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Banker invests time, travel to teach at Morehouse

By Add Seymour Jr.

Teaching at Morehouse was so important to Richard Thaler that he was willing to leave his prestigious and powerful post as vice chairman of Deutsche Bank Securities to teach students at the ‘House.

“I went to the firm and said, ‘I want to do this,’” Thaler said after class recently. “’If you want me to quit, I’ll quit. But it’s important and I want to do this.’”

The firm didn’t ask Thaler to leave. In fact, he, Morehouse and Deutsche Bank came up with a plan where he now flies into Atlanta from New York once a week to teach a leveraged buyout class for the Division of Business Administration and Economics.

“It’s tremendous in itself to have a leveraged buyout course taught by a professional from one of the top banks in the world – Deutsche Bank – in a school, particularly in an undergraduate school,” said John E. Williams, division dean. “This particular course isn’t even taught in some graduate schools. I think that says something about the respect we receive in this program and for our students.”

Thaler already had been impressed with the talent and desire of Morehouse students who he spent several years recruiting for Deutsche Bank. But he learned from his grandfather, who once chaired the English department at the University of Tennessee, that preparing students for jobs by teaching instead of recruiting them was what he ultimately wanted to do.

“John said, ‘When you’re ready to come (to Morehouse to teach), come talk to me,’” Thaler said.

Thaler’s vast network has allowed him to tap into his connections to bring other high-powered businessmen to his classroom.

“Every guy I talked to said ‘I want to go to Morehouse and nowhere else,’” he said. “It’s just a different place.”

During one October class, Thaler’s guests were a trio of investment banking’s biggest names: Tony Haas of the huge investment buyout firm of Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts and Company; Gary Talarico, the managing director of Sun Capital Partners; and Willie Woods, president of ICV Capital Partners. Woods is a 1985 Morehouse graduate who used to work with Thaler before starting his own firm.

“This industry has been such a private, secret industry that most minorities have not experienced it,” said Woods, adding it was wonderful to return to his alma mater to speak to current students. “So to see Rich bring these kinds of people to talk to the kids—it’s phenomenal.”

The pay-off for the students also has been phenomenal.

“It’s real life experience and I think it has been valuable,” said Clinton Townsend, a senior finance major from South Orange, N.J. “When you bring a representative (of the business world) into the classroom, that gives us more insight on where we want to be.”

Thaler challenges students to think and explain concepts, but at the same time encourages dialogue and banter.

“The kids … want to learn,” Thaler said. “I love it. I mean, it’s just an amazing place for me to teach.”

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