Bette Smith at the end of last year became director of the J.P. Morgan Center for Commodities at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, which was launched in April 2012. The new program attracted 31 students for the fall 2012 commodities classes and 53 enrolled for the upcoming Spring 2013 semester. Smith recently spoke about the school and her new position with JLN’s Christine Nielsen. Smith includes her take on why Denver is a good place for an educational center for commodity markets.
Q: Please describe the J.P. Morgan Center for Commodities and your role there.
A: The J.P. Morgan Center for Commodities at the University of Colorado Denver Business School will offer innovative courses and research on commodity markets, regulatory issues, investing and trading, risk management and ethics, among others. The center has a state-of-the-art finance and commodities lab which features industry-standard technology and software so that our students (academic and professional) will have hands-on experience with the real tools of the commodities world.
My role as director is focused on managing all operational aspects. It’s a great position as I get to do everything from professional education to marketing and communications to outreach to industry experts to participate in the activities of the center.
We will be conducting an international search for new positions in the new year. A critical piece will be the search for the J.P. Morgan Endowed Chair in Commodity Finance, Economics and Policy, in addition to endowed professorships.
Q: What types of feedback have you gotten about the program so far?
A: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It has generated a lot of excitement from the business community. We were really trying to fill a niche here. The intention is to provide courses that cannot be found elsewhere.
Q: Why is this program at the University of Colorado Denver? Why would Denver be a center for this type of study?
A: Denver and Colorado obviously have a long history in commodities. This is a state built on mining, energy, and agriculture. There’s great synergy between the business community in these sectors and the university. The business school here already has strong programs in energy (Global Energy Management), risk management (Risk Management and Insurance), finance, and an international center for education, research, and outreach (CIBER). The addition of a commodities-focused program absolutely makes sense.
The educational programs at the center will be comprehensive, covering all aspects of the commodities industry from the physical side to the financial side. And we plan to draw students from around the globe for our courses, events, and programs. Who doesn’t want to come to Colorado to learn or enhance their professional credentials and maybe get a little skiing in or enjoy the mountains at the same time?
Q: Has the interest level in commodities changed over the years? Why or why not?
A: After the idea for the center was originally conceived, the business school did a feasibility study. The upshot of that study is that there was a real need for education in commodities, both at the academic and professional level. Not a single university was identified that offered any type of program like this.
I think the timing is absolutely right for the center to be offering the highest-level education and training on the complex business of commodities which includes addressing regulation, policy, ethics, risk, and all of the issues facing individuals and companies working in this space.
Q: How do each of your corporate partners participate in the program?
A: Our advisory council consists of key players from banking, energy, mining, agriculture, ISVs, exchanges, and investment firms among others. We are looking to them to keep our curriculum grounded in business practice and to advise us on needed professional education for their areas.
We are also enormously grateful to the partners who have given substantial gifts to fund everything from a distinguished lecture series to scholarships for exceptional students committed to pursuing an emphasis in commodities at the university.
Q: How did your career path lead you to this role? Would you have anticipated ending up in a position like this? If not, what were your original professional goals?
A: I am extraordinarily fortunate to have found a position that combines my very eclectic background and experience. Quite honestly, I cannot think of a job that I am a better fit for and is a better fit for me. Over the last 12 years I worked at CQG in a number of roles but for several years as the director of organizational learning (coordinating training and development globally) and then my most recent position as vice president of communications. That role really allowed me to develop strong relationships within the futures and commodities industry which are a huge asset in my current position.
Before CQG, I was the director of the weekend college and distance learning programs at the community college of Denver. It’s a huge benefit to have the higher education administration background in my current role. So it’s a pretty ideal trifecta of commodities experience, marketing and communications, and higher education that should help me be successful in the role and take the center where it needs to go. I am thrilled to be in this position as I will work with students, faculty, industry experts and entities, the business community (local and global), and other universities.
As an undergraduate I was a Russian studies major and imagined being a diplomat; as a graduate student I studied education and philosophy and saw myself at a university so here I am.
Q: I see you are a member of Women In Listed Derivatives (WILD). How do you see the current landscape for women in the financial industry?
A: I love WILD. I think it offers such a great example of why this is a positive time for women in the financial industry. We have members who have been in the business for 30 or more years mentoring the younger women coming up and giving them the advice and hard-won lessons they’ve learned so they can be successful. I think it’s that kind of support that will make all the difference for all of the women in the field.
I personally have received a lot of informal mentoring and genuine support for the women in the group. I hope to be actively involved with WILD personally as a member and perhaps find ways for collaboration with the center. It would be a win-win for women executives and students.