Preparing to Explore the Unknown

PROVO, Utah – Mar 31, 2021 – The Denny L. and Jerri Brown Professor of Finance at the BYU Marriott School of Business, Hal Heaton has become well-known for his rigorous method of challenging students’ case study positions by asking them to defend their logic. Heaton hopes the lessons that students learn from his teaching method help prepare them as they enter the workforce and compete in business with professionals from all over the world.

Heaton’s desire to teach students began when he was a child growing up in Utah. While in elementary school, he wanted to teach at an elementary school. While in junior high, he wanted to teach at a junior high school. “I gradually moved up the chain until I realized what I actually wanted to be was a professor,” says Heaton.

He received his undergraduate degree in mathematics in 1975 and his MBA in 1977, both from BYU. After he graduated from Stanford University with his PhD and started teaching at Harvard University, he learned about the Harvard case study method. “The Harvard cases are real problems with real companies,” says Heaton. “Real business cases are full of oddities and quirks that must be dealt with.”

When Heaton came to BYU, he brought those case studies with him, employing a teaching method that became known for its rigor. During class, he presents his BYU students with a Harvard case. When students present their solutions, Heaton argues against their solutions, even if he actually agrees with the solutions. “My students fondly call this method the 'Heaton Beatin’' because they know they have to defend their position—and it’s not easy,” he says.

Heaton wants students to walk away from his class feeling confident encountering new situations and addressing difficult questions. “In the real world, you have to be able to quickly learn about an area you don’t know anything about. My students do that every day in my classes,” he says. Heaton also hopes his classes prepare students for the unknown.

Stepping into the unknown is a familiar concept to Heaton. While teaching at BYU, Heaton had the opportunity to fill in for an executive training instructor who was supposed to meet with business executives in New York City. “I got no sleep during the days prior to the training,” says Heaton. “I was right there on the edge of my understanding.” Despite his fears, he took advantage of the chance to teach and interact with business executives. To Heaton’s surprise, the training went so well that he was asked to return.

“I traveled the world and learned things about international economics and about how political issues drive business decisions,” he says. “That all came from being willing to step into the unknown.”

Heaton believes his students can also learn and grow from daunting experiences, just as he did. “I want my students to be able to walk into difficult situations and realize that they can adapt and learn quickly,” he says. “My students can compete with anybody on the planet.”

Hal Heaton
Hal Heaton
Hal Heaton ziplines in Whistler, Canada.
Hal Heaton ziplining in Whistler, Canada. Photo courtesy of Hal Heaton.
Hal Heaton catching halibut in Alaska
Hal Heaton catching halibut in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Hal Heaton.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Rebecca Nissen