2021 Best Undergraduate Professors: Eric Anicich, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California

Eric Anicich

Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California

“Dr. Anicich is the most versatile professor I have had the pleasure of knowing. Throughout the course, he would link current events to the material we were learning. By doing so, I understood the importance of the material and how it can impact society, individuals, and corporations. I am currently enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve and was recalled for deployment in April 2021. I notified Professor Anicich of the situation, and he showed immediate support and flexibility. He worked with my schedule and was always available if I had any questions on the assigned material.” – David Canet, student

Eric Anicich, 35, is Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the USC Marshall School of Business. He’s been with Marshall since 2016.

He has a PhD from Columbia University, an MSc from Oxford University, and a BA from Northwestern University. He currently teaches Organizational Behavior & Leadership. 

Anicich tells Poets&Quants that he is passionate about teaching and sees the classroom as both an extension and inspiration for his research–studying the forms and functions of social hierarchy. He has nearly 1,000 Google Scholar citations and has won numerous Academy of Management best paper awards. He and his work have appeared in such prominent media outlets as Financial Times, NPR, BBC, HBR, Business Insider, and others. 

“My research has used data from high-altitude mountaineering teams, Wikipedia editors, and professional athletes,” he says. “I even have a paper examining the identity dynamics affecting drivers in the on-demand economy that draws on interviews and my personal experience moonlighting as a food delivery driver for Postmates. 

“I am determined to build a classroom culture that promotes psychological safety and engagement without compromising on student expectations.”

More than 30 of his students took the time to nominate him for this honor, noting his compassion, expertise, and his ability to make what is often considered a somewhat tedious subject into a thoroughly engaging class.

“At Marshall, BUAD 304 is a memorization-heavy class which many students cite as uninteresting, but Professor Anicich made it engaging, thought-provoking, and enlightening. Additionally, he challenged us to think outside the box, take responsibility, and engage with real-world problems,” writes student Brynn Sauer, who is working under Anicich on a research project. “He is known around Marshall as being the ‘guy for research.’ He puts time, thought, and thoroughness into his projects and looks at things creatively and opportunistically. I immensely appreciate working under him.”

LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I observed how much intellectual freedom business school professors have to study the topics that interest them. Also, having the flexibility to work when, how, and increasingly where I want to (when I don’t have to be in the classroom or in a meeting) is very appealing to me.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Most of my research examines the forms and functions of social hierarchy in groups and societies. Most recently, I spent 130 hours working as a food delivery driver for Postmates to better understand the experiences of app workers in the on-demand economy. My personal driving experience combined with the insights I gained through interviewing other drivers, attending company meetings, and reviewing and contributing to online driver forums led me to publish a paper detailing how certain technological and social constraints and opportunities affect the identity dynamics of these workers. A central theme in several of my papers relates to the importance of embracing dynamic and contingent perspectives (compared to binary and overly simplistic perspectives) when attempting to explain complex phenomena. For example, some of my past findings suggest that hierarchy in teams is neither inherently good nor bad, that experiencing a middling amount of power at work (or fluctuating between high and low-power states) is associated with unique outcomes compared to experiencing a more stable sense of low or high power, and that app-workers in the on-demand economy occupy a precarious middle-ground that is neither fully integrated within nor fully detached from traditional organizations.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… Aspirationally, I would want to be (in no particular order): an investigative reporter, high school football coach, documentary filmmaker, comedy writer, mass market fiction writer, or entrepreneur.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? My students probably think that I am more relatable than some of their other professors. I also try to boil down concepts and theories into a digestible form for my students by connecting concepts to pop culture, current events, memes, etc.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Well-intentioned

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: I wish I had known that it was going to be nearly impossible to describe what I do for a living to people outside academia. I have found that the average person assumes that I spend about 80% of my time teaching and the other 20% of my time consulting with organizations or writing books. In reality, I probably spend 20% of my time on teaching related activities, 70% of my time working on research projects (which are also difficult to explain to people), and the remaining 10% of my time split between translating my research to external audiences (e.g., writing articles for the Harvard Business Review, doing interviews, etc.) and engaging in department and field-level service activities (e.g., completing peer reviews for academic journals, sitting on committees, etc.).

Professor I most admire and why: My primary advisor in graduate school, Adam Galinsky, because he has an incredible ability to see and, more importantly, help to extract the best in people, professionally and personally. As a mentor, Adam encourages and develops without overwhelming or condescending. As a friend, Adam supports and includes without judging or overlooking. As a research collaborator, Adam elevates and values junior scholars’ opinions and ideas, while offering incisive and necessary feedback at every turn. He’s the G.O.A.T.!

TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I love it when a student tells me about how they successfully used a class concept to solve a problem in their life or achieve a goal they had been working toward.

What is most challenging? Grade complaints/anxiety. Especially grade anxiety that overshadows students’ interest or capacity to actually learn and internalize the class material.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Open-minded

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

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… fair and constructive (if they earned a high grade) or a capricious monster (if they earned a low grade).

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? I used to have legitimate hobbies when I was a child, but these days I mostly think about what home improvements I should prioritize in the next 3-5 years, how I can develop passive income streams, making sure I monitor my health, and so forth. I wish I had better hobbies (*sigh*).

How will you spend your summer? I might take a few weekend trips with my wife and 9-month old son. However, most of my time will be spent doing what I do the rest of the year – working on my ongoing research projects.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Of the places I have traveled to so far, probably Bali.

Favorite book(s): I don’t have a favorite book, but I tend to like biographies, post-apocalyptic books, comedic writing, and Michael Lewis-type books.

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

I love watching documentaries (I recently watched Life of Crime 1984-2020 on HBO and it really messed me up), sports (football and basketball mostly), HGTV shows (“He is a baker and she runs an Etsy shop and their new home budget is $3.7 million”), and various trashy reality T.V. shows (“Tune in to see which of these (wo)men will do something that no amount of SEO will be able to scrub from the internet”).

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Recently, I have really been into this little known boho folk band out of Saskatchewan called Wandering Soil. I’m joking. I like songs that are currently or were formerly on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Come on people, they are popular for a reason! That being said, sometimes I like to have classical music or other relaxing music on in the background.

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Several things come to mind: 1) a structure that enables students to take more ownership of their learning experience (e.g., by having students create more content than they consume), 2) a philosophy that rejects either/or thinking when it comes to solving complex problems, and 3) more immersive simulations and scenarios that require students to work interdependently to solve complex problems under conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at…

offering more flexibility with respect to when, where, and how employees work, ideally in ways that allow employees to more fully use their unique perspectives and talents. However, organizational leaders must also be mindful of how this flexibility, in the context of an increasingly digital and decentralized world, may unintentionally undermine employees’ work relationships, identities, motivation, etc.

I’m grateful for… many things! The opportunity to have a career as a B-school professor at an amazing university…and, of course, this recognition from Poets and Quants!

 

Comments or questions about this article? Email us.