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HEC Vernimmen Award Clocks in 25 Years of Rewarding Teaching Excellence

The 25th Vernimmen Awards saw two top HEC academics rewarded for their outstanding approaches to transmitting knowledge to the business school’s students. The annual event celebrates teaching and innovative pedagogical methods, reflecting the pioneering works of the late HEC finance professor Pierre Vernimmen. In front of French Minister Delegate Jean-Noël Barrot (H12) and Dean Eloïc Peyrache, the 2023 laureates Pascale Defline and Georg Wernicke enjoyed a festive evening which also marked 50 years since Pierre Vernimmen began his career at BNP Paribas.

2023 Vernimmen laureates Pascale Defline and Georg Vernicke, saluted by jury members Sophie Javary and Andrea Masini. © Daniel Brown

“It was important for me to be here this – and every – year because I learnt almost all I know from HEC and I’ve applied a lot of the Vernimmen textbook to what I do on a daily basis. In fact, I still have the latest version, co-signed by [HEC finance professor] Pascal Quiry, on my desk.” The words, spontaneous and sincere, came from the French Minister Delegate  in charge of Digital Transition and HEC professor Jean-Noël Barrot, and hold a certain weight. Barrot continued, waxing lyrical about the importance of such annual occasions: “I’m very attached to this community and this reward for teaching is a very important recognition. I’d like to congratulate the two colleagues distinguished this year. Although,” Barrot added with a smile, “I have to note that they come from the accounting and strategy departments and my heart still lies in the finance department…”

Over 100 people gathered in the BivwaAk! headquarters in central Paris on September 20 in the course of a festive evening ceremony. It was an appropriate setting for an award to academics helping to transform HEC students’ lives through the quality of their teaching. Indeed, this is where BNP Paribas has established its transformation hub through innovation and collective performance. The jury president, Sophie Javary (H80) is both Vice-Chairwoman of the bank’s Corporate & Institutional Banking EMEA and lecturer in finance at HEC. For the past two years, Javary has headed a composite jury of 16 involving bank staff, HEC academics and three student representatives. “It’s very important for us to recognize the quality of pedagogy over the years,” she said after the ceremony. “When you have a good professor, you remember her or him for your entire life.” As a long-time observer of this award, Javary noted the changes in teaching approaches these past 25 years: “While there has been a degree of continuity, the COVID 19 crisis brought many changes in terms of the tools academics are using. The pandemic has forced professors to reflect more on the links they have with students. It’s been the silver lining on the cloud: COVID was an accelerator of many innovations in terms of teaching, the hybrid approach has facilitated the internationalization of HEC and its student body.”
 

A Quarter Century of Continuity

michel ferrary

Professors Michel Ferrary (left) and Jacques Olivier, 1998 Vernimmen award-winners © Daniel Brown
 

The continuity was guaranteed at the ceremony thanks to the presence of the first two laureates of the Vernimmen Awards. Finance Professor Jacques Olivier and Michel Ferrary of the HR Management department had set the ball rolling back in 1998 and they were on hand to witness the rewards for the new laureates. The winner of the non-tenure Professor of the year category (regrouping affiliate, education track, associate professors, etc), Pascale Defline, is one of only four professors to have received the award for a second time. “This is an honor which goes straight to the heart,” Defline confided. “I’m savoring it as much as the one I received in 2017.”

Another era for the financial world. The professor in accounting agreed that the biggest changes she has experienced is the result of COVID: “It forced us to use more agile forms of teaching. It also accelerated a decision for me to adapt a reverse learning technique which has proven very effective.” But what hasn’t changed for Defline is the very foundation of her pedagogical approach: “I have put the human aspects at the very heart of my teaching,” the new Academic Director of the Accounting, Finance and Management program explained. “I accompany them throughout their HEC experience and see them mature and develop as they prepare for the internships, recruitment and forays into the professional world. This consolidation of all they learn is a true reward for me.” The teacher in financial accounting continued: “I have to admit I love teaching the Grande Ecole students above all else. I find it very refreshing to be challenged by these young students, we really have stimulating exchanges.”

This passion was also relayed by the 2023 Vernimmen winner of the Research Professor award, Georg Wernicke. The Associate Professor in the Strategy and Business Policy insisted on the importance of recognizing the engagement to teaching by the school’s researchers: “As a scholar, I'm most often evaluated based on my research output, and hence, I deeply appreciate the recognition for innovative pedagogy conferred by the prize,” said Wernicke, who was accompanied at the ceremony by his partner and baby girl. “My teaching philosophy resonates with the ethos of this Vernimmen prize – where the world of education meets the business world. It also resonates with my dual passions – one for advancing the frontier of knowledge and the other for disseminating new knowledge through teaching to influence a generation of future leaders positively.” This approach was lauded by the HEC Dean of Faculty and Research Andrea Masini. In handing over the award, Masini described new Executive MBA programs Wernicke introduced this year, including the popular “How to be an Effective Board Member” class. “Georg proved his pedagogic qualities by associating his latest research insights with practical skills. This award recognizes this transmission in which both Georg and Pascale help students to understand complex concepts in clear and practical models.” This year, Wernicke’s executive course was further enriched by guest appearances from seasoned practitioners and star guest speakers who generously shared their board experiences with the participants.
 

Widespread Recognition for a Pioneer

As much as anything, the Vernimmen Awards were an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of one of the school’s most impactful finance professors. “Pierre Vernimmen taught me everything and was probably one of Europe’s finest professors in the field,” confided Eric Lombard (H81) who devoted his entire career to the financial sphere. The admiration appeared mutual: “I did my internship in his service at BNP Paribas,” continued the current Director General of France’s Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, “which was the ultimate form of recognition and really moved me.” Lombard was at the heart of the complex merger between AXA and UAP back in 1993 and the contribution of his erstwhile teacher was crucial: “While we were negotiating this merger, Pierre was constantly advising us on the attitude to take. He had the mind of a professor, but he was also very good at human relationships and psyche. His advice proved crucial.”

Lombard continues to contribute to the updating of Vernimmen’s seminal textbook “Finance d’entreprise”, or “Corporate Finance: Theory and Practice”, advising and writing the back cover text. “Of course, the financial world is evolving with new products and infrastructure. But what’s impressive is that, even after almost 27 years since he passed away, Pierre’s sound reflections and analysis are as probing as ever. The Vernimmen, as we call his book, shows what a great professor he was.”

Overseeing and updating The Vernimmen is HEC Finance Professor Pascal Quiry. He was recruited by Pierre Vernimmen both to Paribas’ fusion/acquisition department and to HEC’s finance department. By then, the textbook was 12 years old: “We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of its publication next year,” Quiry explained before the ceremony. “I think between now and then it will have sold over a quarter of a million copies, quite a phenomenal figure.” Admiration for Vernimmen’s legacy was shared by all those present at the award ceremony on September 20, 2023. “Pierre would probably have been very proud of this heritage,” “said Sophie Javary,not just for himself but for his family, his wife, his children who continue to promote his works. It’s so important to know that there is continuity with the book and the prize. They reflect the fact that Pierre was both a man of action and someone who encouraged the thought process and the importance of learning, bringing something of value to both clients and students.”