John McDonald, 1937-2018

Stanford business professor with an illustrious alumni ‘family’ remembered

March 1, 2018
John McDonald
Source: R.J. Muna/Stanford University

A much-loved expert on global equity markets who recently celebrated 50 years of teaching at Stanford University has died.

John McDonald, generally known as “Jack”, was born in May 1937 in Stockton, California, and studied engineering at Stanford (1960). He began his working life at Hewlett-Packard, received an MBA from Stanford (1962) and, after serving as a platoon leader in the US Infantry (1962-64), returned to Stanford for a PhD (1967). A Fulbright scholarship took him briefly to HEC Paris (1967-68) before he rejoined Stanford as assistant professor of finance in 1968.

Once established at Stanford, Professor McDonald was to remain there for the rest of his life, although with interludes as a visiting professor at the University of Paris, Columbia University and Harvard Business School. He was promoted to full professor in 1974 and held a number of endowed chairs, most recently, from 2004, the Stanford investors professorship. He was also the first professor to serve as vice-chairman of the National Association of Securities Dealers and its Nasdaq stock market index (1989-90).

As a teacher, Professor McDonald was best known for his Finance 321 class on investment management and entrepreneurial finance, which always attracted the largest number of student registrations and had the longest waiting list. At its heart was the belief that, since markets are not always efficient, canny investors can make money by examining the true worth of a business to see if it is correctly captured in its market price.

Having taught more than 10,000 MBA and executive education students over the course of five decades at Stanford, Professor McDonald had an extensive network of former students that he called his “investment family”, including legendary figures such as his friend Warren Buffett.

“I’ve never in the past 40-plus years met a Stanford MBA who didn’t regard Jack as a giant in teaching,” said Mr Buffett. “No one who took his course ever forgot it, and they loved Jack.”

Many of his professional “family” held Professor McDonald in such esteem that they came back as guest speakers on his Finance 321 class, happy to share with students their insights and achievements. They also helped fund the Highland Hall and GSB Common residences at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Like his professorship, these will now both be renamed in Professor McDonald’s honour.

He died on 26 January and is survived by his wife, Melody, two sons and two grandchildren.

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