Faculty in the Spotlight: Paolo MAZZA, professor of Finance

With more than 700 professors, including 200 permanent professor-researchers, IÉSEG offers to its students a high-quality learning experience, based on 4 key elements: an active, interdisciplinary learning process, focused on the acquisition of competencies, offered through customized curricula.
Each month, “Faculty in the spotlight” invites you to meet one of the School’s professors who presents their vision of teaching, their methods for transmitting their expertise and passion to students and shares their best memories and stories at IÉSEG.
This month, let’s meet Paolo MAZZA, professor of Finance at IÉSEG, on the Lille campus.

Paolo, can you tell us a bit about your background?

My background combines both academic and professional experience. I graduated from FuCaM in Belgium (now UCLouvain) in Management Science Engineering. Then, I worked for two years as a Performance Analyst at Dexia Asset Management (now Candriam), a global multi-specialist firm in asset management, in the Brussels headquarters. I started there in July 2008, right in the middle of the Subprime Crisis, and right before the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which was the climax of this global crisis. Perfect Timing!… 

After that, I decided to do a PhD and I became a doctoral fellow at the Louvain School of Management (UCLouvain) and a member of the Center for Studies in Asset Management (CESAM). After getting my PhD, I was a Visiting Post-doc Researcher at Bayes Business School (formerly Cass Business School) (London, UK).  

A couple of months after my PhD, IÉSEG offered me an Assistant Professor position. I am now an Associate Professor of Finance, starting my 10th year of teaching at the School! and I am the Head of the Asset and Risk Management Major at IÉSEG. 

Why did you choose to become a teacher?

I initially chose to become a researcher, and naturally, I also became a professor since one can’t go without the other. But I immediately loved teaching when I started at IÉSEG in 2014, and I can say that it has become my calling since then! I believe I do have teaching inside me as I’ve been giving kickboxing classes since I’m 17. You can easily imagine that it is sometimes harder to manage that kind of groups than a regular class at school! 

What is your area of expertise? 

Generally speaking, I specialize in Finance. I have been publishing papers in various fields of research, including crypto assets, climate finance and insider trading. Yet, my area of expertise is market microstructure. I love it and it was the topic of my PhD dissertation. In a few words, it relates to the investigation of how trading occurs in the markets, the role of high frequency traders, whether there are enough buyers or sellers, the real transaction costs and whether the price is fair…  In microstructure, we attempt to answer questions like: why does a buyer or a seller decide to buy/sell at a particular moment? How do they end up on the same product and the same market? Why does a buyer make a purchase with the information they have? What information leads the buyer to make a purchase?  

What courses do you teach at IÉSEG? Could you explain what your teaching is about? 

Basically, I am a Financial Markets professor. Meaning that I can teach anything related to financial markets. I am a specialist in financial products. I teach our students what is a stock and what is a bond at the Bachelor level and how different they are. In my Debt Securities course, we go much deeper by investigating every product that relates to debt, bonds but also asset-backed securities that were at the centre of the financial market turmoil of 2008. I am also an expert in coding and data analysis, that is why several of my courses are related to coding or data visualization.

Since 2014, I have taught in several programs at IÉSEG: the Grande École Program (Bachelor and Master cycles) and the Master in International Business. The courses I currently teach include: Debt Securities, Data Visualization for Finance and Global Finance. In the past, I also taught Financial Instruments and Technology, Fixed Income, Financial Markets, Technical Analysis, Credit Risk Management, Empirical Asset Pricing, Financial Econometrics, SAS Programming, and Programming in R. And I have also published 14 case studies.

I am currently developing a new course in the major that I coordinate, which will be entitled “Trading and Exchanges” in order to teach our students all these elements that are of utmost importance to anyone pursuing a professional career in the Asset Management industry.

How has your teaching evolved over time?

Everything has evolved. Finance is a hot topic that is in constant mutation. The story of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and the lessons we could learn from it took years to be deciphered. Students have also changed – they need a different type of learning experience. I started my career as a traditional professor teaching ex cathedra. Year after year, I became more comfortable with my teaching topics and my role as a professor. This allowed for more interaction in class. I noticed that students’ needs were also changing. As a result, most of my courses are now 100% interactive. Students bring themselves positive emulation in class and it is exciting both for them and for the professor.

I designed a flipped learning method in my Master course on Debt Securities that allowed me to be nominated for IÉSEG’s Teaching Excellence Award. I also like to give missions to my students that they receive by email and must solve in class as if they were working within a company. In my opinion, the most important thing for our students is not necessarily the knowledge itself but rather the working methodology they acquire, which they will never forget and be able to use in their professional lives. As Montaigne said, it is better to have “a well-made head rather than a well-filled one”.

Why did you choose IÉSEG? What attracted you?

I knew a bunch of people working at IÉSEG and they seemed to be happy here. Teaching in English in an international environment was everything I was looking for when I applied. During my interview, I could feel the human side, which is very present at the School, that I was sometimes missing in the private sector. It seemed to be the perfect workplace for me. Since then, the School has given me the freedom and the potential to grow. It is a real support in everything we want to develop. I have become the Head of the Asset and Risk Management Major, which allows me to add my personal touch to the Finance Department. 

How do you integrate the Vision “Empowering Changemakers for a Better Society” into your courses?

The first fundamental pillar is knowledge. Without knowledge, you cannot be an actor of change. You first need to know what the current situation is, what works and what does not. As I worked in the private sector, I know what the expectations are, and I try to empower my students with all the tools to be a real added value in the workplace. If they acquire the right learning method, they will be able to learn more things. The more you learn, the more perspectives you will have for your future.

Being a professor at IÉSEG: what does it mean to you? What do you like most about being a teacher at the School? 

IESEG is like a family. With my colleagues we love being together and discuss, chat, laugh, take up new challenges. With my students, I feel like a mentor sometimes as I take time to talk about their career orientation and help them make decisions. They are often a bit lost in their career choices and paths to choose and seek counselling.

According to your students, what are your strengths as a teacher?  

Students say that I am very knowledgeable and that I am able to explain complex concepts in an easily understandable way. They also say that I am demanding, but they love it. Our students want to be challenged and they want to work hard if the purpose is clear to them, even if the content is dense. So, one of my strengths is also to give them a clear view on how useful the elements that I teach them are.  

What are your best memories so far at IÉSEG? 

As you can imagine, I have quite a few memories since I have been teaching here for 10 years! But I remember my very first days on the campus. I was sharing my office with my colleague Deniz ERDEMLIOGLU and I kept hearing noises from the outside. So, I asked him what it was and his answer was both funny and unexpected: “these are the monkeys from the zoo nearby”. We had a good laugh! 

I also remember my first Japanese student who surprised me by writing the answers for an exam on a paper in landscape mode. At that moment I was amazed and thought: diversity is limitless!  

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