2016 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Thomas Gilbert, Foster School of Business

Thomas Gilbert

Thomas Gilbert

Assistant Professor of Finance

University of Washington, Michael G. Foster School of Business

Thomas Gilbert is a popular guy on the University of Washington’s MBA program. This year, seven students nominated him to be among Poets&Quants’ Top 40 Under 40 professors. And it’s easy to see why. His students describe him as “dynamic,” “helpful,” “patient,” and “caring” – the kind of teacher who makes “intimidating” content “fun.” He teaches the school’s core finance class – the one that first years eventually can’t wait to attend in the first quarter. He challenges and inspires his students to think differently about finance. Like any great teacher, he leaves no straggling first year behind. Those are just a few reasons why he has been a five-time Core Professor of the Year and is the reigning Core Professor of the Quarter at Foster. In his spare time, this family man enjoys skiing and crossfit.

Age: 36

At current institution since: 2008

Education: Ph.D., Finance, U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business, 2008; M.S., Finance, U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business, 2005; M.Sci., Physics, Imperial College (London, U.K.), 2002.

Courses you currently teach: I teach the core and required Managerial Finance class in the full-time MBA program as well as a Ph.D. class in theoretical asset pricing.

Professor you most admire: My advisor Rich Lyons. He is a great researcher who founded the field of microstructure of foreign exchange rates. Not to mention, he is a fantastic teacher who inspired generations of undergraduate and graduate students. And he is someone who cares deeply about the greater good of the university and who is now Dean of the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley. I aspire to such a career.

“I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when…I heard foreign guests at my house call my father Dr. Gilbert (he was a chemist and director of research at the World Health Organization). I thought to myself, I need one of those!”

“If I weren’t a b-school professor…My childhood dream of becoming Pope was dashed in adolescence, so I guess I’d settle for being a ski bum in the winter and a real-life Indiana Jones archeologist in the summer.”

Most memorable moment in the classroom or in general as a professor: After we moved in to the new PACCAR building here in Seattle, a journalist attended my MBA class so that she could report on the architecture and technology of the classrooms. Two days later, on the cover of the Seattle Times, is a complete description of me with crispy details such as “smartly dressed in a charcoal-gray pinstriped suit”, “slender man with a commanding voice” and “who has a flair for the theatrical”! The article went on about the actual content of the class (market efficiency, alpha, CAPM) where I am quoted saying “This model is crap!” Let’s say I worked from home that day.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Finishing my Ph.D., which is signed by The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. And asking provocative questions in my research, such as why universities, public pension plans, and corporations all take enormous amounts of risk with their endowments, assets or cash reserves.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? I love interacting with MBA students and having the chance to inspire those who thought they wouldn’t like finance to choose to pursue it as a career after their MBA.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Writing exams and giving grades.

Fun fact about yourself: Even though qualifying for the Crossfit Games is probably a pipe dream, I CAN do a handstand push-up!

Favorite book: I actually do not enjoy reading that much and it takes me forever to finish books. But I do love Belgian comic book series such as Largo Winch, XIII, Thorgal, Tintin, and Black et Mortimer.

Favorite movie: I love movies. I love too many movies. I have seen many movies many times and this could be a very long list: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Wall Street, The Godfather, Alien, Die Hard, Le Grand Bleu, Trading Places, Schindler’s List, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, The Silence of the Lambs, Léon…

Favorite type of music: Classical.

Favorite television show: Seinfeld of course.

Favorite vacation spot: Praslin in the Seychelles, where time stands still and nothing else matters.

What are your hobbies? Skiing, crossfit, mountaineering and more recently negotiating with my three sons…

Twitter handle: What’s Twitter? I am not even on Facebook.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…” a deep set of connections between the faculty and the companies who hire our students so that what we teach and the way we teach it can be in line with the expectations, demands, and wishes of the real world.

Students say…

“As a young professor teaching Finance, he is so popular and loved by his students. He won the “Quarter of the professor” almost every year. Especially, I want to talk about how helpful and patient he is in helping international students like me in studying finance. Every time I got stuck on some concepts or calculations regarding the case, he was always willing to explain them to me in a very clear way, sometimes using whiteboard to draw some vivid pictures to help me understand the complex principles. He is also patient about clarifying any questions I had after class when I didn’t catch him due to the language barriers.”

Ping Xu

“As Thomas’s teaching assistant, I get a front row seat each day of how one should teach finance. I have TA’ed for a number of professors who teach finance, and no one has engaged students like Thomas. Quite literally, students are on the edge of their seats, excited to learn and participate in discussion. His students absolutely love him and I have heard so many talking about how Thomas made them think about finance differently, actually making finance enjoyable and “fun”. Thomas has been such a wonderful role model and I can only hope to be half the instructor that he is one day. Without a doubt, Thomas is deserving of this recognition.”

Michael Wittry

“As my Corporate Finance professor last quarter, Professor Gilbert demonstrated a true caring for both his subject matter and for ensuring that every student (regardless of prior experience) was engaged in the learning process. Professor Gilbert took a subject that can be difficult and frustrating, and turned it into one that was both approachable and fun. In addition, Professor Gilbert made every class something that each student looked forward to every week, and each assignment was one that added in a significant way to the overall learning of the class – these are both characteristics that people can typically only wish on their professors.”

Michael Silva

“Gilbert was my favorite professor this past quarter and he has one of the most effective teaching styles I have ever seen. During the course of the entire quarter, he brought our large MBA class, with a very diverse background, to a complete understanding of fundamental finance we didn’t think was possible. He brought us to this level while entertaining the class extensively and ensuring no student was left behind. He was also happy to work with students outside class to raise money for our class charity by attending movie nights with finance themes like Wall Street. In addition to all of this, his research with endowment and why they are so risk averse has real implications and can one day help create more money for students and research.”

Josh Anderson

“Coming into B-school from a non-traditional background, finance was the course that intimidated me the most. However, by the end of Prof. Gilbert’s class, I was amazed at how much I had learned in his course. This was not an easy course (on the contrary, it was incredibly difficult), but Prof. Gilbert was the best professor I have ever had. There was no way to slack off in his class but you never wanted to. He cared deeply if his students learned, but his was a style of tough love…a style that was very effective.

He has won “MBA Professor of the Year” every single year he has taught the core finance course and was awarded the Paccar Award for Excellence in Teaching (Foster’s highest teaching honor) the first year he ever taught the course.”

Molly B. Forte

“Professor Thomas Gilbert’s dynamic, enthusiastic and fun instruction of core financial principles dramatically enhanced my growth as a future business leader. Thomas brought professional enthusiasm, deep industry insight, and intellectually stimulating conversations to motivate students, many of whom had little to no academic or professional exposure to Finance, to succeed despite a rigorous, demanding curriculum. Thomas cares about his students’ comprehension of core concepts. He held frequent office hours and personally led midterm and final review sessions. This helped reinforce the material outside of the classroom. I appreciated Thomas’ ability to connect financial principles to other core MBA classes. Even though I plan to pursue a career in marketing, I have found that all of the cases I was required to complete for Thomas have direct application to my career search.  Thomas Gilbert’s passion for Finance and genuine support for his students is unrivaled, and he deserves to be recognized.”

Steve Tomick

“Thomas Gilbert changes the lives and career trajectories of first year MBA students during their first quarter core finance class. He cares greatly about the success of his students and goes above and beyond to harness the topics. His genuine enthusiasm for the material makes learning fun—whether you are new to finance or a seasoned financial analyst. He spent time with us outside of class, including watching the movie “Trading Places”, which he used to teach put and call options. He has been voted the core MBA professor of the quarter every year since he started teaching core finance. In fact, the first time he taught the core course, he won the PACCAR Teaching excellence award, the school’s highest teaching honor.”

Kristen Curtis


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