Thomas Berry's inspiration to become a professor grew out of being a student at DePaul University. While earning his MBA in finance, a space opened in the graduate assistant program that allowed him to see the learning environment from the instructor's perspective.
"I got to teach a class and I loved it," he explains. "Everyone said, 'Well, go get a PhD and you can do this,' and so I did."
After finishing his MBA here and completing his doctorate at the University of Missouri, Berry returned to DePaul in 1981 and has been here ever since. "I believe in the mission and the people here have always been really great to me. Why leave?" he says. "I think DePaul's mission and the urban setting help make us unique. Particularly for someone in the business field, being in the middle of Chicago's business center is great."
Berry has been recognized multiple times through the years for his passion for teaching. He was presented with the Excellence in Teaching Award last fall at DePaul's 117th Convocation, an award he has won four times before. In addition, he received the Lawrence Ryan Award for outstanding undergraduate teaching three times and was named to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Professors in 2002.
"It's nice to have the recognition. There are a lot of good teachers here, so if you win anything, you're thrilled," says Berry, who also is the Driehaus College of Business's academic director for finance.
Teaching Beyond the Book
The undergraduate and graduate classes Berry teaches vary from financial theory and corporate finance to managerial finance and decision theory. "The most challenging course is the undergraduate introductory course because you have a large group with very mixed levels of interest and motivation. For that reason it's my favorite," Berry explains.
DePaul's diverse student body creates a classroom environment that Berry appreciates. "Some of the DePaul kids are pretty savvy from having worked with major companies," he explains, citing a recent class in which a student had worked at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and could ask advanced questions. "It's great when a student in your class knows a lot about a particular thing. It helps the others realize this isn't just in a textbook."
That practical approach to teaching carries over to his research, where one of his favorite areas to explore is behavioral finance. "It takes us out of the purely mechanical, rational world that was always assumed in economics, in which that everybody does economically rational actions all of the time. Instead, human behavior means that people do things that maybe don't always fit that model," he says.
Berry's many years in the finance field have also allowed him to track how the industry is changing. He says lately he has been seeing more awareness of social issues by firms. "I also see greater numbers of students who have a strong interest in combining social goals with business," he says. "In some ways this is already shaping the business world — products, marketing and so on — and I think it will get more important over time." Berry has written papers on the topic, including "Socially Responsible Investing: An Investor's Perspective," which appeared in the Journal of Business Ethics in 2013.
Keeping Things in Perspective
Over the course of his career Berry has conducted credit and valuation seminars and taught courses in Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Russia and Spain. Most recently, he has been teaching in Bahrain through DePaul's partnership with the Bahrain Institute of Banking & Finance, going back each fall to conduct classes on corporate finance and finance in emerging markets. He says he enjoys the perks of teaching on two distinct campuses. "The culture's so different, the place is so different and it's a great change of pace. Plus, it's hot there when it's cold here!" says Berry, who will return to Bahrain this autumn quarter.
Amid his teaching obligations, Berry stays active outside of the classroom. He spends time with his family, including his five-year-old daughter, while enjoying museums and dance performances in the heart of Chicago. Professionally, he participates in numerous industry organizations and has served on the board of directors for groups including the Academy of Finance, the Financial Management Association, the Midwest Finance Association and the Academy of Financial Services.
Still, his work with students is what keeps him going as an academic. "When kids figure it out, that's the reward. It's a little thing, but it means a lot," Berry says. "Working with students is great, and I remain friends with many former students. Watching them succeed is what makes this the best job I can imagine."
Learn more about degrees within DePaul's Department of Finance.