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Setting sail

Mustafa Gültekin

The idea was as simple as it was brilliant. To Professor Mustafa Gültekin, it was just the right thing to do.

Investment management courses are common at business schools, integral stops on the way to finance careers. Several simulate stock market investing, ordinarily with an imaginary fund or a real one tightly controlled by faculty.

But Gültekin has never been ordinary.

In 1999, he created the Applied Investment Management (AIM) course at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, now an integral part of the Center for Excellence in Investment Management. Students primarily run the show by managing live portfolios through 13 managed funds totaling $18 million, including the Global Perspectives hedge fund, now worth more than $2.5 million. A faculty team supervises them, but the potential for success or mistakes is in the students’ hands.

“Letting students be in control is what really differentiated us,” says Gültekin. “It was unorthodox at the time. “I remember one of the deans asking us, ‘Are you really going to have them do this?’”

All Gültekin said was, “Yes.”

A restless soul

Nearly 25 years later, AIM remains one of the most popular experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates and MBA students, run out of the high-tech, straight-out-of-Wall-Street Capital Markets Lab (CML). In addition to the Global Perspectives Fund, students manage the UNC Kenan-Flagler Private Equity Fund and the Real Estate Fund.

Mustafa Gültekin

Gültekin (first row, far left) at the launch of the Capital Markets Lab in 2008

Gültekin has seen numerous alumni who take AIM get on a fast track to career success. He knows because he keeps in touch with them, which he’ll continue to do after he retires in June 2024 after 39 years at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

“UNC has such a big presence in finance in the U.S. and overseas,” says Gültekin. “Our alums help each other. They’re very successful because they understand what it takes to be successful. My goal is always to make sure that our students feel empowered to take charge in and out of the classroom.”

Everyone wants to have Gültekin as a professor, a colleague or a friend. To many, he has been all three.

He’s unfailingly kind and available, known for dropping everything to help a colleague and spending hours with a student stymied by a challenging project. When he visits New York he always catches up with alumni working there, likely over a few beers.

Joining UNC Kenan-Flagler in 1985, Gültekin has taught undergraduate and MBA courses on the principles of financial management, investments, financial modeling, real estate capital markets, computer-aided investment strategies and corporate finance. He has led PhD seminars on financial and portfolio theory.

He also has been a consultant to major corporations around the world and served on the boards of a hedge fund and a biotech company and as president of the European Financial Management Association.

From 1995 to 1997, he took a leave of absence to become the founding dean of the College of Administrative Sciences and Economics at Koç University in Istanbul.

And when not in the classroom, Gültekin, who served as a lieutenant in the Turkish Navy, is likely found on Keltia, the 43-foot catamaran he crossed the Atlantic Ocean on in the summer of 2022.

Mustafa Gültekin retirement catamaran

Mustafa Gültekin at the helm of his catamaran, the Keltia.

Jennifer Conrad, a finance colleague and close friend, calls him a “restless soul” in the very best sense of the phrase.

“If I do the same thing over and over, I get bored,” Gültekin says. “One thing that I love about the AIM course is that it’s not the same every year. It’s based on the students involved at the time and their interests. It changes because the world is changing.”

An unexpected career

When Gültekin first came to Carolina, he had been applying for jobs in large cities — Boston, Chicago, San Francisco — with a plan to eventually return to New York University (NYU), where he was associate director of the Management Decision Laboratory and visiting assistant professor of finance. His wife, Mabel Miguel, was getting her MBA in international finance.

Carolina was the final stop on his job search, something of an afterthought when colleagues urged him to seriously consider it.

As soon as he met the faculty at UNC Kenan-Flagler, he was hooked.

“The caring, supportive people who I met that day of the interview led me to take the job and my colleagues since have been a big reason why we’ve stayed,” he says. “The spirit of collegiality has always been enormous.”

Another factor was that the School has a doctoral program, which was important to Gültekin’s research agenda and enabled Miguel to earn her PhD at UNC Kenan-Flagler. She later joined the faculty as an organizational behavior professor.

Conrad was up for the same job as Gültekin in 1985, and the Business School hired them both. They have worked closely together since, having major roles in shaping the scope of the finance area through faculty recruiting and retainment, curriculum updates and developing new opportunities for students.

They have children who are roughly the same age, and their families quickly became friends.

“Mustafa was more of a mentor to me than anybody else here as we navigated the assistant professor role together,” says Conrad. “He is such a kind person and always has been. He’s very giving of his time, but it’s never just his time. He would literally give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.

“He spends more time with students individually than any other finance professor I have ever seen. He’s just devoted to them.”

Discovering finance

Gültekin knows the difference the right mentor can make. His father was a civil servant and a high-school dropout, and since his father moved frequently for work Gültekin went to numerous schools in Turkey as a child. His mother left school in the first grade to help care for her siblings and never learned to read and write. His parents cared deeply about their sons’ education, and his older brother, Bülent Gültekin, became a finance professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mustafa Gültekin

Gültekin celebrates the winners of the 2023 Alpha Challenge student investment competition

Gültekin was always preternaturally curious and a bit mischievous. He and his brother once took apart his father’s sewing machine just to put it back together again, and they stole sheets from home to use as rowboat sails.

He was not a good student, preferring to skip class in college to go sailing, skiing or mountain climbing. When he thought about his future, he thought most about sailing around the world.

But his intelligence couldn’t be ignored. While earning his bachelor’s in physics at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, a prominent particle physics professor said he would write letters of recommendation for Gültekin to top doctoral programs but only if he dedicated at least 12 hours a day to his studies.

Gültekin began applying his curious nature to his formal education. A new program at the university combining physics and computer science with electrical engineering caught his eye. Soon, he was designing circuitry and computer programs to solve complex equations with real-world applications. After finishing his master’s degree in operations management from Bogazici University in Istanbul, he worked as a research scientist at the university and came to the U.S. for the first time in 1976 for a two-month project at NYU.

He stayed at NYU after he was offered a job as the technical director of the Graduate School of Business Administration’s Management Decision Laboratory, an ahead-of-its-time center for computer-based simulations of business operations. He completed his PhD in finance at NYU and became associate director of the lab.

NYU faculty and laboratory staff worked closely with Gültekin, mining his talent for computer programming and numerical analysis and applying it to finance. For his first consulting job outside of the lab, he programmed a Hewlett-Packard calculator to compute option-pricing estimates for an options trading firm.

“Finance is a field where we can create products before there’s a need for them,” he says. “When you get a chance to create something really new, you take it.”

Celebrating the impact of UNC Kenan-Flagler Professor Mustafa Gültekin.(1:23)

A legacy

When he retires, Gültekin’s AIM course will be in the hands of faculty who have long benefitted from his mentorship and continue to build upon his pioneering legacy.

These leaders include Riccardo Colacito, faculty director of the Center for Excellence in Investment Management; Gill Segal, director of the Capital Markets and Investments concentration in the Full-Time MBA Program; Pramita Saha, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Investment Management; and Ranjit Thomas, professor of the practice of finance, who leads the AIM course with Saha.  The center, founded in 2007, expanded its hands-on-training offerings thanks in part to a gift from Jim Jones (MBA ’06), a former student of Gültekin’s, founder of the Alpha Challenge, and one of many alumni who work with finance students through the center.

“Mustafa’s mentorship and support have been so important to me,” says Colacito. “I spent countless hours talking with him about his experience and the critical needs we needed to address. In times of need, I knew that I could always count on him.”

Mustafa Gültekin

Miguel and Gültekin on the Keltia anchored off of Maine

Gültekin will miss that. He’ll miss all of it — advising on course materials that need revising and spending time in the Capital Markets Lab with students who he says keep him young.

But he will have time to reach one of the few long-held goals he hasn’t already accomplished.

“I’ve sailed up and down the Atlantic coast of the U.S. to the Caribbean Islands and spent many happy months in the Bahamas. I sailed to Maine after the COVID lockdown was over and last summer crossed the Atlantic,” he says. “But before I get too old, I want to sail Keltia through the rest of the Mediterranean, over those clear blue waters.”