Having the opportunity to learn from the best and brightest minds in business is one of the top motivators for many applicants considering an MBA degree at an elite business school. The professors and lecturers you’ll encounter have worked in the trenches, and bring an incredible wealth of real-world experiences into the classroom setting.
In our new limited series of professor interviews on the SBC blog, readers will get to know a bit more about these brilliant academics, what fields most excite them, the trends they foresee, what they enjoy most about teaching at their respective universities, and how it all comes together with their students.
Today, let’s learn more about Rubén Mancha, Assistant Professor of Information Systems at Babson College and Faculty Director of the Babson Digital Experience Initiative.
He teaches information technology courses at Babson’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business and business analytics courses at Babson Executive Education.
In 2017, he was a recipient of the Best 40-Under-40 Business School Professors award by Poets and Quants.
Education: Ph.D. in Information Technology; M.S. in Management of Technology, The University of Texas at San Antonio. B.S. in Food Science and Technology, University of La Laguna (Spain).
Courses Taught: Information Technology, MBA and M.S. in Entrepreneurial Leadership programs; Digital Innovation and Strategy, executive education.
What triggered your interest in your subject matter?
I have always been interested in technology. As I high school student, when I first had access to a computer, I was captivated by the creative possibilities technology enabled. I learned to code websites and was fascinated by Seti@Home, the volunteer computing project to process radio telescope data.
As an undergraduate science student, I interned for a chemistry research group with state-of-the-art computer-aided tools and became interested in the simulation of biological systems. Soon I started seeing technology as a driver of scientific and economic development and social change, and made technology the focus of my studies.
What do you like about the school you are teaching at?
Babson is a small college with grand ambitions and accomplishments. I particularly like the culture of experimentation shared by students, faculty, and administrators; the emphasis on teaching excellence; and the focus on social innovation. Babson is a lifelong community of entrepreneurs, and being part of it comes with a sense of purpose.
How do you leverage technology in your classroom?
I incorporate several technologies in my classes, from data analysis and visualization tools (e.g., Tableau) to IoT prototyping platforms (e.g., Arduino). I find it essential that my students experiment with technologies and gain confidence using them.
At the same time, I avoid making technology the sole object of my courses, as managing technology is as much of a human endeavor as it is a technical one.
What can you do in the classroom to best prepare students for the real world?
I limit lectures in favor of the study of cases and experiential projects. I find students are better prepared for their careers when they have the opportunity to analyze realistic business scenarios and work on consulting engagements with clients.
Can you speak to interesting trends in your field?
It is an exciting time to study digital technology. Self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and robotics will become part of our everyday lives in the next decade.
Those advances will not only change the way businesses create and deliver value to people but will also have a transformative impact on humankind and our relationship with the natural environment.
These technologies will offer opportunities for building more egalitarian and sustainable societies, at the same time that they will accentuate some of the ethical challenges (e.g., algorithmic bias, privacy, data and algorithmic governance, electricity consumption) that legislators, researchers, and technologists seek to address.
What role, if any, does ethics play in your curriculum, and how has that evolved over time?
Over the years, ethics has become a prominent topic in my classes. When I started teaching information technology more than a decade ago, ethics of technology was discussed a side note on a topic covering information security and privacy.
These days, it is not possible to separate technology from the business ecosystems and societies in which it lives. Over time, I learned to design courses incorporating ethical frameworks to support business decision-making and analyze the social and environmental consequences of those decisions.
Also, as my courses have become more experiential and students build technology prototypes and design businesses, I expect them to demonstrate ethical sensibility and incorporate ethical analyses into their business models.
How can business leaders make better decisions?
In my research, I explore how digital companies and incumbent organizations innovate with digital technologies. I have identified some principles that business leaders should follow to make better decisions in the age of digitalization:
- Create a data strategy – You should treat data as an organizational asset. To make good decisions, you need to start with quality data.
- Understand the algorithms supporting your decisions – Algorithms codify your business know-how, and you should understand their assumptions and limitations. A poorly-designed algorithm, or one that makes use of biased models or data, will lead you to make suboptimal decisions.
- Rely on analytics and experimentation – As important as it is making good decisions, it is to know when to make decisions, and about what to make decisions. A business culture of analytics and experimentation will help you discover what you do not know about your business, and adapt to the changing business opportunities and
- Think business ecosystems – companies no longer operate in linear supply chains, but in business ecosystems. To make the right strategic decisions, you should listen to your stakeholders and create interactions that deliver value to all of them.
Best advice for an aspiring business mogul?
No matter what business you are in, seek to design experiences that deliver value to every stakeholder.