2022 Best Undergraduate Professors: Arnaud Cudennec, Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU)

Arnaud Cudennec
Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU)

“I use various business cases from Asian and Western companies, and I encourage my students to express their ideas and to learn from a diversity of viewpoints in class. As a graduate in philosophy, in sociology and in business administration, I enjoy sharing multi-disciplinary knowledge with students. I also like to introduce basic research methods and tools because I am convinced that good practitioners are also good researchers, and vice versa.” – Arnaud Cudennec

Arnaud Cudennec, 30, is Assistant Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).

Cudennec is a social scientist, and his research seeks to understand the consequences of market actors’ deviations from or conformity to established sociocognitive categories and normative expectations. His research mainly looks at phenomena related to entrepreneurship (venture capital) and cultural industries. His research has been published in major research outlets such as the Academy of Management Journal and Research in the Sociology of Organizations.

In 2018, he received a nomination as Best Student Paper Award Finalist and he received the ABCD Award for Excellence in Scholarly Reviews both from the Organization & Management Theory division of the Academy of Management. During his doctoral studies at HEC Paris, he was invited as visiting scholar at Kellogg, Northwestern University. Before joining academia, he worked as a research analyst in several firms including at McKinsey & Company.


At current institution since what year? 2020
Education: Ph.D. in management sciences (HEC Paris) and masters’ degrees in sociology (University of Paris Sorbonne), philosophy (University of Paris Nanterre), organizational studies (University of Lyon Jean Moulin), and management (EM Lyon).
List of Undergraduate courses you teach: Strategic Management


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I met very inspiring professors when I was a business school student. I realized that their job involved a great variety of tasks, including writing academic papers and books, attending conferences, supervising research, and teaching students with various backgrounds from undergraduates to executives. Additionally, I was willing to work in an interdisciplinary and culturally diverse environment. So, I eventually decided to start my academic career in a business school.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My current research looks at the role of distinctiveness in the evaluations from market audiences. I am interested in understanding how and why organizations can innovate by departing from the norms that prevail in markets, such as the socio-cognitive categories that structure markets. An important determinant is the expertise of audiences because expertise impacts how one perceives and evaluates the categories to which market actors affiliate.

This is the topic of my latest paper (“Valuing Spanners: Why Category Nesting and Expertise Matter”) that is co-authored with my former supervisor Rodolphe Durand and that is forthcoming in Academy of Management Journal. In this paper, we look at the consequences of affiliating with several industries (category spanning) or subindustries (subcategory spanning) on the valuation of start-ups. Our central argument investors should more or less highly value categorical combinations at different levels of categorization (subordinate level or upper level) depending on their domain expertise. We analyzed more than 29,000 venture capital deals made worldwide from 2000 to 2017 and we run two controlled experimental studies to investigate the individual-level cognitive mechanisms at play in the valuation process. A key finding is that while less-expert investors give a lower valuation to subcategory-spanners as compared to category-spanners, expert investors alleviate that negative sanction. Through our experiments, we found that a reason is that non-experts find a lower “congruence” in the combination of subcategories than in the combination of upper-level categories, while experts can find congruence at any level of categorization.

This paper contributes to research on how categorization processes impact important economic decisions such as the valuation of entrepreneurial organizations.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… I’d still be a professor, but who knows where!

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? It is hard to tell. I hope my students appreciate that I try to bring a research approach on teaching business-related subjects. I encourage them to be critical of the theories and cases we discuss in class and to think of how we can better solve this or that problem from a scientific perspective.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Excitement

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: I realized that being a business school professor gives a great flexibility to craft one’s own type of career path such as doing research, teaching, advising decision-makers, or contributing to the public debate.

Professor I most admire and why: Rather than name a specific person, I would say that I admire professors who keep being open-minded and humble all along their careers.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Business students are often both curious and eager to put things in practice.

What is most challenging? Some students may take for granted the idea that intellectual life and practical relevance are mutually exclusive.

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

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

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


What are your hobbies? piano, cinema, literature, philosophy, and my cat

How will you spend your summer? Working on my research and on preparing for my teaching, what else?

Favorite place(s) to vacation: A country I haven’t visited yet

Favorite book(s): ‘On the Shortness of Life’ (Seneca), ‘In Search of Lost Time (Marcel Proust), and all the ‘Asterix’ comics (René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo)

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Many movies are important to me. A movie that I have recently watched and that I found deeply touching is Ettore Scola’s “A special day” whose story takes place under Mussolini’s fascist regime. As for TV shows, I would recommend “Tales from the Loop”, a creative science fiction drama.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? If I had to choose one, I would say Philip Glass. He has composed masterpieces in various genres from operas to film scores.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… I believe that business school curriculums should make more space for the social sciences’ research methods. A paradox is that data has never been so readily available while the world seems increasingly more complex and harder to decipher. Tomorrow’s decision-makers should be better trained in the scientific approaches to data analysis.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… responding to new challenges such as climate change, social inequalities, gender disparities, and meaningfulness at work, amongst others. Modern organizations should acknowledge that they are part of the problem but also part of the solutions.

I’m grateful for… The support I receive from my family and friends.


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