Natarajan Balasubramanian, associate professor of management at Syracuse University’s Whitman School, has made a career of questions and answers. Before joining academia, he provided answers to business and finance questions as a consultant. Today, he is the one asking questions, encouraging students to think critically about management issues.
“Being able to change the way students think by helping them look at issues differently or understand the importance of issues they may have missed is the most rewarding aspect of teaching,” said Balasubramanian. “I like to raise questions and get the students to find answers themselves. It’s much more productive for the students to be able to think on their feet.”
Balasubramanian developed his own critical thinking skills by earning two degrees in India. Combining a bachelor’s in chemical engineering with a master’s in business, he spent six years working as a consultant and manager. While much of his consulting work was business and finance focused, Balasubramanian also worked on restructuring state utilities.
Deciding to explore new questions, such as how to apply economic tools to better understand business problems, Balasubramanian pursued a Ph.D. in management from UCLA. He then taught in Florida before coming to Syracuse University as a full-time professor in 2009.
“Since then, I have enjoyed being here at Whitman, focusing on my research, teaching students and talking to faculty,” said Balasubramanian.
When he’s not guiding students in class with questions, Balasubramanian helps students prepare for job interviews by presenting them with typical business issues and asking them to develop solutions.
“Many interviews these days are case interviews where the employer gives you a situation and says, how do you solve it?” said Balasubramanian. “So I’ve had a number of students who come to me and say, let’s do a mock interview case like that.”
Balasubramanian is an expert on such business issues, having researched entrepreneurship and business competition extensively. His research agenda is to understand why some companies create more value for their stakeholders than others. To this end, he studies firm growth and productivity growth and focuses on three key phenomena: innovation, learning and entrepreneurship, all of which directly involve value creation. His latest works examine the impact of noncompete enforcement on entrepreneurship and study how deadlines affect work flows and work quality.
Yet at the end of the day, Balasubramanian’s focus is on his family. He and his wife have two young children.
“A lot of my time is spent with my children,” said Balasubramanian. “I used to travel before, but these days I travel to places where my children can have fun. I go to Disney World or Disney Land, and I think that’s great.”