I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fuqua Professor Sharon Belenzon who teaches a strategy class in the MMS program. It was a privilege to learn more about his research and interests:

Professor Sharon Belenzon
Professor Sharon Belenzon

Please tell me about yourself, maybe a little background information?

I did my undergraduate and master’s degrees at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where I am originally from. Then I got my PhD in economics at the London School of Economics, and then my post doctorate in economics at Oxford. I got my first teaching position at The Fuqua School of Business in 2008, and I have taught in the executive MBA and MMS programs.

What is the focus of your research?

My research focuses on the organization of firms across countries, as well as the implications of the structural differences between firms for economic growth and innovation. There are many differences in how the American, Asian, and European economies are organized, so I work to find out how these differences affect business behavior and performance.

It seems like someone with your level of knowledge and expertise could do very well privately; why did you choose to enter academia?

I enjoy the freedom of thinking about the questions that I want to think about, and academia allows you to ask deeper questions and spend time finding the answers to them. You don’t always have the same freedom when you work for a large company. I enjoy doing research, and I really prefer to teach, especially executive education.

I also like to invest, and I have invested in a few small projects that I have been undertaking outside of academia, so those keep me pretty busy as far as entrepreneurial endeavors go.

What areas do you look for when going into these entrepreneurial ventures?

I think it makes sense to focus on IT businesses because of the low start-up costs associated with these industries. I like to focus on things that I understand, because this is how I identify opportunities, but also how I am able to see my competitive advantage and form a viable business.

Any particular piece of research or accomplishment that you are proud of?

I have some good research projects, and a few of them have been published in some of the best business journals, so I am proud of that. I also won an award for best teacher last year, so I am very happy about that. I am extremely satisfied and proud about winning the award because I feel that my efforts in teaching were recognized. It was very nice.

What value do you think the MMS program adds to the business community?

This was my second year teaching the MMS program, and I think that it is really a brilliant project, because it’s an untapped niche of business learning. The Duke reputation is tied to the program, which really helps to recruit top talent for the program, and the students have done really well so far.

Also, I like to give my lectures about the things that you cannot read in books, and give students a concise view of business problems. Because of this, MMS graduates are well prepared to analyze business problems and situations from a practical point of view, and really absorb and apply the material that we teach.

Where’s your favorite place to travel?

I travel almost exclusively for business, and I have been to India and China a lot, and I enjoy going there. It’s important for me to go to these places, so that I can understand where these people are coming from and how these cultures work. I got pretty sick last time I traveled, though, so I won’t be going anywhere too soon.

Your favorite book?

I really only read professionally, for my research, and I try to limit my research reading to know only what other people have written, so that I do not write something that has already been published. I like to be original in my work, so I don’t want to think about what everyone else has already done. I don’t want to be too influenced by what other people have done.

Your favorite movie?

I love Gladiator and Braveheart, which are sort of classics now. I like the Rocky movies – Rocky IV is the best.

Your favorite TV show?

I love Mad Men. I don’t know why, but I love this show. They are part of a marketing firm, but a lot of what they do is strategy, so I enjoy that. My favorite show is The Sopranos; I have a lot of Italian friends and I am a big fan of Italy, so that’s great. I also like The Wire a lot.

Your favorite food?

Steaks! I love American steaks. I know at some point in my life I will have to stop eating meat because it is not healthy, but for now I am trying to enjoy it. I also like pizza, but it’s hard to find a good pizza.

Your favorite music?

Nothing specific; any kind of pop or old rock is good. I always listen to music when I work out, so if I like it I will listen to it. Right now I love Adele, Eminem, that kind of thing. The classics like Aerosmith and Bon Jovi are the ones I always go back to, though.

Any advice for students?

It’s very hard to find a job, and being picky is a luxury that may be more available later down the road. My advice is to try not to be too picky, but to find a job and even if it’s not your dream job, it will be much easier to find another job later. It’s hard to go from unemployment to your dream job, but easier to go from your first job to your dream job. This is a very long game we are playing, and you don’t have to rush.