DBA Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Stefan Lewellen

Meet Dr. Stefan Lewellen, Assistant Professor of Finance at Smeal. Explore his expertise in corporate finance, financial intermediation, and the intersection of finance and politics. Discover his passion for empowering Penn State Smeal Executive DBA students to become both consumers and producers of rigorous research. Learn about the Seminar in Corporate Finance Research course, where he covers fundamental financial laws, corporate investment, financing choices, and corporate governance. Gain insights into his empirical research approach and his goal to create impactful research. Visit his Smeal Directory profile for more information.

Dr. Stefan Lewellen, Assistant Professor of Finance.



Some of the best and brightest minds in business call Smeal their professional home. Our faculty's contributions to teaching and research are heard around the world. And their commitment to partnering with our students is seen, heard, and experienced in our classrooms and beyond. 

Here, we introduce you to Dr. Stefan Lewellen, Assistant Professor of Finance

What DBA course(s) are you teaching?

FIN 588: Seminar in Corporate Finance Research

What are you excited to cover/explore and why?

Finance is at the heart of every business decision – show me a CEO who doesn’t understand this point, and I’ll show you an underperforming company! But even top-performing executives often lack a deep understanding of corporate finance, and this limits executives’ ability to get the maximum horsepower out of their organizations. For example, most CEOs and CFOs do not fully understand the intricate links between financing choices, corporate strategy, financial returns, and future flexibility, and these knowledge gaps can be very costly. I’m excited to provide students with a rigorous, quantitative, research-driven understanding of these foundational corporate finance axioms, one brick at a time.

What are some of your main goals/expectations as a professor to DBA students?

Most executives use research every day, whether they realize it or not. Maybe it’s a concept learned in school or an idea from a newspaper or white paper. Maybe it’s discussions with experts or, in rare cases, articles published in scholarly journals.

Whatever the source, academic research is an input into almost all modern business decisions. However, most executives are simply consumers of research–they lack the framework and training to produce valuable research themselves.

The DBA aims to change that–we seek to build a pool of senior leaders who are both consumers and producers of rigorous, high-quality research. My goal is to leave my students feeling empowered to solve corporate finance questions confronting their organizations, their industries, and society at large.

How do we get there? Well, we’re going to start with some basic financial laws that are almost like laws of nature–rules that relate to a firm’s overall risk and how risk is split between a firm’s various financial claims. Then we’ll move on to corporate investment and how to think about which projects to fund or how to put a value on various options to invest.  We’ll then discuss firms’ financing choices and how to think about debt and equity in value-maximizing ways, before ending with a module on corporate governance. Along the way, we’ll read articles and learn the most up-to-date research methods. By the end of the course, students should be ready to write an academic research paper in the area of corporate finance.

How would you summarize your research expertise?

My two main areas of interest are corporate finance and financial intermediation (i.e., banks). A sizable chunk of my research is focused on the intersection between finance and politics–for example, how do politicians and firms interact with one another, affect one another, and learn from one another?  Another major area of focus is on the banking sector, and particularly banks’ business models and how banks affect the rest of the economy. But overall, my research interests are very broad. If I stumble on an interesting question, my instinct is to try to solve it.

Why is it important to you?

Well, this is a tricky because my interests are so broad! But in general, I like studying questions that have real-world implications. If a topic is uninteresting to practitioners and policy-makers, it is very hard for that research to have impact. My goal is to create research that has impact.  (While I am almost never successful, this remains a worthy aim.)

The motivation to help people and organizations is what drives 100 percent of my work

How would you describe your research approach?

I am primarily an empiricist, which means I love to study hundreds of gigabytes of data to see what patterns emerge and what we can learn from them. My particular focus is on finding “micro” data that can allow us to answer “macro” questions – for example, using incredibly detailed data from individuals’ credit reports to examine the bigger question of how politicians can use their power to help local firms. Central to this approach is what researchers call “identification”–basically, can we find a convincing “smoking gun” that proves (to a reasonable jury of peers) that event A really did cause event B? It’s very hard to find smoking guns in real-world data, but that’s what makes it interesting!

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

As an undergraduate student, I had the incredible opportunity to present a manned Mars mission design plan to senior NASA scientists. My groupmates and I were terrified!  But the scientists were very positive, humble, and appreciative despite having just seen something I’m sure they would all rather forget. I learned a lot from that experience, and I hope to pay the same traits forward with our DBA students. I fully expect to learn as much from them as they learn from me.

View Stefan's Smeal Directory profile