Jim VanHorne Teaching the Core Once Again

Legendary professor emeritus returns to teach core finance course.

July 07, 2015


Jim VanHorne, the A.P. Giannini Professor of Finance, Emeritus, marked his 50th year of teaching with students from his Corporate Finance course.

Once retired, it isn’t unusual for a professor to spend his or her time enjoying family and traveling the world.

Jim VanHorne, the A.P. Giannini Professor of Finance, Emeritus, has done some of both since leaving Stanford GSB in 2007. Unlike those who leave academia behind, however, he also still comes to his office regularly to stay in touch with colleagues, attend lectures, and enjoy the intellectual vitality that permeates the campus. So he was pleased when Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Madhav V. Rajan dropped by for a visit last year.

The dean’s reason for doing so surprised him: Would he consider coming back to campus for the spring quarter to teach Finance 211 one more time?

Besides having a chance to interact with students again, the request was appealing because it had personal meaning.

“It marked an important milestone — 50 years of teaching,” said VanHorne, 79, who first taught finance at Stanford GSB in 1965. “It was clearly a one-off situation, however, for me and the school.”

It marked an important milestone — 50 years of teaching.
Jim VanHorne

Since retiring, VanHorne has been involved with several nonprofit and corporate boards and has spent lots of time with his children and grandchildren, who live in the area. He goes to Tahoe regularly and is an avid hiker.

VanHorne developed a unique teaching style, which resulted in numerous teaching awards over the years. He taught MBA courses in mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, money and capital markets, fixed-income securities, and government and nonprofit debt financing. He was the first recipient of the distinguished teaching award by MBA students, and recipient again in 1997.

His signature course, Finance 211: Corporate Finance: Applications, Techniques, and Models, employed an adapted version of the Socratic Method, with the primary vehicle of instruction being case method and “cold calling” on students.

“What I do typically is use the Socratic method with questions students have in advance,” he explains. “I have cases two-thirds of the time with mini lectures in between. I use the lectures to expose issues and add things going on in practice.”

“It’s a rigorous format of expectation. I cold call on everyone eventually but try to be sensitive to students who really get nervous,” he says. While he believes the Socratic Method is still valuable, academics use it less often now.

The focus of VanHorne’s basic course was on how the corporate financial manager reaches decisions. Topics include financial modeling; financing methods of various sorts; capital investment; exchange-rate risk management; acquisitions; buyouts; and dealing with financial distress. In addition to corporations, both domestic and foreign, one session was devoted to financing a nonprofit.

Finance 211 embraces both the big picture and rigorous financial analysis.

“Analysis by itself is somewhat hollow unless actually it contributes to a more accurate decision,” VanHorne explains in a course video. “The course is a lot of fun.”

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