Silver Circles: William O’Brien

William O'Brien; Silver Circle Award Winner

William O’Brien, assistant professor, finance.

Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.

Silver Circles: 1
Years at UIC: 3

What does it mean to win this award from the graduating seniors?

It’s the highlight of my academic career so far. I’ve had some good days with research, conferences and other things over the years, but nothing has affected me as much as winning this award. I really enjoy teaching and I try to put a lot of thought and effort into it, so having the seniors recognize that is really special.

What do you teach?

I teach FIN 301 (“Introduction to Managerial Finance”), the first finance course people can take at UIC.

How do you engage students in your courses?

I let everyone know up front that finance, and the terminology that people use in finance, isn’t as complicated as it looks, and I try to use real-world examples and concepts whenever I can. Since finance can be a little dry, I tell jokes and stories to keep everyone’s attention. I also try to change up the format from time to time by showing videos, bringing in guest speakers, or creating little mysteries at the beginning of class that pay off by the end.

What are your research interests?

Most of my research focuses on financial decision-making in corporations. I have a few papers dedicated to how U.S. firms use offshore subsidiaries to avoid taxes, and how those actions influence other decisions (such as whether to acquire other firms or bring offshore money back to the U.S.), almost as a “side effect” of the decision to avoid taxes.

What is your advice to graduating students?

Trust your gut. Doing the right thing is usually harder than other choices available to you, but it’s worth it. Also, be generous with your time and knowledge and don’t act territorial and “pull the ladder up” when you achieve success. I think the key to success in the future is going to be your approach to work and solving new problems.

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