Ethan Rouen knew little about accounting before starting his MBA at Columbia Business School. But after just his second Financial Accounting class with Professor Trevor Harris, Rouen, a former journalist, noticed the similarities between the discipline and his former field.
“Accounting tells the story of a business, and the goal of accounting is to report the truth in an opaque, uncertain environment,” Rouen says.
Ready for a dramatic career shift, Rouen says Harris’s course seeded his love for the topic, while his exposure and relationships with Columbia accounting faculty helped it grow. “I was fortunate to have a lot of exposure to the accounting faculty as an MBA student,” Rouen says. “Their nurturing, knowledge, and excitement for accounting made it a no-brainer for me that I wanted to continue my studies at CBS.”
Rouen did just that, earning his PhD from the School in 2017. He now counts other courses, such as Professor Doron Nissim’s earnings quality class and Professor Tom Tryforos’ value investing course, among his favorites. “As a PhD student, taking research seminars with the junior faculty had a huge influence on how I conduct research,” Rouen says.
He also took advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of the program, taking classes with professors from many different departments, and leaning on the support and guidance of his advisors.
“That also shaped how I do research,” Rouen says. “I was constantly encouraged not only to tackle big questions that touch all areas of economics, but to bring to these questions the unique skills I developed as an accounting researcher. Those skills would not have existed without my advisors — Trevor Harris, Dan Amiram, and Fabrizio Ferri — pushing me every day, encouraging me to take risks.”
Today, Rouen is an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, teaching a course called “Reimagining Capitalism.” Broadly, he studies human capital and inequality, examining how to measure inequality to gain better understanding of its causes and consequences, both at the firm and societal levels.
“A big reason I’m here is because the CBS faculty refused to accept mediocrity and constantly encouraged me to write an impactful dissertation,” Rouen says. “It’s my dream job.”