Research & Innovation

The Power of Thinking

“How do you think? Can you think on your feet? No matter what your answer is, can you defend it?” These are questions that Edward (Eddie) Johnson (BE ’84) posed to a class of undergraduates when he guest lectured a Capital Markets class this past spring. Working closely with Howe School of Technology Management professor Jan Klein, Johnson utilized real-life case studies to introduce students to working for a private equity shop. His goal was to simulate the entire process for the class, allowing them first-hand analytical experience and the opportunity to show their thought process behind their decisions. Johnson is definitely an expert when it comes to thinking on his feet. A chemical engineering major at Stevens, he began his career at Chevron. After several years there, Johnson decided to investigate alternate career paths, and became an MBA candidate at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated as a Palmer Scholar, one of the top five in his class, with a focus on finance and strategic planning. From there, Johnson went into consulting, and moved quickly into private equity. He joined Credit Suisse in 1998, where he currently serves as managing partner of the DLJ Merchant Banking division in the New York City office. “It’s been a constant adventure since 1994,” said Johnson. “I’ve had the best jobs in private equity in the world.” Eager to share that experience with students at his alma mater, Johnson was initially reconnected with Stevens through outreach by the Office of Advancement. He hadn’t been back to campus since 1995, when he played in an alumni basketball game, and 15 years later was excited to see all the changes that have occurred. While on campus, he spoke with students, and came up with the idea to provide this special insight into private equity and also guide students with career advice. Partnered with Professor Klein, Johnson conducted his case study in several phases. First, he provided the students with a real-life, interesting case for them to read and analyze. The Capital Markets class was broken up into five groups of approximately five students each and a conference call was conducted to simulate a meeting with the management team of a small company. The students could ask questions and talk to the “banker” before ultimately deciding whether or not to buy the business. “I wanted to make this fun and interactive,” Johnson explained. “My goal was to clearly illustrate what it’s like to work in a private equity shop.” Several days after the conference call, the class met to discuss their decisions – and most importantly, how they came to those decisions. Johnson led the group discussion and began by telling students: “There is no right or wrong answer here; this business is built on judgment calls. You have to be prepared though, you can’t just wing this. You need to be able to defend your thinking, vision and of course, your final decision.” A lively discussion ensued, with all students engaged in the case study. Johnson provided guidance throughout and often probed deeper to encourage the students to articulate their thought process. At the conclusion of the class, the students left with three distinct impressions that Johnson had set forth: a taste of life in a private equity shop; the ability to consider many factors when making the decision to invest; and an idea of whether or not private equity is the right career path. Johnson would like to continue this partnership with Stevens, preparing students and providing additional first-hand experience through case studies, guest lectures and career guidance. “A Stevens education is so disciplined. It teaches you to think which is a very powerful tool no matter which career path you choose,” concluded Johnson. “Even though my undergrad degree is so far from what I do today, my Stevens education was invaluable for providing that essential tool.”