2022 Best Undergraduate Professors: Joe Mahoney, University of Illinois Gies College of Business

Joe Mahoney
University of Illinois Gies College of Business

“Incredible professor who encourages true learning, growth, collaboration, and discussion. He inspires his students, acts with empathy, and pushes everyone to reach their full potential. Professor Mahoney was an incredible teacher who deserves this award for his extreme dedication to teaching.” – Alex Kogen

Joe Mahoney, 64, is the Caterpillar Chair of Business at University of Illinois Gies College of Business.

His research interest is organizational economics, and he has published over 85 articles in journals and been cited over 25,200 times.

In 2005, he published Economic Foundations of Strategy which has been adopted by over 45 doctoral programs. He served as Associate Editor of the strategy field’s flagship journal, Strategic Management Journal (2006-2015) and associate editor of the Academy of Management Review (2018- 2020). For academic-year 2008-2009, he served as Chair of the Strategy (STR) Division of the Academy of Management.

He is winner of the Irwin Outstanding Educator Award from the STR Division of the Academy of Management. He has been elected as a member of the Academy of Management (AOM) Fellows and as a Fellow of the Strategic Management Society (SMS).


At current institution since what year? 1988

Education: BA 1980, MA 1984, Ph.D. 1989, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania

List of Undergraduate courses you teach: Capstone senior-level undergraduate course in strategic management for the past 34 years.


Life as a business school Professor at Gies has offered a variety of activities from teaching undergraduates, MBAs, other professional programs, and doctoral students. It has also offered opportunities to interact with faculty and students at universities around the world, and it provides the time and opportunity to focus on research problems with numerous world-class thinkers. It is thrilling to meet so many kind, energetic, and talented students.

I knew I wanted to be a college/business school professor when… I knew I wanted to be a college professor when I was in high school, and I imagined having a lifetime of learning. I knew I wanted to be a business school professor from the time I took my first course in economics as an undergraduate at Penn. Economics provided a way of thinking to better understand the real world, and the potential for public policy to make the world a better place was highly appealing to me.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I am currently conducting research on the comparative assessment of public versus private prisons. The key finding is the significant quality-shading that occurs in private prisons. Substantial probity hazards are manifested in for-profit prisons.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… If I weren’t a business school professor, I would likely be a Professor of History or outside of academia, I would likely have worked in public policy areas such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or Federal Communications Commission (FCC). I was looking for an organization whose mission is for the public good.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I have benefitted from having a good memory, which enables me to address substantive questions, and importantly to know each student on a first-name basis. Effective teaching comes from relationship building.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Edifying

Here is what I wish someone would have told me about being a business school professor: Being grounded in reality to know real-world problems improves theory development.

Professor I most admire and why: Professor Sidney Weintraub (Economist, University of Pennsylvania) because of his passion about ideas and their relevance for public policy


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? I enjoy being witness to business students gaining in their abilities to explain what is going on in business.

What is most challenging? Sometimes reaching an unmotivated student is challenging.

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

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

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


What are your hobbies? Tennis, Chess. Most telling is that my job is my hobby!

How will you spend your summer? Much of it working on research and traveling

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Camden, Maine

Favorite book(s): Tuesdays with Morrie

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? 12 Angry Men because it illustrates the relevance of dialectical inquiry in the process of learning.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Rock and roll music because it makes me feel energized.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Business schools of the future need to give greater focus on the fiduciary responsibilities of top-level management for all enfranchised stakeholders and shareholders

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Promoting better those who play the “capabilities game” than those who play the “confidence game.”

I’m grateful for… my wife Jeanne.


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