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Photo: Patrick O’Connor

Coffee Break

Small Talk With Jennifer Bethel

Numbers bring order to chaos—at least in Jennifer Bethel’s world. The Southern native studied finance as an undergrad and then went on to get a master’s in economics and a PhD in strategy and finance. She used her ability to make sense of chaos as a consultant and in Washington, D.C., working for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the late 1990s. But this professor of finance’s goal always was to write and be a teacher.

What was your focus as a consultant?  General strategy problems for the most part, but it was everything from figuring out a distribution channel for a large telecom to operational problems at a powdered metal manufacturer to working with groups to figure out how to reach consumers more effectively. The beef lobby, for example, was a client. I’d go onsite, and we’d have steak and eggs for breakfast, a burger for lunch, and prime rib at dinner. Your cholesterol for a lifetime was consumed in one visit. But it was fun. I learned a lot.

What did you do at the SEC?  Congress had passed an act that allowed the SEC to rethink how corporations registered securities, so I was part of a team of rule writers who worked on that problem. I worked in the Division of Corporation Finance and was the chief economist. The division was exclusively attorneys and accountants, and they had never had an economist in the group, so there were some cultural things to get over. By the time I left, I had a number of good friends. Six months ago, the SEC invited me back, so I’m spending two days a week doing policy work, mostly to help implement the recently passed JOBS Act.

What do you like best about teaching?  The interaction with students, especially with the undergrads. They’re not only looking for an education, but for the experience and that connection to the professor.

What have you learned from students?  I think I’ve learned a lot about people, especially younger people. If I see a kid sitting in the back who appears uninterested, I’ve learned that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re uninterested. They present themselves as “I’m bored, this class isn’t my thing.” But, in fact, they just may be overwhelmed at that moment.

Do you have a hobby?  I really enjoy soccer. My two sons play. We have season tickets to the New England Revolution. We watch the World Cup and the English Premier League.

What do you do well that most folks don’t know about?  I cook Cajun food—shrimp etouffee. My mother’s family is from Louisiana.

So you learned from your mom?  Exactly. —Donna Coco