Timeless Generosity

It may seem a relic from a time long gone, but for decades the Hamilton “Traffic Special” pocket watch has been indispensable for Harry Markowitz, keeping time throughout his life, lecturing the next generation of leaders. Though the ticking of its hands may be a foreign sound to his students, the watch remains steadfast and relevant to the modern age, much like its owner.

Though he turned 90 this year, Markowitz is relatively young when it comes to his career at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management. He began as an adjunct professor of finance and accounting in 2006, yet has since called UC San Diego and the Rady School “my home.” Markowitz’s watch has all the while tracked the minutes of his career at universities around the nation, and will continue its faithful reckoning long after his last lecture, thanks to a planned donation of the timepiece to the Rady School. The donation will be part of a gift that creates the $4 million Barbara and Harry Markowitz Endowed Fellowship, which will benefit Rady students who have demonstrated a financial need or who are from underprivileged backgrounds.

Along with his cherished pocket watch, Markowitz will give the Rady School his 2013 Wharton-Jacobs Levy Prize for Quantitative Financial Innovation, the John von Neumann Theory Prize awarded in 1989, and last but not least, his 1990 Nobel Prize in economics. (No need to wind those.)

That Markowitz has received some of the most prestigious prizes in his field comes as no surprise. When he developed Modern Portfolio Theory in the early 1950s, it was completely novel and groundbreaking. Understanding the need to weigh investment risks against returns, Markowitz developed a formula that analyzed how diversity in investing can achieve optimal results. His formula forever changed investment management, and is still utilized today.

In addition to his pioneering work in economics, Markowitz has also made significant contributions in computer modeling for manufacturing and operations, and developed techniques that are now standard in production software for optimization programs. Such diverse interests and accomplishments have led Markowitz to resist being defined by one subject. 

“My field is not finance. A better definition is something called operations research—the use of mathematics, computers and statistics to solve practical problems. I’m a philosopher.”

Leave it to a philosopher to give the gift of time. Markowitz’s pocket watch, his awards and the gift of education will live on at the Rady School in perpetuity, a timeless reminder of the outstanding impact Markowitz has made to the school and in the futures of the many students he’s taught.