Most of the people sitting around her at Fenway Park were paying attention to the Red Sox game on the field. But Elana Feldman was more interested in the concession workers roaming the stands in the mustard-yellow hats and shirts.
Why is that tiny person lugging around a heavy bin of steaming-hot Fenway Franks? Who decides which workers hawk bags of peanuts and which ones sell ice cream?
Feldman had so many questions. So she stopped one of the concession workers and asked.
“Most people probably wouldn’t ask, but those are the types of questions I’ve always had in life. It drives my husband crazy,” says Feldman, who learned that the concession jobs at Fenway are based on seniority. “Every day, they show up to the park and get to pick. It has nothing to do with ‘That person’s too small to carry around hot dogs.’”
Feldman’s natural curiosity about how organizations operate is also her profession. As an assistant professor of management in the Manning School of Business, she teaches undergraduate and Honors courses on organizational behavior.
“I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to study things that interest me, and I get to help students get excited about the things that I think really matter,” says Feldman, who joined the Manning School in 2015 after earning her Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Boston University.
Feldman’s qualitative research focuses on how people think about time and relationships at work. She’s studied how entrepreneurs’ startups are affected by the compressed timeline of 12-week accelerator programs. She’s examined how people experience interruptions as they go about their various tasks. And she’s considered how proteges navigate the sometimes conflicting advice they receive from their multiple mentors.
“I love qualitative research because it’s all about talking to people,” Feldman says. “And I’m fascinated by people.”
Feldman didn’t set out to be a business professor. She graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 2001 with a bachelor of arts in Integrated Approaches to Biology. “I created my own major,” says Feldman, who points out that it wasn’t as science-related as it sounds. “It was more an intersection of anthropology and biology, with a little sociology.” Her undergraduate thesis explored why women start home-based businesses.
After working for nine years as a consultant and market analyst in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, Feldman realized she was interested most in how the companies were being run. So she took organizational behavior classes on the side and transitioned into leadership and talent management consulting. In 2009, she began working on her Ph.D.
While she enjoys research, she also appreciates the immediacy of teaching.
“A lot of people think the people side of business, the soft skills, is the easy part,” says Feldman, who received a 2017 Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence. “But I know from working with a lot of managers that it is very hard to do well. I try to convince students to prepare themselves, and to think carefully about how to work effectively with other people. And maybe at some point in their careers they’ll say, ‘That’s right, Professor Feldman told me this was hard.’”