Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Teaching Manifesto: An Invitation to my Spring 2020 classes

If you have been reading my blog for long enough, you should have seen this post coming. Every semester that I teach, and it has only been in the spring in the last few years, I issue an invitation to anyone interested to attend my classes online. While I cannot offer you credit for taking the class or much direct personal help, you can watch my sessions online (albeit not live), review the slides that I use and access the post class material, and it is free. If you are interested in a certificate version of the class, NYU offers that option, but it does so for a fee. You can decide what works for you, and whatever your decision is, I hope that you enjoy the material and learn from it, in that order.

The Structure

I will be teaching three classes in Spring 2020 at the Stern School of Business (NYU), a corporate finance class to the MBAs and two identical valuation classes, one to the MBAs and one for undergraduates. If you decide to take one of the MBA classes, the first session will be on February 3, 2020, and there will be classes every Monday and Wednesday until May 11, 2020, with the week of March 15-22 being spring break. In total, there will be 26 sessions, each session lasting 80 minutes. The undergraduate classes start a week earlier, on January 27, and go through May 11, comprising 28 sessions of 75 minutes apiece. 
  1. The Spring 2020 Classses: With all three classes, the sessions will be recorded and converted into streams, accessible on my website and downloadable, as well as YouTube videos, with each class having its own playlist. In addition, the classes will also be carried on iTunes U, with material and slides, accessible from the site. The session videos will usually be accessible about 3-4 hours after class is done and you can either take the class in real time, watching the sessions in the week that they are taught, or in bunches, when you have the time to spend to watch the sessions; the recordings will stay online for at least a couple of years after the class ends. There will be no need for passwords, since the session videos will be unprotected on all of the platforms. 
  2. The (Free) Online Version: During the two decades that I have been offering this online option, I have noticed that many people who start the class with the intent of finishing it give up for one of two reasons. The first is that watching an 80-minute video on a TV or tablet is a lot more difficult than watching it live in class, straining both your patience and your attention. The second is that watching these full-length videos is a huge time commitment and life gets in the way. It is to counter these problems that I created 12-15 minute versions of the each session for online versions of the classes. These online classes, recorded in 2014 and 2015, is also available on my website and through YouTube, and should perhaps be more doable than the full class version.
  3. The NYU Certificate Version: For most of the last 20 years, I have been asked why I don’t offer certificates of completion for my own classes and I have had three answers. The first is that, as a solo act, I don’t have the bandwidth to grade and certify the 20,000 people who take the classes each semester. The second is that certification requires regulatory permission, a bureaucratic process in New York State that I have neither the stomach nor the inclination to go through. The third is, and it is perhaps the most critical, is that I am lazy and I really don't want to add this to my to-do list. One solution would be to offer the classes through platforms like Coursera, but those platforms work with universities, not individual faculty, and NYU has no agreements with any of these platforms. About three years ago, when NYU approached me with a request to create online certificate classes, I agreed, with one condition: that the free online versions of these classes would continue to be offered. With those terms agreed to, there are now NYU Certificate versions of each of the online classes, with much of the same content, but with four add ons. First, each participant will have to take quizzes and a final exam, multiple choice and auto-graded, that will be scored and recorded. Second, each participant will have to complete and turn in a real-world project, showing that they can apply the principles of the class on a company of their choice, to be graded by me. Third, I will have live Zoom sessions every other week for class participants, where you can join and ask questions about the material. Finally, at the end of the class, assuming that the scores on the exams and project meet thresholds, you will get a certificate, if you pass the class, or a certificate with honors, if you pass it with flying colors.
The Classes
I have absolutely no desire to waste your time and your energy by trying to get you to take classes that you either have no interest in, or feel will serve no good purpose for you. In this section, I will  provide a short description of each class, and provide links to the different options for taking each class.

I. Corporate Finance

Class description: I don’t like to play favorites, but corporate finance is my favorite class, a big picture class about the first principles of finance that govern how to run a business. I will not be egotistical enough to claim that you cannot run a business without taking this class, since there are many incredibly successful business-people who do, but I do believe that you cannot run a business without paying heed to the first principles. I teach this class as a narrative, staring with the question of what the objective of a business should be and then using that objective to determine how best to allocate and invest scarce resources (the investment decision), how to fund the business (the financing decision) and how much cash to take out and how much to leave in the business (the dividend decision). I end the class, by looking at how all of these decisions are connected to value.

Chapters: Applied Corporate Finance Book, Sessions: Class session
I am not a believer in theory, for the sake of theory, and everything that we do in this class will be applied to real companies, and I will use six companies (Disney, Vale, Tata Motors, Deutsche Bank, Baidu and a small private bookstore called Bookscape) as lab experiements that run through the entire class.

I say, only half-jokingly, that everything in business is corporate finance, from the question of whether shareholder or stakeholder interests should have top billing at companies, to why companies borrow money and whether the shift to stock buybacks that we are seeing at US companies is good or bad for the economy. Since each of these questions has a political component, and have now entered the political domain, I am sure that the upcoming presidential election in the US will create some heat, if not light, around how they are answered.

For whom?

As I admitted up front, I believe that having a solid corporate finance perspective can be helpful to everyone. I have taught this class to diverse groups, from CEOs to banking analysts, from VCs to startup founders, from high schoolers to senior citizens, and while the content does not change, what people take away from the class is different. For bankers and analysts, it may be the tools and techniques that have the most staying power, whereas for strategists and founders, it is the big picture that sticks. So, in the words of the old English calling, "Come ye, come all", take what you find useful, abandon what you don't and have fun while you do this.

Links to Offerings

1. Spring 2020 Corporate Finance MBA class (Free)
2. Online Corporate Finance Class (Free)

3. NYU Certificate Class on Corporate Finance (It will cost you...)

II. Valuation

Class description: Some time in the last decade, I was tagged as the Dean of Valuation, and I still cringe when I hear those words for two reasons. First, it suggests that valuation is a deep and complex subject that requires intense study to get good at. Second, it also suggests that I somehow have mastered the topic. If nothing else, this class that I first taught in 1987 at NYU, and have taught pretty much every year since, dispenses with both delusions. I emphasize that valuation, at its core, is simple and that practitioner, academics and analysts often choose to make it complex, sometimes to make their services seem indispensable, and sometimes because they lose the forest for the trees. Second, I describe valuation as a craft that you learn by doing, not by reading or watching other people talk about it, and that I am still working on the craft. In fact, the more I learn, the more I realize that I have more work to do.  This is a class about valuing just about anything, from an infrastructure project to a small private business to a multinational conglomerate, and it also looks at value from different perspectives, from that of a passive investor seeking to buy a stake or shares in a company to a PE or VC investor taking a larger stake to an acquirer interested in buying the whole company. 

Finally, I lay out my rationale for differentiating between value and price, and why pricing an asset can give you a very different number than valuing that asset, and why much of what passes for valuation in the real world is really pricing. 

Along the way, I emphasize how little has changed in valuation over the centuries, even as we get access to more data and more complex models, while also bringing in new tools that have enriched us, from option pricing models to value real options (young biotech companies, natural resource firms) to statistical add-ons (decision trees, Monte Carlo simulations, regressions). 

For whom?

Do you need to be able to do valuation to live a happy and fulfilling life? Of course not, but it is a skill worth having as a business owner, consultant, investor or just bystander. With that broad audience in mind, I don't teach this class to prepare people for equity research or financial analysis jobs, but to get a handle on what it is that drives value, in general, and how to detect BS, often spouted in its context. Don't get me wrong! I want you to be able to value or price just about anything by the end of this class, from Bitcoin to WeWork, but don't take yourself too seriously, as you do so.

Links to Offerings
1a. Spring 2020 Valuation MBA class (Free)
1b. Spring 2020 Valuation Undergraduate class (Free)
2. Online Valuation Class (Free)
3. NYU Certificate Class on Valuation (Paid)
III. Investment Philosophies

Class description: This is my orphan class, a class that I have had the material to teach but never taught in a regular classroom. It had its origins in an couple of observations that puzzled me. The first was that, if you look at the pantheon of successful investors over time, it is not only a short one, but a diverse grouping, including those from the old time value school (Ben Graham, Warren Buffett), growth success stories (Peter Lynch and VC), macro and market timers (George Soros), quant players (Jim Simon) and even chartists. The second was that the millions who claim to follow these legends, by reading everything ever written by or about them and listening to their advice, don’t seem to replicate their success. That led me to conclude that there could be no one ‘best’ Investment philosophy across all investors but there could be one that is best for you, given your personal makeup and characteristics, and that if you are seeking investment nirvana, the person that you most need to understand is not Buffett or Lynch, but you.  In this class, having laid the foundations for understanding risk, transactions cost and market efficiency (and inefficiency), I look at the entire spectrum of investment philosophies, from charting/technical analysis to value investing in all its forms (passive, activist, contrarian) to growth investing (from small cap to venture capital) to market timing. With each one, I look at the core drivers (beliefs and assumptions) of the philosophy, the historical evidence on what works and does not work and end by looking at what an investor needs to bring to the table, to succeed with each one.

I will try (and not always succeed) to keep my biases out of the discussion, but I will also be open about where my search for an investment philosophy has brought me. By the end of the class, it is not my intent to make you follow my path but to help you find your own.

For whom?
This is a class for investors, not portfolio managers or analysts, and since we are all investors in one way or the other, I try to make it general. That said, if your intent is to take a class that will provide easy pathways to making money, or an affirmation of the "best" investment philosophy, this is not the class for you. My objective in this class is not to provide prescriptive advice, but to instead provide a menu of choices, with enough information to help you can make the choice that is best for you. Along the way, you will see how difficult it is to beat the market, why almost every investment strategy that sounds too good to be true is built on sand, and why imitating great investors is not a great way to make money.

Links to Offerings

1. Online Investment Philosophies Class (Free)
2. NYU Certificate Class on Valuation (Paid)
  • NYU Entry Page (Coming soon)
I have to confess that I don't subscribe to the ancient Guru/Sishya relationship in teaching, where the Guru (teacher) is an all-knowing individual who imparts his or her fountain of wisdom to a receptive and usually subservient follower. I have always believed that every person who takes my class, no matter how much of a novice in finance, already knows everything that needs to be known about valuation, corporate finance and investments, and it is my job, as a teacher, to make him or her aware of this knowledge. Put simply, I can provide some structure for you to organize what you already know, and tools that may help you put that knowledge into practice, but I am incapable of profundity. I hope that you do give one (or more) of my classes a shot and I hope that you both enjoy the experience and get a chance to try it out on real companies in real time.

YouTube Video


Bobby said...

The Investment Philosophies class is amazing - my favorite of the three! It really deserves a slot at NYU at some point. Looking forward to the refreshed version in 2020!

Thank you so much for creating free versions of the classes on youtube and for being such a great teacher.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this video! Now it makes sense why there are so many different playlists on Youtube.

I guess the semester classes which are longer have more examples and the lecture packets, so there's more reference material than the bite-sized videos, which I can't find accompanying material for.

Nevertheless, I have really enjoyed your classes, so thank you!