Professor Profiles: Kellogg School’s Jose Maria Liberti

Having the opportunity to learn from the best and brightest minds in business is one of the top motivators for many applicants considering an MBA degree at an elite business school. The professors and lecturers you’ll encounter have worked in the trenches, and bring an incredible wealth of real-world experiences into the classroom setting.

In our new limited series of professor interviews on the SBC blog, readers will get to know a bit more about these brilliant academics, what fields most excite them, the trends they foresee, what they enjoy most about teaching at their respective universities, and how it all comes together with their students.

Today, we’re meeting Jose Maria Liberti, Clinical Professor of Finance at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University and William M. Scholl Professor of Finance at Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, DePaul University.

Liberti was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics from the Universidad de San Andres (UdeSA), in Buenos Aires.

He moved to the United States in 1998 and earned both a Masters and a PhD in Economics from The University of Chicago.

Courses Taught: Mergers and Acquisitions, LBOs and Corporate Restructuring; Global Entrepreneurial Finance

What triggered your interest in your subject matter?

I am an economist by education, but a practitioner by nature. Given my professional experience working in a financial institution before my graduate studies, I have always been interested in corporate finance in general and mergers and acquisitions in particular.

For example, problems between minority and controlling stakeholders were daily topics in my working years. While in my graduate studies (and given my personal interests), I found that the most interesting applications on incentives issues were in the field of corporate finance.

What’s changed since you entered the field? Any surprising or unique applications of your field of study?

The field has changed a lot. Even relative to my years of the PhD, the academic finance profession has shifted considerably. There was a period where the capital structure or the way you finance a project is irrelevant, and the only frictions that matter are probably only tax frictions.

Of course, scholars realized that the way you allocate the cash flows of the firm has some impact on the way the firm is run. But all this old academic literature focused on external rules being fixed.

What happens when the environment and rules change? People realized that the rules are not fixed, that the changing nature of the rules is actually important, and of course, political gain or incentive gains is what makes the rules change.

Topics like nepotism, crony capitalism and extraction of rents from other parties have been introduced, making finance an incredible stimulating and thought-provoking field.

What do you like about the school you are teaching at?

The Kellogg School of Management provides all the resources and makes my life as an educator very simple, providing me with all the adequate resources to provide a high-quality product to the students.

One great advantage, and most important, is the high quality of students that enroll in my classes. They are just outstanding, since they are willing to be challenged and pushed outside of their comfort zones.

What role, if any, does ethics play in your curriculum, and how has that evolved over time?

Transparency and ethical behavior of financial professionals have become key components in any academic finance curriculum. After the 2008 financial crisis, there has been larger focus in Kellogg’s finance curriculum on the role of ethical behavior.

This behavior is also tied to new regulations passed on monitoring the financial industry since new investors pay more attention to their financial professional’s ethical standards.

Given that we prepare financial professionals for the future, I feel I have the responsibility to make sure the message of ethical standards is properly conveyed in the classroom and in the finance curriculum in general.

What are you most excited about in your classroom?

The most excited part of my classes are the discussions we have among the students. Since I teach advanced classes in corporate finance, the exchange of ideas can become very lively and dynamic in the classroom. If you are not ready to engage in class discussions, these are not the courses you would like to enroll in!

Best advice for an aspiring business mogul?

The advice I’d give is simple: Just push yourself to the limits and give 150% on whatever you do. For me, this would leave a mark independent of what you are doing career-wise.

What’s the impact you want to leave on your students? … On the world?

I prefer to think that I do something small and the sum of those small things will hopefully affect the bigger scheme of things. If I can push students to think deeply on issues, challenge the status-quo, and be engaged and curious on financial strategy topics – a subject that for many students is challenging or daunting – then I would feel personally satisfied.

Thank you Professor Liberti for sharing your time and insights with our readers!

(Photo by Jean Lachat)
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