Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Brilliant Lecture by George W. Siguler on a Gorgeous Day

Yesterday, the Isenberg School of Management had the privilege of hosting Mr. George W. Siguler, the founding partner of the investment firm, Siguler - Guff, in its Finance Seminar Series. Mr. Siguler is a graduate of Amherst College and has an MBA from Harvard University. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he was speaking with Dr. Tom O'Brien, our former Dean of the Isenberg School, who served as Dean for 19 years. I then heard the story, as they related it to me, that Mr. Siguler, while on a flight with Ms. Jaymie Chernoff, suggested to her that the next Dean of the School of Management should be Dr. O'Brien, and since she was on the search committee, the contact and history were made.

Mr. Siguler shared with me that, among a spectrum of fascinating initiatives, he was responsible for the introduction of MTV to Russia in 1998!

The timing of his lecture on distressed debt markets was perfect. As I mentioned in a blog post yesterday, I was hosting Italian academics who work in finance, so I was able not only to introduce them to Mr. Siguler and Dr. O'Brien, but they also joined, after lunch, the large group at the Isenberg School for his seminar.

In his lecture, Mr. Siguler provided us with a historical perspective of the subject of distressed debt from his unique vantage point as a true expert and extremely successful practitioner. He discussed arbitrage, bankruptcies in the US over several decades, and even interwove automotive suppliers, oligopolies, and the impacts of the lack of regulations. In discussions, he noted the importance of fiduciary responsibilities and that there was no institute or organization that was tracking the pending financial crisis. (He also mentioned names of so-called leaders in economics and finance who were unaware of the crisis until it came barreling down.)

I asked him the question as to what kinds of skills should we, as educators, be imparting to our students, so that they may be a fraction as successful as he is. I loved his answer. He said that to be successful, one needs to know the theory and also to take advantage of one's intuition. One without the other is not sufficient.

Next Friday, we will be hosting Professor Andrew Lo of MIT, whose seminar is co-listed in the UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series and the Finance Seminar Series. His talk is sure to also attract a large audience. Hosting speakers takes time and effort, plus appropriate attention to logistics and details, but the education that takes place and the knowledge gained are invaluable.

The intellectual void that would be left without seminars and speakers at the Isenberg School would leave a huge black hole.