Syracuse University Magazine


Tom Barkley

Math Matters

Growing up in Brazil where his parents were Christian missionaries, Tom Barkley discovered he had a passion for mathematics. He enjoyed helping schoolmates with their homework, and by age 15, knew he wanted to be a math teacher. “I have the ability to simplify math problems and break them down into smaller bite-size chunks,” says Barkley, a professor of finance practice at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management whose mother is from Kentucky and father is from Northern Ireland. “I take tremendous delight in seeing students have that light-bulb moment when they finally grasp a complex concept.”

At 16, Barkley moved to Northern Ireland to live with his aunt and uncle on their farm while he finished high school under the British education system. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Imperial College London. After college, Barkley tried applying his math skills to business at a branch of NatWest Bank just outside London, but soon became bored because it only required basic arithmetic. “I got a post-graduate certificate to become a high school math teacher,” he says, “and was hired to teach at Kingsway Academy in the Bahamas.”

After five years of island life, Barkley eventually settled in Syracuse by way of the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, where he earned an MBA degree; the Texas-based Enron Corporation, where he worked for the research group; a year managing his father’s Christian bookstore in Brazil; and the University of Florida, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in quantitative finance. A Whitman faculty member since 2007, he teaches courses in corporate financial policy and strategy, derivatives, working capital management, and financial analysis. “As a professor of practice, I bring an understanding of how business and research work on the other side of the fence,” Barkley says. “With one foot in academics and the other in business, I can tell my students about careers in finance and what they need to focus on in their studies.”

In addition to his academic activities, Barkley sits on the supervisory committee of a local credit union, works for the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, and teaches a Bible class. And he indulges his other passion—billiards—which he learned by playing with his cousin out in the barn on his Irish uncle’s farm. “Billiards is a mathematical game,” says Barkley, who is a member of the American Poolplayers Association. “It’s all about understanding friction, how the balls bounce, geometry, symmetry—it’s a great way to relax.”

Barkley says many people ask him why he stays in Syracuse when he has lived in so many warm and sunny climates. “At first it was difficult to adjust to the cold weather, but after a few years I asked myself, ‘Why would I want to move?’” he says. “I work with some of the greatest people and do a job I love. I tell my students if they can find a job they’re passionate about and are good at, they’ll never ‘work’ a day in their lives.” —Christine Yackel

Photo courtesy of Tom Barkley