Ethan Rouen is a Ph.D. student in accounting at Columbia Business School. He is a recipient of the Deloitte Doctoral Fellowship, awarded to the top accounting doctoral students in the country, and his first academic paper, which develops a new method using mathematical laws to detect financial reporting errors and fraud, won a Best Paper Award from the American Accounting Association. An entrepreneur from an early age, Ethan started walking dogs and picking up dry cleaning for his neighbors at age 5. Since then, he has worked as a martial arts instructor, garbage man, journalism instructor, prison librarian and tabloid crime reporter. Ethan also runs competitively and enjoys skiing and cycling. He received a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.S. in journalism and an M.B.A. from Columbia University.
What do you do best?
Fail. Of my abilities, dealing with failure – which I do often – is definitely one of my stronger suits.
What makes you the best?
I’m fortunate to love the challenge in much of what I do. For example, I’ve run eight marathons in the last four years, trying to go under three hours. The closest I’ve come is 3:00:07. Instead of getting frustrated, I become more fascinated with the process and the training. I think this willingness to put in the effort and not give up is what makes me well suited for academia. Between writing code, developing and testing hypotheses, and trying (and trying and trying) to get published, failure happens all the time. I mean all the time, like four or five times a day on a good day. Without a doubt, there is frustration, but focusing on the future feeling that comes with success helps me persevere.
How will you stay the best?
I hope to stay curious and continuously remind myself that the safe option is never as fun and rewarding as the risky option. I am so lucky to have been born into a level of comfort that provides me with the opportunity to take chances in my career. I can pursue work that gives me the choice between interesting and challenging or somewhat easier but boring. I just need to remember that it isn’t really a choice at all.
What are your aspirations: business & personal?
Personal: I aspire to live by my often-conflicting beliefs. I consider myself a nihilistic humanist, meaning that nothing matters, and none of us is special, but in that nothingness, our most important goals should be to go out of our way to be kind, err on the side of generosity and take up as little space as possible. I constantly fall short of my goals, but at least I’m consistent (see my answer about what I do best).
Business: Write a meaningful dissertation that is both interesting and impactful, then find a job in academia that combines teaching and research. For my dissertation, I am using wage and employment data to try to understand how hiring decisions and pay practices relate to company performance. Anecdotally, company performance has been linked to how well employees are treated, but no one has looked at this issue in a large-scale rigorous way. I’m hoping to show that treating employees well can give companies a competitive advantage.
What fascinates you?
The human body and how it works. I’m a sucker for books about training for endurance sports. On a grander scale, I am continually amazed by how people’s behaviors reflect their beliefs about our purpose on this planet. I am deeply set in my own convictions, but I also am aware that my convictions, like everyone else’s, are just a security blanket, an answer to a question without an answer. Instead of debating people on what our responsibilities are, I find it fascinating and more productive to hear how others define responsibility and how this definition affects their behaviors.
I am not a unique snowflake.
Other than my wife, parents and professors, who always support me and never look at me weird, even when I’m looking at myself that way, I have become a huge fan of the Pope. His ability to be guided by his moral compass in the face of ceaseless pushback and temptation is inspiring. The GED students I tutor are my week-to-week favorite people. They make such sacrifices to get to class and approach learning with seriousness and passion. They work full-time jobs and have families and yet they are always completely present in class. They constantly inspire me to pursue my own goals with abandon and to realize that there is never enough time for everything, so it’s not worth wasting even a minute on the troubles outside of my control.
Winter on Avalanche Lake in the Adirondacks; Summer on Lows Lake in the Adirondacks; any desolate mountain with snow on it or desolate road to bike on.
My commuter bike. It is an entry-level Specialized Allez. My wife, Kim, and I bought them at the same time 10 years ago, not long after we first met. We thought they were so fancy at the time. The hardest ride we’ve ever done was on these bikes (110 miles with 10,000+ feet of climbing, and Kim, having forgotten her shoes, did it in flip flops). We now have much nicer, more comfortable, faster bikes, but I ride my Allez every day, and it serves as a reminder that the equipment has nothing to do with the joy of the activity.
I’m a critter of habit. The theme of my Bar Mitzvah was cycling and little has changed. There is nothing more exciting to me than traveling long distances under my own power. I am passionate about outdoor physical exertion, preferably in a bucolic setting (or tearing down Second Avenue during rush hour). My passion for the economics of information also continues to grow daily. Accounting research explores how information flows through systems, and I have a hard time imagining something more fun to spend my life studying.