Professor Robert Jones with his Corona Computer, one of the first PC computers in the 1980’s.


Robert Jones retires

June 01, 2017

After 31 years, Professor Robert Jones is sailing into the sunset. Jones had an atypical career at SFU in the Department of Economics. With one foot in academia, and the other in industry, he weaved together both worlds for his teaching and research.

Arriving at SFU in 1985, he was welcomed by the faculty who were, as he remembered, “a feisty, colourful group, with lots of extremes of views represented from hard core Marxists to far right wing ones.” During this time, the department flourished with students benefitting from a diversity of fields and perspectives

Jones was brought in to teach macroeconomics but soon started a graduate course that had a huge impact, computational finance.  As one of the few universities in the 1990’s that taught this specialization, Jones brought in problems from industry into the classroom.

As Jones spent half of his time working at Wells Fargo and then later on at Chubb Insurance, he would bring academic theory to business problems. And in turn, the cases he solved were complex and interesting. Jones recalled that Goldman Sachs wanted to buy market crash risk insurance against the S&P 500 index falling more than 25% in one day.

“It has never happened historically, The biggest was 22% in 1987 so they wanted this insurance, that would pay off if the S&P index fell by 25% in a day, applied to a 1 billion dollar portfolio and it would last ten years. Interesting problem!” He laughed.  

Early access to these problems trained graduate students for the issues they would face in their professional lives. These students were getting a head start as these cases might be covered in academic journals, five year later.

“And in the late 1990's, when Wells Fargo, Management Science Department, did their recruiting they would interview MBAs specialized in finance from Berkley, Carnegie Mellon, Wharton Business School, University of Chicago, and MA students in economics from SFU. Those were the only ones they would waste their time interviewing.” He said proudly.

During his time at SFU, Jones supervised over 100 PhD and MA students. Their gifts, from scrolls, to a bright ash tray, and even an ornate beer stein decorated with wolves, are still on display in his office.

Jones was also the Graduate Chair and he also recruited talented students and helped place graduate students, while having some fun along the way.  In 1999, he took a class of students on his boat.  With 22 students on board his 45 foot long boat, they took a cozy day trip with a strange detour when they came across a half sunken boat in the middle of the Burrard Inlet.

Bailing out the unlucky sailor, they towed him as far as their rope lasted. When the rope broke, the sailor thanked Jones and his students and rowed towards Fisherman’s Cove in West Vancouver.

“All he wanted was a can of beer and two cigarettes. He was soaking wet.  We lit the cigarettes and he stuck them behind his ear and he rowed onwards,” Jones laughed. Jones’ boat continued on to their original designation, Gambier Island, and they had a pleasant afternoon.

Jones is looking forward to many sailing trips in the future during his retirement. Although he promises to stop in the Department from time to time when he is not visiting all the beautiful islands around the world.