2022 Best Undergraduate Professors: Qi Li, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen

Qi Li
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen

“Professor Li has had an indelible impact on my business learning and professional development. With her background in industry and research focus on innovation and commercialization of high technology, she perfectly blended rigorous corporate strategy with business cases in her classes and I was so impressed by her excellent interactive skills in the class discussion and course extension. Prof. Li also invited guest speakers from 3D printing and Alibaba Group to illustrate the application and commercialization of 3D technology and AI algorithms. With her unique teaching technique and close communication with the industry, I learned how to identify business pain points from business leaders’ perspective, how to leverage limited resources and move on and build a sustainable business model afterwards.” – Chiyiyu Peng

Qi Li is Assistant Professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.

Her research focuses on innovation management, strategy, and commercialization of high technology, such as in the artificial intelligence industry. She is particularly interested in platform dynamics, networks, sustainability, organizational management, and breakthrough innovation.

She is recipient of the CUHK-Shenzhen University Development Fund, the CUHK-Shenzhen SME Tier 1 Research Fund Award, and the Kwok Leung Memorial Dissertation Fund Award, and she was named an IACMR best reviewer. Her work has appeared in such publications as Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Proceedings, and Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Previously, Qi was a research assistant to the director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School and was an entrepreneur in China, launching a successful education venture.


At current institution since what year? May, 2020


  • PhD in Management and Organizations, Cornell University, SC Johnson Graduate School of Management
  • MPA, Harvard University
  • MBA, Babson College

List of Undergraduate courses you teach: Case Study (intensive case analysis course), Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… In my first year at Harvard Kennedy School, I took a course called “Science of Behavior Change” and was hooked by the theory and analysis behind phenomenon. I was impressed how people process information and actually make decisions, and how to leverage insights about human decision making to design and develop policies and interventions that improve societal well-being. That course changed of my life. I found it fascinating and loved the intellectual rigor and research-based insights featured in the course. Building on this, I then took two different PhD courses related to Organizational Behavior at Harvard Business School and became passionate about organizational behavior and management.
In my second and third year at Harvard, I started to collaborate with Harvard Business School faculty as a case writer and we interviewed leaders and executives to develop several HBS cases. I was really impressed by the acumen, sharp insights, and life wisdom of the case protagonists and this experience further increased my interest in business academia.

Being a business school professor focusing on OB, sociology, and management would allow me to more deeply explore these interesting topics through research and share about them through teaching. That sounded quite interesting to me, so I applied for doctoral studies at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, where I received my doctoral training and graduated with a PhD in management and organizations. Right now, I really landed where I want to land, and what I have been doing research on has been absolutely so rewarding in the last couple of years.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Whether people realize it or not, AI is all around us and is playing an active role in our daily lives. For example, AI has facilitated automated-driving, medical devices, financial investment algorithms, and even design assistance. A lot of AI devices are designed to assist us, aiming at enhancing our experience or improving our decisions. One of my recent research projects examines the impact of AI assistance on service consumption. We collaborated with a major international car-sharing company, which recently introduced an AI-facilitated driving assistant device. We find that the AI device has a positive impact on service consumption level in our empirical setting. Users with higher experience are more likely to adapt their behaviors in response to AI device. Users with either low or high (as opposed to medium) experience increase their service consumption levels under AI assistance. Based on our findings so far, a follow up question is how to introduce an AI device to a market based on the consumer experience distribution in the market and the maturity of the AI device. Understanding the key tradeoffs could potentially provide generalizable managerial insights. For instance, it seems important to think about which pricing managers we should provide AI assistance to. Maybe we want to provide it to low experience managers because they benefit the most from such assistance. We might also want to provide it to high experience managers because they can learn to adapt their actions to alleviate potential costs from AI.

In a separate stream, one study I conducted with my coauthors examined the theoretical construct of guilt as an emotional driver of corporate social responsibility. This study was published in the Academy of Management Journal, the flagship journal of the management profession. The central thesis is that when firms’ strategic decisions or actions inflict harm on others, decision makers may feel guilty towards and make restitution to those harmed to alleviate or avoid guilt-invoked distress and dissonance. Using the context of the epic privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the 1990s in China, we tested our hypotheses using two types of private firms: those that were privatized from SOEs and those that were founded as private firms. We used national survey data of Chinese private firms, interviewed firm leaders involved in privatization, and launched a vignette experiment with EMBA students as subjects to provide direct evidence on guilt as a driver of CSR. We found that privatized SOEs made even more charitable contributions when privatization resulted in layoffs, when their provinces experienced a higher unemployment rate at the time of privatization, when their owners were involved in privatizing their firms, and when there was a stronger influence of Confucianism in their provinces.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be…an entrepreneur

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I care deeply about my students and aim to provide a transformative educational experience for them through my course in order to support their personal growth and career development. Through the rigors of our case discussions and engagement with academic theory, I aim to foster analytical and critical thinking skills for my students, which are essential for whatever industry they aim to go into. When they are seeking internship or jobs, I try to connect them with potential job opportunities through my personal network or invite them to join my projects as my research assistants. My students understand my care and support for them.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Grateful

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: The students that I have been teaching were born after the millennium and they are far more capable and interesting than I was at their age. Some of their experiences are quite amazing and they are active in sharing their insightful thoughts and the unique perspectives of their generation to make our class more fascinating and meaningful. I have learned a lot from my students and that is one of the best parts of teaching.

Professor I most admire and why: I have a long list of wonderful scholars who I admire, not just for their research but also for the positive influence they bring to the people around them. These researchers in the management, policy, and strategy field are truly some of the best people you could meet, including my esteemed PhD dissertation committee, master’s degree advisor, peers at Harvard and Cornell, and colleagues and friends at CUHK-Shenzhen and across academia.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? My business school students are going to be the future business leaders in the global community one day. I enjoy the opportunity to have a positive influence by shaping these future business leaders in developing and improving their ethical decision-making skills. For instance, in my ethics course, we examine how they can solve the ethical issues in various dilemmas in their lives, and how they are going to treat their employees, business partners, and local community in a socially responsible manner. When they are making decisions, they will also need to consider the interests of multiple stakeholders; this is another topic we focus on in my course.

What is most challenging? While leading the business case discussions, I need to simultaneously think on my feet to keep the class discussion on-track, ensure that our learning objectives are being met, and ensure that the classroom dialogue is flowing smoothly. Outside of case discussions, I also help mentor students on their life-long learning and career development goals.

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

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

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


What are your hobbies? Travelling, wine tasting, sailing (particularly in Cayuga Lake near Cornell’s campus), and jogging along the Charles River in Boston

How will you spend your summer? Normally I will be busy with my research work, but I wish I can lie flat at the seaside while enjoying my favorite margarita

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Miami, Hawaii, Greece, Sanya, or the seashore around Shenzhen

Favorite book(s): Sun Tzu’s The Art of War; Caigentan 菜根谭 – the Roots of Wisdom from Chinese ancients; the Four Great Classical Novels (I read them during my adolescence and they had a great influence on me); Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein; How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen; Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi etc.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? A good movie sparks my inspiration and endeavor to strive. I love watching movies and find that it’s like experiencing different lives. Some movies I’ve enjoyed:

  • Homeless to Harvard: the Liz Murray Story by Peter Levin
  • The Shawshank Redemption by Frank Darabont
  • Eat Drink Man Woman by Ang Lee as I love the philosophy of traditional Chinese cooking and culinary arts. It fuels our life and the love for our family.
  • Movies directed by Yimou Zhang, such as The Road Home, No One Less, The Flowers of War

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Classical music, Bach’s music, Classic Cantonese songs. It really Depends on the mood of that day. While jogging, I am currently listening to some Spanish songs, such as Waka Waka or La La La by Shakira.

The great cellist, Yo-Yo Ma is my favorite artist as his music connects people and culture to create a world of calm, energy, and love.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…
I wish the business school of the future would have even more interactions between scholars and practitioners. For instance, future business schools could establish diversified programs bringing together executives and policymakers as visiting fellows to promote further dialogue between politicians, business leaders, students, and academics. Such exchanges would not only benefit the intellectual life of the school, but could also provide a platform for learning and reflection for practitioners preparing for their next role.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Business organizations can have more communicating and collaborating with business scholars. Businesses may have specific business pain points and scholars can offer them views from an outsider’s perspective. Business professors can also strengthen and advance corporate strategy in the context of global sustainable development and multiple stakeholders.

I’m grateful for…. our School of Economics and Management at the Chinese University of Hong Kong- Shenzhen, which provides wonderful support for faculty like myself to conduct leading edge research and provide a transformative educational experience for our talented students. I deeply appreciate the care and support from my students, colleagues, and friends. I am also deeply thankful to my grandmother Xuemei Li, my parents Zhenya Li and Zhenlian Liu for implanting kindness, diligence and the entrepreneurial spirit in my gene, and my husband for his tremendous support in my life.


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