Karma Hadjimichalakis (1944-2011) demystified macroeconomics for generations of students and executives

February 22, 2011

Karma doing what she did best, teaching

Karma Gaetano Hadjimichalakis, Principal Lecturer in Business Economics and Finance at the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business, died Monday, February 21st, after a long illness.

Over more than four decades, Karma demystified the study of macroeconomics for thousands of executives and students at the Foster School. 

“It’s a rare person who can deeply comprehend the global economy.  Rarer still is the person who can communicate that knowledge to students of diverse educational and professional backgrounds. Karma did this with boundless energy and endearing warmth,” said Foster School Dean Jim Jiambalvo.

Early career

Born on January 21, 1944, in Utica, New York, Karma was educated at nearby Elmira College and earned master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Rochester.

She joined the faculty of the University of Washington in 1970, initially in the Department of Economics and then at the Foster School of Business.

The turning point of her career was a two-year stint as Visiting Economist at the Federal Reserve Board, from 1980-82. There she learned the art as well as the science of monetary policy in the confusing days following the deregulation of the banking system. At that time, the Fed, led by Paul Volcker, was trying to reduce the high and rising inflation of the late 1970s and early ‘80s.  In her work with the banking section of the Fed’s Division of Research and Statistics, Karma developed the ability to provide penetrating analyses that painted accurate assessments of the current economic situation and provided invaluable information to policy makers.

Teaching excellence

Her time at the Fed also led her to realize that teaching was her true calling, and the source of her greatest potential contribution to economic knowledge.

She returned to the University of Washington with an insider’s understanding of the inner workings of the Federal Reserve System and monetary policy. And she spent the next three decades sharing this expertise with a cross section of the Foster School of Business—undergraduates, MBAs, Technology Management MBAs, Executive MBAs, Executive Education students, even C-level Advisory Board members.

Karma’s unique credentials earned her the titles of “Principal Lecturer” in Business Economics and Finance (one of only two at the University of Washington) and Evert McCabe Faculty Fellow.

She won more than 45 major teaching awards at the Foster School, including the first PACCAR Award for Excellence in Teaching, the school’s highest recognition of teaching excellence.

Her twice-annual economic forecast lectures became a standing-room-only event—packed shoulder to shoulder with current and former students energized at the chance to be back in Karma’s lively “classroom.”

Karma’s intellectual curiosity never rested. In the early 1990s, she added an international dimension to her banking knowledge by becoming Faculty Director of the Pacific Rim Bankers Program, the UW’s three-week executive education program for senior bankers from more than a dozen Asian nations. Her travels around the Pacific Rim, in this capacity, only broadened her perspective on the increasingly global economy.

Human side of macro

Whatever the audience, Karma possessed the rare ability to synthesize complex macroeconomic theory and then communicate it in terms that were accessible to those who lacked a PhD in economics. Moreover, she did so with style, grace, warmth, humor, humility and humanity. And because of this, she was not only an outstanding educator, but also a beloved one.

Former students universally speak of themselves as “privileged” and “blessed” to have had the opportunity to study under Karma. They tell of her ability to link theory to real-life examples, making macroeconomics fascinating and even fun. They also speak of her profound impact on their lives.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a 2002 graduate of the Foster EMBA Program, said this: “Karma went above and beyond the call of duty—not just to present course material, but to also make herself available to us outside of the classroom to answer questions and ensure our understanding and application of the coursework.  She challenged my study of economics and how to craft successful public policies in a free market economy.  Quite simply, they don't come any better.”

“Her words and teachings resonate every time I read an article or a report about economics or macro business issues,” said fellow Karma acolyte John L. Smith (EMBA 2006). “I am such a better consumer of financial information because of Karma and can make better strategic decisions because of her teaching.”

“Karma operated in the classroom under one of Einstein’s guiding principles: make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler,” said John Avery (EMBA 2010).

And from Kelly Britz (EMBA 1992): “Every time I open a newspaper, read a magazine, or listen to the current news, I hear Karma's voice inviting me to think, consider the situation, its inputs, the recent actions and the possible consequences—and then wonder, ‘What would Karma say?’ ”

“Although all of these aforementioned attributes make Karma an exceptional professor, they do not define the significance of her impact,” offered Geoff Urbina (EMBA 2009). “Simply put: Karma cared. She cared about us as individuals and strived to advance not only our professional development, but also our personal development.”