Review: Professor George Chacko, Finance, Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business

This is the latest of my reviews on the professors I’ve had while an MBA student at Santa Clara University‘s Leavey School of Business. There are lots of sites out there that provide feedback and rates – ratemyprofessor is the most notable. The SantaClaraMBA Yahoo group also has a big database of comments and lots of additional information in its message archive. But only here can I write as much as I want  🙂

I review professors from a variety of perspectives.  First, I explain the context(s) under which I took the class.  Time of year, time of day, etc.  Then I talk about the quality of the class and the professor, and finally about the professor as a person.  After all, we are trying to learn about our interactions with people, so knowing that side of a teacher is critical, too.  So these would be interactions outside the classroom, etc.

I’m also reviewing them in reverse order of when I had them for class.  This is mostly so that I am reviewing those whom I remember the best sooner.  This also means that at some point I might skip a few professors I took a year ago or just stop outright out of concern that I will not be able to provide a proper review (the downside of these longer reviews is that I do, after all, have a responsibility to do a good job at them).  I am now back two quarters from my current term.

The facts

I had Professor Chacko for Finance 455 in Winter Quarter, 2008.  It was the 7:05 section (he also taught a 5:30 section the same days) on, I think, Mondays and Wednesdays.  The course is technically titled ‘Investments’ but Professor Chacko outright stated that regardless of what the school decided to call the course he would have taught the same material in the same manner (more on the ‘material’ in a bit, as it is indeed flexible enough to be used in several different style classes).  In fact, he taught a course in the spring that was a ‘696 experimental’ course that was basically just more of the same.

FNCE 455 is the second of two required courses in the discipline.  The first, 451, which I took the previous quarter, is about evaluating cost of capital, net present value analysis, etc.  455 is much more practical in many ways, examining specific cases on topics such as portfolio construction, payoff diagrams, and other financial analysis from the perspectives of a fund manager or a personal investor.

455 is an entirely case-based course.  We covered about 7 or 8 cases through the quarter, from books written by Chacko (and others) while he was at Harvard Business School.  We would do a write-up before each case, really as motivation to read it (I don’t think he actually read or graded them), and then discuss the case during class.  Work was generally done individually.  The final exam was also a case write-up, but much more in-depth and obviously done without a class discussion.

I took 455 when I did both because I needed it as a requirement and because I had heard good things about Chacko.  So my goals were relatively even (as compared to ‘taking it just because it was available’ or something like that).

Them’s the facts. Now read on for the review.

The class

Professor Chacko’s class is very loose.  Read the case (no additional reading, really), write something up (usually with no idea if it’s right), then talk about it until we figure something out.  Yes, there is an answer, but Chacko let’s us just jabber away with ideas until we got there.  He prods us in the right direction, but will also let us go in completely illogical tangents for a while, too.

It’s extremely unclear how the class is graded.  For instance, participation is listed as some percentage but, since I discovered during the quarter that I do not have a mind for finance, I literally never said anything.  I never ‘got it’ until he or someone illuminated the topic for me.  I even wrote him to explain the situation (never heard back).  The write-ups are just to make us read, so I am certain he doesn’t grade them.  What I can tell you is that everyone I know from the class did well in it – I expected to get something around a C (yes, ‘around,’ meaning maybe below), but did just fine.  He states that he just wants us to thinking critically about the topic, and I guess he means it.  Even if we’re completely off base, thinking logically is his goal.  Use the tools and ideas he’s provided, and come to some kind of conclusion.

Because the cases are fairly difficult, it’s pretty hard for one person to dominate the class, in my opinion.  No one did in mine, anyway.  But Chacko does not call on people. He really sits back, let’s us talk, and just points things out now and then.  That’s just his personality.

For the final, some friends and I did discuss the topic, I have to admit, though the rest of the cases and work were all done individually.  We did not write the paper together, but we threw ideas back and forth to get a feel for what we were dealing with.  In the end, you just have to figure out what presumptions you are making, state why you think they are logical ones (you never have enough information to not presume something with these cases), then make an analysis from there.

In the end, having gotten the grade that I did, I thoroughly enjoyed the class.  Yes, I was worried I might have to take it again with someone else, but I enjoyed how the world of finance was ‘revealed’ to me as each discussion progressed.

The Person

I posted earlier about Chacko’s background, which is pretty impressive (previous post since lost) .  He is one of a couple or three professors that have come over from Harvard (which is party of why he teaches a case-based course).  In his “spare time,” Chacko manages (not directly) a hedge fund, which translates as ‘he has done pretty well for himself.’  I think that anyone that has done as such who still teaches with the kind of intelligence and desire to impart knowledge as he does means something.  Because he really does care about whether you’re getting it or not.  He lets discussion go off one way just long enough to be an interesting exploration, then brings it back.

Chacko is a pretty low-key person, though, but he runs an efficient class and is personable.  I didn’t interact with him as much as I would have liked because I just didn’t know what to ask.

Some Metrics

Metrics are of questionable use, depending on professor and what classes I have and haven’t taken.  But they might be of interest so I’ll do what I can.  These are more like ‘comparisons’ than metrics but I like the word better :-).  Some rough parameters are:

  • Workload:  runs from heavy, which would be work in class, after class, individual and team, to just a lot of problem sets to basically just in-class discussion.
  • Teaching style:  spectrum runs from pure-lecture to interactive to all-over-the place.
  • Interest in students:  pretty obvious
  • Relevance to the outside world:  pretty obvious, though heavily restricted due to my background in academia

Workload:  Light
In reality, it’s light.  If you have no clue what you’re doing, it can feel heavier.  The cases have a ton of information so you have to sift through them but overall it’s light.

Teaching Style:  Interactive.

Interest in students:  High.

Relevance to outside world:  Very high.

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