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June 4, 2014

A Macroeconomics Vacation

When disappointing snow in Tahoe discouraged their plans for a ski trip, three alumni — self-described “econ junkies”— jumped at the opportunity to go back to school.

When former classmates and close friends Tim Campos ’11, Michael Chaput ’11, and Matthew Cooper ’11 get together, they often find themselves talking for hours about monetary policy. “We’re econ junkies,” says Cooper. (Or as Chaput puts it, “econ geeks.”)

They’re also remarkably successful executives. Since 2010, Campos has served as chief information officer at Facebook, where he describes his mission as optimizing the productivity of the “very fast-moving, very innovative, and very smart” workforce. Chaput is the founder and CEO of Endsight, a company that manages IT for small businesses — and surpassed $9 million in revenue last year. Cooper, who has a PhD in toxicology and previously served as global head of non-clinical safety information at Roche, recently cofounded Carmenta Bioscience, which is developing a diagnostic test for preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition that can affect pregnant women.

The three alumni also talk frequently about their desire to stay connected to Columbia. When disappointing snow in Tahoe this winter discouraged plans for a ski trip with their families, they discovered that Professor Frederick Mishkin, the Alfred Lerner Professor of Banking and Financial Institutions, was slated to teach a week-long Executive MBA course, Financial Markets, Central Banking, and the Economy — and jumped at the opportunity to audit the class. Says Campos: “We decided to take a week off for a macroeconomics vacation.”

Campos, Chaput, and Cooper recently talked to Columbia Business about their experience. Edited excerpts follow.

What was the biggest insight you took away from the course?

Tim Campos ’11: I got a bunch of new insights about the role of incentives and the issues that exist with agencies in large-scale systems. This is relevant to my role [at Facebook] because even in the corporate context, there are incentive systems in place. You have issues of information asymmetry and agency that create problems. When one person knows something that the other person doesn’t, for example, or when one organization has information that another organization doesn’t, that can create distortions that result in poorly functioning markets, financial crisis, or an inability to effectively negotiate a contract. If you can understand these processes, you can make better decisions strategically for your business.

Matthew Cooper ’11: Getting insights into the financial crisis and how it was handled and managed gave me new appreciation and respect for Ben Bernanke. The other big learning experiences for me were the agency and moral hazard issues that arise in monetary policy and fiscal policy; I have a new appreciation for that area as well.

Michael Chaput ’11: I came away with two key insights. First, I got a pretty good feeling that interest rates are going to rise in the future. When you can predict something about the future, it makes all kinds of things easier in business and in life, especially investing or moving forward with your business. If you want to buy a company, for example, do you get long-term interest rates that are a little more expensive or more affordable short-term rates?

Second, I always got a little nervous about the central bank’s quantitative easing; I didn't understand the mechanisms at play or even the thinking behind its actions. Professor Mishkin gave me a perfect understanding of why the central bank was taking that position and why it hasn't led to, at least at this point, increases in inflation rates.

How was your experience now different from when you were in the EMBA Program?

Cooper: It was so much more enjoyable — and I really loved the program when I was in it; I didn’t think it could be any better. But the dynamic was different: the stress associated with being in the program was gone. I really enjoyed the lecture. I was much more of a sponge — that was a key thing about the experience for me.

Chaput: When you're a student and you're taking four classes at a time, especially when you're an executive student with a business and a young family, you have to make tough choices when it comes to time management. But with this class, I got the textbook ahead of time and read it leisurely at home the month before the class.

Any advice for current students?

Cooper: Understand that all of your classmates are going to be tremendous resources for you in your future. Make sure you cultivate those relationships. The power of your network is directly proportional to what you’ve put into it. Do everything you can for these people because one day, particularly if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to need their help.

When you’re in an executive program, your classmates are all successful people or people who are destined to be successful. These are future investors. With Carmenta Bioscience, we went out and raised a seed round of more than two million dollars. $500,000 of that round came directly from my business school classmates.

Campos: Don’t waste the time that you have right now to pick up these new skills and relationships. Auditing this class was such a great reminder of both the value in the institution that is Columbia and of the friendships and the relationships that you build there.

I went back to Columbia with two other executives that I have become really, really good friends with. We spend time together with our families, we invest together — and we would not have these experiences had it not been for business school. The unique aspect of that was reiterated for me by attending this class.

Are you a Columbia Business School graduate interested in auditing a class? To learn more, e-mail Megan Shaughnessy at mts2159@columbia.edu.