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Female Professors at HBS Series: Elisabeth Kempf

Loujaine AlMoallim (MBA ’24) interviews Associate Professor in the Finance Unit, Elisabeth Kempf about her personal journey, her time at HBS, and her advice for HBS leaders.

Can you briefly tell us about your journey that got you to where you are today?

Growing up, I never considered pursuing an academic career. But while writing my undergraduate and master thesis, I fell in love with research. I still started out working as an analyst in the financial industry because that was what most of my peers were doing, but I quickly realized that I missed the academic environment and wanted to give a PhD a shot. I completed my PhD in the Netherlands and then moved to the U.S. for my first academic job. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience so far.

How has your teaching experience been at HBS so far? What do you like most about the case method and classroom experience?

I love the energy in the classroom and how engaged students are. I learn much more about my students and relationships become more personal when we are discussing a case rather than me giving a lecture.

Your research focuses on the intersection between political economy and empirical corporate finance. Could you give us a summary of a use case where that intersection is prevalent, and why this intersection is important?

I view the explosion of political partisanship as one of the most important issues of our time. Understanding how this trend affects economic and financial decisions and, more broadly, economic activity is very important. My research sheds light on these questions by showing that economic views and capital allocation decisions are increasingly influenced by political partisanship, and so is the decision of where to work. In other words, political polarization has real consequences for firms.

What recommendations would you give current and future HBS leaders when it comes to the issues we could face related to politics and finance?

If I were to distill one key takeaway of my current research, it would be to surround yourself with people who disagree with you. There is a real danger in viewing the world through a partisan lens and the best way to guard against it is to appreciate different points of view. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done in the echo chambers we sometimes find ourselves caught within.

Throughout your journey, what is the greatest lesson that you believe you learned and what is one piece of advice you would give people reading this?

Approach your career as a marathon, not a sprint. It is easy to get carried away by the short-term ups and downs in your career. Personally, I have found it liberating to try to remind myself of what it is that I want from my career in the long run. A single failure doesn’t make me an idiot, and a single success doesn’t make me a genius.

Loujaine (MBA ’24) is a Saudi Arabian who spent most of her formative years in Canada. After completing her undergraduate degree at McGill University majoring in International Management, she moved back to Saudi Arabia and worked in Consulting.

Elisabeth Kempf is an Associate Professor in the Finance Unit, teaching Finance 1 to MBA students. She is also a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and a Research Affiliate at the Centre for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR).

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