For this blog, we caught up with Dr. John D. Sullivan, Chair of the Administrative Sciences department at BU’s Metropolitan College, and instructor in the ELLM program’s Mergers and Acquisitions course. Dr. Sullivan is a noted expert in health care policy, valuation, and finance; and has used his extensive background to help create a unique offering in the ELLM program which is highly-regarded by students for its multidisciplinary approach. He will be teaching the course again in this year’s Summer Budapest session with a residency of June 19- July 1, 2017. We asked him to discuss his background, and how it helps animate his approach to teaching his M&A course:
What are some of your career and academic highlights in doing M&A work?
I left the investment world after the junk bond crisis in the early ’90s, and then I found myself immersed in a world of mergers and acquisitions in the health care industry. We purchased companies throughout the United States, Asia, and Latin America. I found that a legal and financial background enables ones to see the implications of decisions made on asset valuation and risk. There are many grey areas and judgment calls at the intersection of finance and law, and part of my course asks students to grapple with those issues.
What will students take away from your M&A course?
My hope is that students will learn strategy, legal issues, and have an idea of the financial ‘backbone’ of the deal. In many respects, the lawyers that work on a transaction do not really talk to the bidders financing the transaction, which can have a huge impact on the final result. I think we can bridge this gap using a multi-disciplinary approach to the class in which we look at both the financial as well as the legal issues since they impact each other.
What has your teaching experience been like in the blended-online environment?
Having taught this course four times now I can say with confidence that I think the blended approach is great. We can have students from all over the globe who participate online, and when we meet for the first time during the residential session, it’s like magic. Everyone is prepared and I’ll say it’s fast paced, but by the end of the day, we are all better for it. As a professor, it is very gratifying to see how well things gel with everyone.
In terms of content, how does your M&A course differ from a traditional law school course?
When this course was originally offered in the ELLM some years ago by another instructor, it followed a much more ‘traditional’ Mergers and Acquisitions model like that taken by JD students as an upper year elective. When Ian recruited me to teach this course, he and I both agreed that a focus solely on legal theory in a M&A course for working practitioners was not the best approach. In my professional life I have seen time and time again how a proper background in both law and finance is indispensable to understanding corporate deal making– after all, it is considerations of taxation and finance that tend to drive the transactions, and having at least some understanding of those issues thereby helps in understanding what your client is trying to accomplish and how to best structure the transaction. As such, in this course we focus on the overall transaction. This is not about just reading case law, as we also explore the strategies and finance behind the deals. We will go through case law, of course, but students will get to experience the other pieces of the transaction that complement what they need to know if they want to practice in this field. For lawyers this approach is often a little scary at first — they sometimes say, ‘hey, we have to talk about finance too!?!’ — but by the end of the course they really understand how everything ties together and why the finance side is as important as the legal side.
What are some of the things you like best about teaching in the ELLM program?
The ELLM program is very special. As a faculty member that has taught in this program several times, I would say that it is always the students that get me up in the morning. With such a wonderfully diverse group of highly-educated and experienced people, I often tell my friends I feel guilty learning as much as I do from them! Students in this program are motivated and ask tough questions. The engaging environment is a wonderful atmosphere to teach in and I look forward to my class each year.
What are some of the recent updates you’ve made to your course and how do they address current issues in M&A?
For the course being taught in Budapest in 2017, I’ve made some alterations where we will now focus a little less on finance and a little more on law. While it is important that students understand that negotiations may (and do) have a very real impact on valuation, there are other considerations as well. I try to make tweaks every year based on student feedback, my own impressions of how the course has gone, and to reflect updates in the law and policy. By doing so I am confident that the course will always prove useful and interesting to the students who take it — and that has been reflected in the student evaluations. Many times they say “I wasn’t sure about the approach at first, but I see now how helpful it was to study the issues holistically from both a legal and financial perspective.” I find that very rewarding.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that as much as I enjoy teaching this course every time, teaching it in Budapest is extra-special. It is a gorgeous city that provides a wonderful backdrop, and it’s nice to be able to sit along the Danube and ponder on course readings! We also get students from our partnership with ELTE and Lazarski in the courses offered in Budapest, and the richness of their backgrounds adds another layer on top of that of the ELLM students– it all makes for a truly dynamic teaching experience. I look forward to seeing everyone there!