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In a 40-plus year career notable for path-breaking work on capital structure and innovations in capital budgeting and valuation, MIT finance professor Stewart Myers has had a remarkable influence on both the theory and practice of corporate finance. In this article, two of his former students, a colleague, and a co-author offer a brief survey of Professor Myers's accomplishments, along with an assessment of their relevance for the current financial environment.

These contributions are seen as falling into three main categories:

  • Work on “debt overhang” and the financial “pecking order” that not only provided plausible explanations for much corporate financing behavior, but can also be used to shed light on recent developments, including the reluctance of highly leveraged U.S. financial institutions to raise equity and the recent “mandatory” infusions of capital by the U.S. Treasury.
  • Contributions to capital budgeting that complement and reinforce his research on capital structure. By providing a simple and intuitive way to capture the tax benefits of debt when capital structure changes over time, his adjusted present value (or APV) approach has not only become the standard in LBO and venture capital firms, but accomplishes in practice what theorists like M&M had urged finance practitioners to do some 30 years earlier: separate the real operating profitability of a company or project from the “second-order” effects of financing. And his real options valuation method, by recognizing the “option-like” character of many corporate assets, has provided not only a new way of valuing “growth” assets, but a method and, indeed, a language for bringing together the disciplines of corporate strategy and finance.
  • Starting with work on estimating fair rates of return for public utilities, he has gone on to develop a cost-of-capital and capital allocation framework for insurance companies, as well as a persuasive explanation for why the rate-setting process for railroads in the U.S. and U.K. has created problems for those industries.