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Connecting Disciplines: Wall Street Insider Helps Design “Finance 2.0”

Seth Gardner (Trinity ’89, Daytime ’94, Law ’94) takes the reins of Fuqua's Center for Financial Excellence.

By Tim Candon — This article was originally published in the Team Fuqua alumni magazine.

April 20, 2010
Seth Gardner, Director of Duke's Center for Financial Excellence
Seth Gardner

Fabled American investor Warren Buffett once said, “What we learn from history is that people don’t learn from history.”

Seth Gardner (Trinity ’89, Daytime ’94, Law ’94) is out to change that. After working in New York City for 15 years, Gardner left Wall Street for Towerview Drive — hoping to help shape the next generation of finance professionals. As Executive Director of the new Center for Financial Excellence at Fuqua, Gardner’s primary aim is to help develop an enhanced curriculum and implement an intensive extracurricular practicum.

“I call it finance 2.0,” Gardner said. “The way MBA finance has been taught in the United States for the last 20 years is in many respects stale. Exhibit A is the financial crisis. If we don’t improve the way that future leaders are educated, then we’ll end up sowing the seeds of future financial crises.

“Fuqua has the foresight to reach out directly to Wall Street, legislators, and regulators to help us incorporate the lessons learned from the financial crisis into our MBA programs. If we’re able to make an impact at the educational level, we’ll better prepare students, and help make them more enlightened, more thoughtful, and more responsible.”

Given his diverse background and Duke roots, Gardner is the right leader for the new Fuqua-based Center for Financial Excellence, said Wendy Kuran, Associate Dean for Centers and Corporate Relations.

“The center brings professors, practitioners, alumni, and students together for the mutual benefit of them all. Seth’s the person who can pull all the pieces together and drive this,” Kuran said, noting that another role of the center will be to promote faculty research to practitioners.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in history in 1989, Gardner went on to earn a joint Daytime MBA and law degree in 1994 — all from Duke. For the next eight years, he worked as a corporate restructuring bankruptcy attorney in New York. In 2003 he joined the private equity group at Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. as an investment principal. Among his range of responsibilities, he evaluated, structured, and negotiated large-scale, private equity transactions and investment opportunities.

In 2007 Gardner joined Fuqua’s Alumni Council, which occasionally brought him back to Fuqua. Each time he visited campus, he left feeling inspired and with a desire to contribute more to the school. When he discovered in the fall of 2009 that Fuqua was looking for someone to lead the Center for Financial Excellence, he seized the opportunity.

“Part of what fueled him to do this is the ability to help reinvent and correct the field,” Kuran said. “At this moment in history, there is an opportunity for educators to have a significant and tangible impact. Seth has a deep appreciation for the urgency Fuqua feels in producing the kind of leaders who will revitalize the global economy.”