A Memorial Note About Christopher L. Culp (April 7, 1969 – June 30, 2020)


Chris Culp, or simply Culp as he was invariably known, died unexpectedly and leaves a loss in the world and in the CEI community to which he was instrumental.

He came to CEI at the tender age of 17 as our first intern on the strong recommendation of his mentor and professor at Johns Hopkins University, Steve Hanke. Culp had already completed a year of study with Hanke who, for the next five decades, would refer to him as “one of my boys.” They became family. Indeed, Hanke recently wrote, Culp was “the greatest student that I have ever had in my 51 years at the Johns Hopkins University.”

A precocious young man, Culp had talked his way into the rigorous economics program after appearing, unannounced at age 16, in Hanke’s office and passing an impromptu oral exam. After Johns Hopkins, Culp would earn a Ph.D. in financial economics from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. He was an adjunct faculty member at Booth from 1998-2013.

While in graduate school, Culp began to work with Nobel laureate Merton Miller. Their collaborations produced a series of influential journal articles and a co-authored book, Corporate Hedging in Theory and Practice. In all, Culp authored or edited five books, including Corporate Aftershock: The Public Policy Lessons from the Collapse of Enron and other Major Corporations with Bill Niskanen.

In addition to leadership positions in private consulting firms with a specialty serving as an expert witness in some of the most complex financial market cases in the world, Culp remained rooted in the academic community and the development of ideas. He was a research fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health and Study of Business Enterprise, where he also served as Co-Director of its Studies in Applied Finance working paper series. He held professorial positions with the Swiss Finance Institute and at the University of Bern in the Institute for Financial Management.

Fran Smith recalls how, when Culp was with CEI, the CEI staff would good-naturedly refer to him as Doogie Howser, the fictional medical doctor and boy genius in the eponymous television show. Culp possessed a quick laugh and took his work very seriously. Once on a weekend in the mid-1980s, Andy Thompson was running errands and stopped by the office to pick up something when he found Culp at work, alone, and dressed in a three-piece suit. When asked about the formality, Culp succinctly replied that dressing for work helped him think clearly.

Indeed. He thought clearly, quickly, and thoroughly.

In 1995, Culp authored a primer on derivatives for CEI. The paper illustrates characteristics of Culp’s work that repeated throughout his career. It is clear, thoughtful, nuanced, and illustrates highly complex topics in a language available to laymen. He was on the leading edge of an issue that would soon emerge as central to the relationship of financial markets and the regulatory state.

That policy paper was dusted off as a reference as recently as 2016, when CEI prepared and filed comments in an Securities and Exchange Commission proceeding. Some of you may have met him when he spoke on regulation, derivatives, and credit default swaps at a 2018 CEI luncheon in New York—as always, approachable and engaged as well as at the forefront of a leading issue.

He had a penchant for firing off back-to-back emails, several thousand words long and on entirely different topics. I know because upon receiving them it would sometimes take me days to formulate useful responses.

Culp’s time was in great demand and he frequently traveled the world, especially to his beloved Switzerland, consulting. He advised in the courtroom and in the boardroom, and was intimately involved in a behind-the-scenes role with government leaders during the Asian financial crisis.

I last visited with Culp in New Orleans at CEI’s recent policy summit. We shared an animated breakfast, where our conversation ranged from the foundations of capitalism and Fred Smith’s vision for CEI to the Swiss Alps and to antitrust regulation, the subject of the upcoming panel.

Above all, I remember the sparkle in his eyes. Culp was in full form and exuded joy. Only later did I learn that Culp had stayed awake until 4:30 a.m. the night before engaged in a lengthy conversation with other guests at the policy summit. They told stories, they debated, and they reveled in relationships built on a shared pursuit of ideas.

Christopher Culp was a man of faith. Now he is among the eternal. And though it is the natural order of things, we miss him dearly.

Requiescat in pace