Faculty / March 12, 2021

A Passion for Finance Turned into a Mission

Michael Faulkender’s career in finance has been a pursuit of answers to age-old questions: Why are economic decisions made the way they are and how we can make them better?

The longtime Maryland Smith finance professor has dedicated his educational and professional career to searching for those answers.

But for the past two years, Faulkender’s search, combined with his experience and passion for finance, led him to a new role – the assistant secretary for Economic Policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

During his tenure, Faulkender helped lead the response to the biggest economic shock to hit the country since the Great Depression, resolve an unemployment crisis and implement the Federal Government’s $525 billion Paycheck Protection Program.

The issues were immensely complex and sophisticated in nature, Faulkender says, but to be in a position of public service and work towards improving the lives of so many was the honor of a lifetime.

“I’ve spent a lot of my career trying to estimate the impacts of economic decisions that others had made and document it in research to help teach students how to better understand financial decision making,” says Faulkender. “To be one of the senior policy decision-makers and balance the needs of the public was certainly challenging, but it was an incredibly rewarding learning experience.”

Faulkender, a highly accomplished finance researcher at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, has long been interested in the intersection of finance and public policy. He found an affinity for the subject in middle school while serving as student body treasurer.

His passion grew from there, as he became a bank teller in college and later began a post-graduate career in commercial banking. However, Faulkender says, a couple of years into his professional career, his yearning for an even greater understanding of finance remained and he opted to go back to school to earn his PhD.

“I realized I needed more training and education to really get at some of the more complex and intellectually stimulating issues that I was interested in. At my core, I'm curious about economic research, especially in terms of the descriptive work of ‘what are people doing’ and the normative work of seeing what they could do better,” says Faulkender. “Most of my work has been intertwined with those two aspects, and I’ve found it very gratifying to have had a career where I can study those topics.”

In addition to his background as a researcher, it was his experience in various positions at Maryland Smith that aided him in his role at the Treasury Department, Faulkender says. Previously serving as associate dean of master’s programs, he says, offered him new perspectives to approach problems and evaluate different policy proposals with and yielded valuable experience in building partnerships.

“In working with governmental agencies, you have to know how to build partnerships and forge relationships. That was something I began learning at the Smith School with cross-campus coalition building,” says Faulkender. “It’s those collaborations and experiences that we learn from and that transcend the classroom.”

Now back at Maryland Smith, Faulkender says it’s meaningful to get right back where he left off in his 12-year career with the school. In his return to educating others, Faulkender is excited to impart the lessons and insights from his time at the Treasury Department.

“I never anticipated I would have ended up as the assistant secretary of the Treasury, but it’s an experience that has shaped my life,” says Faulkender. “Hopefully I can use that experience to help teach others the essential role that finance plays in basically every aspect of our lives.”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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