commitment to teaching, research excellence, and collegiality. Alan is a remarkable educator who constantly explores new techniques of engaging his students – an extremely challenging task as corporate law, which he teaches, is widely regarded as a difficult and technical subject by students,” writes Assistant Professor Althaf Marsoof. “Alan is also an outstanding young researcher of growing international reputation, winning multiple research awards since joining NTU and publishing in top journals of his sub-specialty. But above all, I love Alan’s personality. He is a wonderful colleague who readily shares his experiences and international opportunities that could benefit like-minded faculty like myself. Alan represents the best of his generation of young scholars and of NTU.”
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I realized that law teaching and learning is not the exclusive preserve of law schools, and that so many students working towards careers outside of law would also – and especially – benefit from having good exposure to law.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Much of my work thus far has focused on close corporations, which are legal entities predominantly used by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across a wide range of jurisdictions. In my book Shareholder Protection in Close Corporations (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press), which compares the laws of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan, I argue that conflicts between SME participants (often shareholder-employees) can only be solved with the departure of and recovery of investment by the aggrieved party. It is not unlike divorce and property division in couples – but for SMEs! Another ongoing project is on corporate purpose and enforcement from a comparative perspective.
If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… an anthropologist, science fiction author, or language teacher
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? My students appreciate my bringing foreign and comparative perspectives, whether on material covered in class or on a more personal level. This comes naturally – even irresistibly – to me because I am multilingual, have lived in multiple worlds, and do research overwhelmingly of a comparative and multilingual nature. Having grown up in the world of my students, I am able to relate to my predominantly Singapore-born and -educated students’ experiences. But having also studied and lived in foreign worlds (mainly Japan where I spent one year studying liberal arts and the United States where I did graduate work, plus several shorter stints in Europe and China), I thoroughly understand what it is like to be an international student.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Terrified
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: How much of one’s work is about quantifying – arguably futilely – “impact”. Touching and improving lives is not enough without a top student feedback score; doing good scholarship is not enough without increasing one’s h-index.
Professor I most admire and why: Dan Puchniak, of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (and soon to be Singapore Management University Yong Pung How School of Law). Among other things, Dan brought recognition to Asian comparative corporate law as a field, but scholarly contribution by itself is not worth admiration. Rather, it is the kind of person he is. He has higher expectations of himself than he does of others. He consistently supports younger scholars and the underdog – including me. He has never let personal insecurity or ambition compromise his commitment to what matters: making the world ever so slightly a better place. He fights the good fight. He is quite simply the best and most decent human being I have ever known.
TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? My business students – many of whom are first-generation college students – are overwhelmingly good natured, diligent strivers working towards better futures for themselves and their families. They (almost) never take out their frustrations on the instructor even when the going gets tough. I really admire their grit and drive and am motivated to keep supporting them in their endeavors.
What is most challenging? Most students just want to clear corporate law, which is a degree compulsory with an undeserved reputation as a tough subject. (We all grade on a curve!) I am completely sympathetic, but I would also like them to retain something of what they learn and apply it to their professional careers or entrepreneurial efforts after they leave my class.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Discerning
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Entitled
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Strict but fair.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? I collect trinkets and books, mostly those with a Japanese connection (figurines, shrine omamori, comic books). I also enjoy making pasta and Japanese-style bread from scratch, and watching my wife play Genshin Impact/Civilization or cook. (I do not play games myself because I am too terrible at them…)
How will you spend your summer? Going through the proofs of my forthcoming books and articles, teaching at the University of Tokyo (Japan) and Jagiellonian University (Kraków, Poland), probably attending a couple of academic conferences (online or otherwise).
Favorite place(s) to vacation: Japan, especially Kanazawa and Kyoto. Taiwan as well (Taipei and Taichung).
Favorite book(s): Non-Fiction: Gillian Tett’s “Anthro-Vision” (2021); Kate Fox’s “Watching the English” (rev ed 2014); Katy Milkman’s “How to Change” (2021); David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs” (2018). Fiction: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (1983–2015) series (my favourites are “Making Money” (2007) and “Night Watch” (2002)); Morioka Hiroyuki’s 星界の紋章 Seikai no Monshō / 星界の戦旗 Seikai no Senki [Crest of the Stars/Banner of the Stars] series (1996–ongoing); Tanaka Yoshiki’s 銀河英雄伝説 Ginga Eiyū Densetsu [Legend of the Galactic Heroes] (1982–1987) series. Comics: Abe Yarō’s 深夜食堂 Shinya Shokudō [Midnight Diner] (2004 – ongoing).
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? This is a tough one – I watch quite a lot of programming! Currently I am watching Слуга народу [Servant of the People] (Ukraine, 2015–2019). Its premise resembles that of another show that I watched years ago, CHANGE (Japan, 2008); both shows demonstrate the difficulties of changing “the system” for the better from within. As a lawyer by training, a perennial favourite of mine that I rewatch every year is Rake (Australia, 2010–2018), which is probably the best legal comedy ever made in the Anglophone world, and again a scathing portrayal of corruption at all levels of a legal system.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Kalafina, Nakahara Meiko, every little thing – they respectively got me through high school, law school, and graduate school.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Courses that do not necessarily teach an immediately marketable skill like business analytics or programming, but rather prompt one to confront fundamental assumptions and interrogate them critically. Internalize and transmit – through teaching and administration – values rather than just skills, especially quantitative ones. What is valuable is not necessarily measurable, and what is measurable is not necessarily valuable. Bring back the poetry!
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… valuing employees and treating them with dignity – promoting and granting raises to internal staff rather than resorting so much to lateral hires, getting over the obsession with trying to quantify everything, ensuring shorter and more flexible working hours, protecting the right to disconnect, eliminating make-work. All organizations committed to ESG (environment, social, governance) and sustainability should start at home by improving the lives of their own employees before putting out flashy consultant-generated reports!
I’m grateful for… my wife, friends, and scholarly colleagues who have held the line together with me against despair and injustice