For veteran educator J. Keith Murnighan, giving students a hard time is just part of his job description. 'I see my role as provocateur; I try to encourage my students to think along new trains of thought,' said Professor Murnighan, who was voted Best Faculty of the Year by this year's crop of Executive MBA graduates. 'My students are already successful executives, so most people don't give them a hard time at work, but provoking them forces them to think. Of course I do this in a stress-free environment. 'After 27 years of teaching I have realised that the best way is to do this is with a smile and an ironic point of view.' While teaching involves providing information and new ideas, it is also important for teachers in advanced level programmes to identify when students' own natural tendencies can 'get them into trouble at work', said Professor Murnighan. 'Most people who take part in this programme are tremendous,' he said, 'but I set up situations of problem solving to test people's strengths and weaknesses. What I often see is that competitive students get blinded by beating their peers and do not reach their ultimate goal. Some students need to take a step back so they can achieve more.' Professor Murnighan, who is the Harold H. Hines Jnr Professor of Risk Management at the Kellogg School of Management, in the US's Northwestern University, has been part of the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA programme since its inception in 1998. At the recent 10-year anniversary celebrations, Professor Murnighan was retrospectively chosen as the top professor for the first year of the programme. 'That had even more meaning for me than the award this time around,' he said, 'as the students still remembered my name and it suggests what I taught them had long-term relevance.' EMBA graduate Ricky Lau volunteered to present the award to Professor Murnighan. 'Keith Murnighan has an outstanding personality and he is my best professor ever,' said Mr Lau. 'He is passionate about lifelong teaching and learning, and he is strong technically - both in terms of delivering concepts and also in his techniques of facilitating learning.' He is also serious and real, said Mr Lau. 'He practises what he preaches - he comes from a cop family with many children and he enjoys team sports, which depend on the values of leadership, teamwork and trust. He has heart and he expects you to reciprocate. In class he expects you to participate and put yourself in the actual situation. He's a facilitator but he also runs a tight shop and he is disciplined. Classes were only ever under or over by five minutes, maximum.' Making the learning experience relevant and 'real' is an important issue for Professor Murnighan, who said that through his decades of experience he has met many executives from around the world and so has insight into the kinds of problems they face. 'I make the learning as realistic as possible rather than putting my students in an ivory tower,' he said. 'I never lecture but use multimedia such as video clips to enliven the class and encourage interaction. 'Being a leader is important, but making an impact on people is more so - I want to engage people and make classes interesting and informative. Getting the class to interact is also crucial as these executives have years of experience themselves and they can learn from each other.' The economy has had an impact on what Professor Murnighan teaches. 'People are worried about the financial downturn, as they should be; it's easy to be a leader in a world of munificence, but in difficult times, when there is stress on a person's basic values and how he or she uses and displays them, true character emerges. 'One student recently asked me what he should do if he is faced with firing a positive performer, and my advice was to do it with openness, and explain the grim reality that led to the decision. It's a natural tendency to want to run and hide; being open can sometimes be more tough.'