Lifelong Friends, a Successful Career, and Giving Back

Profile of John Simpson, PhD 1978

In his first quarter as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, John Simpson (PhD ‘78) took courses from Professors Neil Wallace and John Hause. From that “very fortunate” beginning, he went on to study under many of the well-known names of Minnesota Economics. He recalls Professor John Chipman’s “elegant” lectures on international trade; classes with Professor Walter Heller, who shared reports from DC, where he was flying back and forth to advise President Johnson; and the insights of Professors Herb Mohring and Leo Hurwicz. Quite an impressive list.

As a newly-minted PhD, John decided not to pursue the academic jobs that most of his classmates did. Instead, he accepted a job at the IRS and moved to Washington, DC. There, he served as an in-house consultant on large audits with a focus on transfer pricing, an emerging area at the time. He recalls, “Until that time, there was very little interest in applying economics to transfer pricing.” While there were some basic guidelines and methods, much of his work involved developing the tools and techniques needed. This frontier work was quite interesting.

After six years with the IRS, John was recruited by PriceWaterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) to start their transfer pricing specialty. He spent the remainder of his career at PwC, retiring in 1999.

When asked what led to his successful career, John quickly replies “luck.” But he acknowledges it was more than that; it was the economic training from Minnesota that allowed him to take advantage of that good fortune.

Lifelong friends

Although the DC area has been home throughout his career and retirement, Minnesota has stayed in his heart. Until recently, John traveled to the north woods for an annual fishing trip with former classmate and lifelong friend Malcolm Burns. He lists more than a handful of fellow alumni he has kept in contact with over the years, a reminder of the strong “extended family” of Minnesota economists.

In reflecting on his career and studies at Minnesota, John offers some advice for students following his footsteps. “They’ve already done a smart thing by deciding to study economics at Minnesota,” he says. “Don’t put blinders on about what’s available out there,” he continues, encouraging students to consider a broad range of career possibilities in academia, government, and the private sector.

Giving back

Over the years, John has been a generous annual donor to the Department of Economics and takes advantage of PwC’s matching program. He likes to spread the wealth by giving to several different fellowship funds named after his professors. “We are grateful for all our donors, but it is especially meaningful when our alumni give to honor their former faculty and support the next generation of economists,” says Tom Holmes, chair of the department.

John has also made a future commitment by including the Department of Economics in his estate plan to support an endowed chair.  When asked about his generosity, John says, “One reason—a big reason—I was successful was the education I got at the University of Minnesota.” In addition, John says, “Minnesota Economics gave me good memories, good times, and good friends.” 

We hope all of our alumni feel the same way.


If you are interested in learning more about planned giving and the tax advantages in making a charitable contribution please contact Colleen Donahue at

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