Our Giving Story: Jim and Gail Vander Weide
Jim Vander Weide has never been risk averse. Sure, it makes sense that a longtime finance professor would understand the benefits of seizing promising opportunities. But Vander Weide’s venture mentality has paid off handsomely throughout his life, from the first days of his teaching career, to his entrepreneurial pursuits, to his marriage.
The first calculated risk for Vander Weide (pronounced WIDE-uh) was joining the faculty of Duke’s brand-new business school in 1971. (It was later named The Fuqua School of Business by J.B. Fuqua’s $10 million gift.) He was hired during the school’s first year to teach finance —as in all of the finance courses. While there were only about a dozen students in that first class, the course offerings grew rapidly as more students matriculated.
A newly minted Ph.D. from Northwestern University, Vander Weide was responsible for creating and teaching courses, conducting and publishing research, and for recruiting additional finance faculty. Despite his heavy workload, Vander Weide rose through the tenure track from assistant professor to full professor in a few years. In the mid-1980s, Tom Keller (Fuqua’s dean 1974 – 1996) asked Vander Weide to be his associate dean. Vander Weide loved working with Dean Keller and the faculty, but disliked being an administrator rather than a teacher and researcher.
Start-ups upon start-ups
A few years earlier, Vander Weide had taken another risk, starting a business with a partner. They created optimization software that helped banks greatly improve cash management services to their corporate clients. With interest rates up around 17 percent, it was critical that corporations manage their cash balances efficiently. The software worked so well that almost every major bank in the United States used it.
Fuqua had a rule that faculty members could not work on outside projects more than one day a week. With his business going full blast, and his administrative role gnawing at him, Vander Weide resigned his tenure. At the same time, Keller was ready to start an executive education program at Fuqua. Knowing that his friend still enjoyed teaching, he asked Vander Weide to stay on as a research professor to help launch and direct the program. Vander Weide agreed. He enjoyed that job so much, he stayed with it for the next 20 years.
“I helped design the original Advanced Management Program,” Vander Weide said. “The advantage of that was I could concentrate on a program all day for maybe two weeks at a time. The rest of the time I could do my consulting.”
In the latter half of the 1980s, interest rates dipped and banks were less interested in Vander Weide’s cash management work. Never one to be idle, he dove into another pastime that became another lucrative business — being an expert witness. At first, Vander Weide testified about the cost of capital and the financial implications of telecom deregulation. After a few years, it was shareholder lawsuits after the stock market’s tech bubble burst at the turn of the millennium. “It built up like a tsunami,” he said. “I’ve been involved in over 500 cases around North America – 45 states and four or five Canadian provinces.”
Overcoming the biggest challenge
In 1988, just as his new work was really gaining steam, tragedy struck. Vander Weide’s wife, Ann Williams Vander Weide ’65, died unexpectedly at age 44. He took a leave of absence from his career to take care of his 14-, 10- and 8-year-old children. “I had to learn to make it, and deal with my own grief, and guide them through their grief,” Vander Weide said, “and survive.”
That’s when one more huge gamble paid off. Six months after his wife died, Vander Weide found out that the husband of Gail Rainey, a girlfriend from high school, had died after a yearlong illness. Growing up in small-town Lansing, Illinois, Jim’s and Gail’s parents were friends. Each found out about the other’s spouse’s death from their parents. When each untimely death occurred, Jim and Gail called one another to share their sympathy and empathy.
Shortly after the death of Gail’s husband, Jim was called to testify in a court case in San Francisco. Nervous as a schoolboy, he called Gail and asked if he might be able to visit her in Eugene, Oregon, after the court case. “I’m thinking, ‘San Francisco isn’t real close to Eugene, but it’s a lot closer than Durham,’” Jim laughed. She said yes, and they enjoyed a few whirlwind days touring the Oregon mountains and coast.
Three weeks later, they met for a weekend in San Francisco, drove to Reno, and got married. Gail, with a daughter in college and a son in high school, moved to Durham at the end of the school year. Life as a blended family created new challenges, but everyone worked hard to meet these challenges. Jim went back to work, eventually traveling the world with Fuqua’s international executive education programs.
Thirty years after the lowest point of their lives, Jim and Gail Vander Weide are enjoying the fruits of their amazing second act together and showing their gratitude in a tangible way. After much thought and discussion, they made a recent gift to Fuqua establishing a full professorship. And because they wanted to see their gift in action quickly, they sought the guidance of their financial and legal advisors and the Duke Office of Gift Planning. With this advice, the Vander Weides were able to maximize tax deduction benefits from their gift while fully funding their endowment right away. Their professorship joins a pair of Fuqua scholarships Jim endowed in honor of his parents, Herman and Johanna, in the early 1980s, and Ann in the late 1980s.
“It was a really good decision to come to Duke,” Jim said. “I enjoyed being part of the first class even though it required an awful lot of work. I feel like I was part of the original history of The Fuqua School of Business. I have been associated with a very successful venture.”
What was your experience like in the early days of the business school?
Jim: There was a lot of discussion among the faculty about what the program ought to look like. As originally designed, it was based on pretty high-level math and economics. In those days the M.B.A. was two years, but a student didn’t take a finance course until the second year. We also had an undergraduate business major, so I taught in that program. We had so few faculty that you had to teach almost everything. I taught the first finance course, economics and statistics. I had to design these courses. And you didn’t teach three sections of the same course, as happens frequently now. You had to teach four different full-semester courses. It was a lot of work. I was pretty much on my own.
What international programs were part of Fuqua’s first executive education efforts?
Jim: In addition to J.B. Fuqua’s many other generous gifts to the school, Mr. Fuqua gave $4 million to fund a program to teach Soviet managers about capitalism and free-market economics. I was asked to design the program to educate them.
Gail: This was during glasnost and perestroika (the Soviet era of openness and restructuring).
Jim: The Soviet managers came to Fuqua for several weeks and J.B. Fuqua paid the whole bill. I tried to teach them about the economics of capitalism and capital markets, subjects that they had no experience with whatsoever. We did some programs in Russia, too. Once, Gail was with me in a little suburb of St. Petersburg. With simultaneous translation, I would speak in English and they’d have a little handset on their desk. I wouldn’t hear the Russian, but I was watching and they were all twiddling their handsets. There was quite a commotion, so I asked them what was going on. This was when Boris Yeltsin got up on top of the tank in Moscow (August 1991). There was an attempted Communist revolution to get back the government. They said if they move the switch on the handset, they can pick up a radio station. They’re trying to see what was happening in Moscow. We asked them what would happen if the Communists win. They said, “Keep your bags packed. We’ll try to get you to the border with Finland and get you out of the country.” So we had some really interesting experiences with executive education.
What was it in the early 1980s that inspired you to give a scholarship to honor your parents?
Jim: My parents had only a grade-school education. They owned a small paint store in Lansing. I worked in this paint store with them. The store was open 66 hours a week. My mom and dad worked there together — they were in that store all the time. Sunday was the only day they had off. They didn’t make much money but they really wanted me to have an education that they never had. So they really, really pushed me to get an education. So I did the scholarship for them in honor of their hard work to get me educated.
How did the Duke Office of Gift Planning help you in making your gift?
Jim: We wanted to be able to take a full tax deduction for the gift, and there are limits on how much you can deduct each year. If we had made the gift all in the first year, then we would only have been able to deduct a smaller portion of the gift. We had several meetings with our accountant, our attorneys, our financial advisory company and Gift Planning. We gave some of the gift at the end of 2017 and some in January.
What was the inspiration for a professorship?
Gail: (Laughing) We’re getting old.
Jim: We’ve done very, very well in this consulting business. We’re not big spenders. We have worked very, very hard together. A good deal of the time, I was also teaching at the executive programs at Fuqua. I have a strong bias toward education.
Gail: We decided to complete the gift right away, considering our age and wanting to see this happen sooner rather than later. The faculty can’t really recruit until the endowment is fully funded. If we were to spread the gift out over a longer period of time, who knows if we would even be around? And we will enjoy seeing it established. We’re happy to have done what we did.
Jim: Very happy.