Alumni Salute Sharon Oster with an Ode to Economic Thinking
On July 1, Sharon Oster will complete her term as dean and return to her longtime role as a much-beloved economics professor. As the end of her term approached, her fellow Yale SOM economists, led by Fiona Scott Morton and Judy Chevalier, decided to pay tribute to her by putting together a collection of messages from her former students.
The most fitting tribute, they thought, was to ask alumni to share their memories, not just of Oster, but of the ways in which the rigorous economic thinking that she drilled into them had enriched their lives and careers. Scott Morton and Chevalier sent an email to alumni, asking for contributions (and cautioning that the gift would be a surprise).
About 100 alumni responded, with memories of the classrooms, stories of their professional ups and downs, and anecdotes of conversations with Oster (as well as one poem). Their letters were printed and bound by hand. The resulting book was presented to a delighted Oster at a faculty reception on June 9.
A few samples of alumni contributions follow.
Ed McKinley '79
As Sharon returns to full time teaching, a deeply grateful alumni/ae have learned one more economics lesson from Sharon. With years of improving operating metrics, balanced budgets, a successful capital campaign, and the ground-breaking on a new school all accomplished in the difficult macro environment which spanned her entire short tenure, we learned from Sharon that in the end, micro bests macro if the reins of the enterprise are in the hands of a sensible, passionate leader, dedicated to the task and equipped well for it.
Ivan Barkhorn '81, Lee Green '05, Nathan Huttner '09, Adam Stone '10
Redstone Strategy Group
Your classroom was the setting for truly formative experiences that helped lead us to what we do today. We are both fortunate and grateful to have experienced your passion for teaching and your leadership of an institution that has shaped our lives.
Sandy Urie '85
Sharon’s enthusiasm for her subject matter was infectious—also the very pragmatic ways in which she made the micro-economic framework relevant to day-to-day decisions immediately made sense to me. It was one those “aha” moments in life. I could easily see how one could use the theoretical framework whether in personal decision making or in a business context. I am famous in my family for using the concept of sunk cost—a concept learned from Sharon—as part of my own personal decision-making framework.
Gina Boswell '89
How has Professor Sharon Oster's microeconomics course impacted decisions in my personal and professional life? Quick answer: Countless ways… When I was in the auto industry, I was able to interject on solid ground that there was no way we should still be producing cars when marginal cost was greater than marginal revenue… When I was immersed in the prestige cosmetics industry, I fully understood the value and margin structure of limited distribution, thanks to the numerous supply/demand curves forever emblazoned on my brain… Finally, the foundations your course has laid re: pricing principles and understanding elasticities, cross-elasticities, etc. have been hugely helpful as I seek to optimize the marketing mix of the businesses with which I’ve been involved. Thank you for your outstanding teaching and your incredible leadership!
David Jackson '93
I have learned a lot about economics, finance and management from Sharon. What I have learned more is these two valuable lessons: Don’t be afraid to take the uncharted path, and trust yourself.
Kim Bohen '94
Your impact has been felt far beyond the walls of these institutions through your connection to SOM alumni. You never fail to amaze me with your remarkable engagement with myriad details of my life—truly astonishing when I think of the scores of men and women whom you have taught, mentored, and befriended over the years. I know myself to be incredibly lucky to be one of them.
Peter Yolles '97
Many concepts from microeconomics have been useful in my work, and none more so than the concept of marginal cost. I applied marginal cost analysis to establish the core product of my new company, WaterSmart Software. WaterSmart provides water utilities with customer engagement solutions enabling residential water users to save water and money. Marginal cost is key to communicating my company’s value proposition to WaterSmart’s water utility customers by comparing marginal costs of various ways of meeting the next unit of water demand. By deploying WaterSmart, utilities can generate immediate savings by stepping down from a higher marginal cost water source to WaterSmart’s lower marginal cost solution focused on water efficiency. Marginal cost is much more effective than average cost at describing the competitive advantage of WaterSmart’s solution. The product just wouldn’t have been created without my understanding of this microeconomics principle. Thanks, Sharon!
Michael Apkon '02
I am most appreciative for the chance to have studied with you. SOM and its alumni are all the better for the energy, the creativity, and the commitment you’ve brought to the classroom.