An Interview with Karen Clarke

EB: Your book Short Term Finance and Working Capital Management was published in 2011. Tell us little bit about your background and how you got involved with writing a textbook on finance?

KC: Ed, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you today. I have enjoyed two careers, banking and education. My banking career spanned 35 years. I started as a teller with First Interstate Bank out of high school to support myself through college. I finished my degree 20 years later, and my son drove me to my college graduation. I earned an accounting degree, graduating Magna Cum Laude.

By the time I graduated from college I had progressed through all of the branch positions and was manager of the local corporate center. My career took off at that point first into Area Sales Management then into Corporate and Government Cash Management. In 1998 I took a product management/marketing job in Wells Fargo Headquarters (First Interstate Bank was acquired by Wells Fargo Bank). In 2000 I founded a corporate training university within Wells Fargo Bank.

After finishing my bachelor’s degree I also attained the Certified Treasury Professional certification from the Association of Financial Professionals (AFP). Initially this certification aided my ability to work with corporate and governmental clients. Upon founding the corporate university I was able to work more closely with AFP’s educational aspects and developed a strong respect for their program.
During this same time period I studied at the University of Washington, graduating from the Pacific Coast Banking School with honors and publishing a paper on electronic commerce.

In 2004 I transitioned from banking to teaching. I left the bank, completed a Master’s Degree in Teaching and was fortunate to be able to then instruct courses at Southern Oregon University. I am currently teaching undergraduate and graduate finance and accounting courses.

I started writing curriculum in 1990. Accounting and lending were the first topics. I added cash management topics in 1995. I have always been intrigued by the process of teaching and prefer to find ways to make learning interesting and knowledge relevant. I worry that we don’t spend enough time helping individuals understand the financial rules of the road. So, I have spent the last twenty years finding ways to share knowledge about finance.

EB: In writing your book, you worked with a coauthor? What was the collaboration process like? And what was the role of the editor? Who did what?

KC: A group of us have collaborated over the years teaching and developing finance curriculum. After leaving the bank to pursue university teaching I worked on a writing project with a mutual friend of Dubos Masson and myself. I later learned that Dubos had a writing project underway, we met and discussed the book, and I am fortunate that he asked me to join him.

Because we both entered the project with the same vision, collaboration has been smooth. The editor set up an electronic workspace that is easily attainable for file posting, sharing and editing.

This textbook is a bit unique, it is a college textbook version of the book that serves as the content knowledge for the AFP certification exam I mentioned earlier. Dubos is the lead author on the AFP Certification Exam book. He was able to take the certification book and use it as the basis for the new college text book we are talking about here. Our goal then was to write a textbook that provides intermediate level financial management knowledge designed for the university audience.

I should tell you a little about Dubos Masson also. He currently teaching at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. He received his PhD in Finance from Indiana University in 1983, and is a notable writer and speaker in the finance field.

EB: What was the biggest challenge in writing a textbook about finance? It seems like finance would be a moving target, giving the changing regulatory situation.

KC: The biggest academic challenge is as you note in your question, the financial landscape is changing. We opted for a dual strategy in the textbook to meet this challenge. First we identified the stable financial topics such as formulas and historical events. For those topics we were able to develop in depth discussions and learning tools.

Then we identified those topics which are in a state of flux such as Dodd-Frank regulation and International Financial Reporting Standards. These topics are explained in the textbook as current events that require following outside of the textbook for one to remain current.

I have been teaching finance topics for over 20 years now. The fun in teaching finance is that it always is changing, so my goal in teaching finance is helping people know what to watch out for and where to look to avoid surprises. The biggest people challenge in teaching finance is helping people get over their fear of finance and settle into the nuances that make it so interesting to pursue.

EB: What’s been your biggest enjoyment of about writing a textbook? And the biggest surprise?

KC: My biggest enjoyment is the opportunity to write a finance textbook from a financial literacy perspective as contrasted to a didactic perspective. The format allowed for new writing perspectives. Because it is an electronic textbook, tools can be created that are easily downloadable for instructors and students. We are already talking about the second edition, which will allow for more creative learning tools. I am very fortunate that Dubos wants us to add more and do more with the book.
My biggest surprise is my amount of personal research increased. I thought I would be focusing on refining what we already had. But I find myself reading more because I am writing more.

EB: Is there anything you would do differently in retrospect?

KC: I haven’t had time for retrospect on this project yet. Ask me again in six months. What I will say about retrospect in general is that I waited two years to write again between projects. That was too long. So what I hope is that this retrospective lesson won’t repeat itself and I will keep on writing no matter what.

EB: What was most useful to you as a writer? Particular books, workshops, a particular routine?

KC: I work best with deadlines. Once I know the deadline then I can pace the work. Once I have the topic I will hunt down what I need to finish the project. Transitioning from corporate writing to academic writing has been a knotty process however. I made a special effort to stay current in the finance field by attending the annual AFP Conferences. I read the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. And I follow Malcolm Gladwell’s and Tom Friedman’s books and articles. Of course, a good mystery now and then keeps me sharp as well.

EB: Do you have some future writing projects in mind? More academic work, or possible a mystery? I think it would be interesting to have a detective who is a forensic accountant…

KC: I am exploring a financial literacy venue and haven’t settled yet on whether these would be articles or blogs. The forensic accountant detective idea is intriguing however…maybe I’ll start with a short story.

EB: Excellent. Thanks so much for talking with us.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology was released by Oxford University Press in June of 2014.
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