In the three years since Thomas Roulet took up his post as Deputy Director of the MBA programme, the global speed of change has been remarkable. It has been a fascinating time for a man whose research interests lie in the world of work
“The pandemic was a new phenomenon that required a complex response from organisations. And it has had some notable effects. Pre-pandemic some firms were talking about wellbeing in the workplace. Now it is on everyone’s agenda.”
The same applies to remote working, Roulet notes, “In most countries, the rate of remote working one day a week stood at around 35%, with the historic trend stuck at that level. When the pandemic required a rapid switch to home working for all, the technical tools had been in place for at least a decade. Of course, for many organisations it was still very challenging to implement.”
Back at Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS), Roulet is pleased that the Organisational Behaviour and Leadership (OB&L) course he teaches alongside Philip Stiles (Associate Professor in Corporate Governance) was among the first at the Business School to go hybrid with an online and face to face component in 2020.
“We knew we had very little time to get it up and running but we felt that if we were going to be teaching OB&L with credibility, we needed a rapid response to the governmental requirements. We were able to combine the online element, which was the bulk of the course, with face-to-face hot topic sessions. That was really important for both us and the class.”
Sharing knowledge and expertise with the class
Roulet graduated with his PhD from HEC in Paris in 2014 and feels his age makes it easier to connect with his students. Recognised amongst the 40 under 40 Best Business School Professors by Poets & Quants in May 2020, he sees himself as a convener rather than delivering a lesson.
“Many of my students have prior leadership experience themselves. I see my role as synthesising my research knowledge and expertise and sharing it with the class to trigger debates rather than imposing my views. And the students feed into my teaching – very often one of them brings an anecdote to class which I end up using in the next year’s sessions. ”
Roulet appreciates the size of the MBA class at Cambridge, “For me, it is one of the very important aspects of the Cambridge MBA. With 210 students this year, I know all of them. I interviewed many of them personally for admission. If I was teaching back in France at say INSEAD, that would be impossible.”
Known for his penchant for bow ties, Roulet tries not to take himself too seriously in class. He recently posted on Twitter a throwback to Halloween 2020 when one of the MBA students ‘dressed up as bow-tie guy (aka, me)’. A busy user of social media, he emphasises to his students that they are joining an intellectual community in Cambridge not just for a year, but for life.
“I follow my students’ careers and am very proud when I see what they have achieved. I continue to chat with many of them years after they graduated and encourage them to come back to give guest lectures.”
Teaching relevant to the professional life of an MBA
With firms now struggling to entice employees back to their desks in the office, and the trend towards ‘quiet quitting’ gaining ground, Roulet points out that his own area of research is very much to the fore.
“Hybrid working is here to stay. We may be reaching peak of productivity through remote work, but the studies show that in the long term the impact can be negative. The key is addressing how to manage the working week and that makes Organisational Behaviour and Leadership especially relevant to the professional life of an MBA. We aim to give them the tools to think critically in the workplace and the frameworks to address the issues strategically. ”
That includes exposing students to different environments, working in multi-disciplinary teams. That could be directly with the client on a consulting project or alongside Cambridge Enterprise, supporting inventors and entrepreneurs in bringing their intellectual property to market.
Equipping students with entrepreneurial skills
Roulet is proud of an initiative he launched last year alongside Kamiar Mohaddes, Associate Professor in Economics & Policy at Cambridge Judge. The two Fellows of King’s College are Co-Directors of the King’s Entrepreneurship Lab, which aims to equip students with entrepreneurial skills and support those wishing to explore a career path in innovation, entrepreneurship and business, with an emphasis on sustainability.
“I noticed that there were many students at College who shared the same interests and aspirations as my MBA students without being based at the Business School, but in other departments. We wanted to set up a channel for cross-fertilisation, allowing King’s students to interact with MBAs, and Executive MBAs, also at Cambridge Judge.
We hope that through the Lab’s programme King’s College students will gain the knowledge and interest to explore additional opportunities at the Business School, either through the CJBS Entrepreneurship Centre or the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, also based at Cambridge Judge. And our MBA students benefit from interacting with students from other academic disciplines.”
Roulet’s recent book The Power of Being Divisive: Understanding Negative Social Evaluations was described by The Financial Times as “a fascinating study of the social-media fuelled and fast-changing landscape of public opinion, and the possible ways in which that might be beneficial”.
A fulfilling MBA experience
Roulet is keen to equip Cambridge MBA students with the range of skills needed for the new challenges and opportunities ahead, “The World Economic Forum suggests that 65% of today’s primary school children will be doing jobs that don’t exist yet. Research shows that in times of crisis MBAs look for purpose and I want to help MBA students fulfil themselves. We are not prescriptive in what we think here – we want graduates to live professionally and personally fulfilling lives.
Right now, there is a war for talent for sure, but that could change very quickly as the global economic situation tightens. And a recession can be a good time to do an MBA!”
Dr Thomas Roulet, Associate Professor of Organisational Theory
Teaches: Organisational Behaviour and Leadership
Research interests: organisation theory; social evaluations; stigma, disapproval and scandals; wellbeing and mental health; remote and hybrid work; leadership.
Quirky fact: Loves a bowtie!