Ron Forbes, Living Legend
Ron Forbes' impact on the School of Business is almost immeasurable.
Even though he retired more than 20 years ago, Professor Emeritus Ron Forbes’ name routinely rings through the halls of the School of Business. For all the right reasons. During his tenure, Forbes established a robust training arena for municipal finance, preparing his students for impressive careers. According to finance faculty and Associate Dean for International Programs Rita Biswas, he was one of the few faculty members who could teach both theory and application with authority.
Forbes maintains that the start of his college career was unpromising. His undergrad years at Dartmouth were notable, in part, for his receiving the worst grade in his calculus class. Forbes lasted exactly 32 days at Michigan Law, leaving on his 21st birthday, but only after watching Michigan football face-off against Army. "I liked Big 10 football, but not law," he explained.
His prospects immediately improved at the University of Buffalo. Forbes met his wife, Jean, earned a PhD in finance and was immediately hired by UAlbany, where he taught from 1970 through 2000.
Soon after arriving in Albany, Forbes was approached by an economics professor requesting help researching municipal bond credit ratings. The pair arranged a conference and wrote a grant on the bond rating system. In 1975, Forbes was asked to participate in a larger project.
New York City was about to default on its debt and was looking to Washington for help. The Public Securities Association had a large data base of bonds nationally, but didn’t have the capacity to manage it. They asked Forbes and others to update it and determine the impact, if any, on New York and other large cities. Forbes organized a team of MBA students who worked five days and five nights straight, with occasional breaks for Frisbee on the third floor of the old business building. His student team constructed a database that worked. "The statistical analysis swayed Congress to bail out New York City," said Forbes. He still has the thank you letter from then-governor Hugh Carey.
The Public Securities Association opted to continue the project with Forbes and his students, providing funds to pay the students. When the Securities Data Company took over, it was with the caveat that Forbes’ team maintain the database.
"I was lucky. We had fantastic students who ended up as some of the best analysts hired by municipal banking firms. They knew the field and knew how to work," said Forbes.
One of those outstanding students was Paul Leonard, decades before he was named dean of the School of Business. Leonard was among those who worked on the New York City project, organizing eight to nine boxes of computer punch cards, no easy feat in a pre-spreadsheet world. Leonard left UAlbany to earn a PhD and then returned, working alongside Forbes, who calls him a friend and “a person who works hard.”
In 1978, Forbes was asked by Merrill Lynch to be an independent director of a municipal bond mutual fund. This experience led to invitations to more boards. He was elected chair of the Merrill board when it was sold to BlackRock in 2004, where Forbes served as co-chair to a group of funds. "We revisited the way of evaluating performance, such as active share," said Forbes. When Merrill sold its fund advisory business to BlackRock, Forbes was elected to be independent director and co-chair of a large number of funds.
Forbes retired from UAlbany in 2000 and from BlackRock in 2014.
The legacy continues. Forbes’ son Jonathan, an investment banker, was hired by UAlbany alumnus Neil Flanagan '84. Forbes calls his son, “the most courageous person.” Though Jonathan was paralyzed in an accident, he persevered and went on to become deputy treasurer of the state of Colorado, now retired. Forbes’ grandson Austin Lang is pursuing a career in public finance. He works as an analyst in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Business mixed with pleasure in the 1990s, when Forbes was asked to asked to assist the newly democratic Czech government to establish a bond market. He spent five weeks each year in the Czech Republic, with his wife Jean joining him at the end to tour Europe.
Eventually, he took trips with his grandchildren, "minding the gap" in London, attending an Arsenal soccer game, racing up the stairs of the Cologne Cathedral, visiting Dachau and hiking in the Dolomites, as well as touring Rome and Venice with his sister.
In 2011, the entire family met in Maui for 12 days to celebrate Ron and Jean’s 50th wedding anniversary.
Forbes said, "I loved teaching, and really enjoyed working with students. We worked hard and had good times. My greatest satisfaction was in seeing students do so well in their careers. I knew they were just as good as the ‘Ivies.’ At eighty, I have been so lucky in life with my great family and friends (including students). Now, I am just waiting for the snow to fall, the pandemic to end, and to strap on the skis again."
The former finance professor continues to be revered in the University at Albany School of Business. Named in his honor are the Alumni of Professor Ronald Forbes Classroom and the Alumni of Professor Ronald Forbes Scholarship, which is provided annually to the top two finance students.