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Stanford Report, March 11, 1998

Profile of Graduate Fellow Scott Hemphill: 3/98

Scott Hemphill: Looking at institutions that shape economics

Scott Hemphill came to Stanford because he is fascinated by what he calls "the seams between the fields." He's intrigued, for example, by the ways a nation's laws shape the businesses that support its economy. He'd like to know how the culture of an industry like software evolves from the attitudes of its workforce and the personalities of a few dominant leaders. With his base in the department of economics, he hopes to tackle questions like these that require input from law, political science and business as well.

"Stanford is a good place to look at how institutions shape the decisions that people make," he says. "It is probably tops in the world in microeconomics. And there are scholars throughout the university who are trying to understand how incentives are shaped by legal and institutional constraint."

He had already accepted an offer to join the economics department when he heard he had earned a Stanford Graduate Fellowship. "I was ecstatic to hear about it," he says. "It provides some space to take chances in other fields ­ to root around for concepts and conclusions that might be of broader interest."

His fellowship is named for the late Martin Lee Johnson AB '53, and supported by a donation from his brother, venture capitalist Franklin P. Johnson, B.S. '50. Hemphill says he's looking forward to meeting him. "Pitch Johnson has been instrumental in making Silicon Valley what it is today. I hope these fellowships might deepen the interaction between practitioners like him and academics," Hemphill says.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Hemphill took an equally broad course of study, focusing on international relations in a program taught by economists, political scientists, sociologists and philosophers. He later won a Fulbright Scholarship to earn a master's degree from the London School of Economics. However, the major influences on the direction of his curiosities have been his experiences overseas.

It started with a Boy Scout Jamboree in Australia, where he says he saw "a taste of international relations . . . enough to realize, for example, that Koreans were resentful at being mistaken for Japanese but not enough to know why." In college he led the Harvard Model Congress Europe, held in Luxembourg each year to give European high school students a taste of the democratic political process. Before starting on his master's degree, he worked for two years in an international strategy consulting firm that sent him to analyze business practices and conditions in Asia, South America and Europe.

"I got to thinking about issues I wanted to push further," he says. "I wanted to become a producer, not a consumer, of knowledge. There's an attraction to being an expert in something."

Hemphill grew up in Johnson City, Tenn., hiking and whitewater rafting country "between the Appalachian Trail and the Smoky Mountains National Park." The son of a physician and an elementary school teacher, he says he can envision himself as a teacher and scholar. "But the nice thing about an economics degree is there are a bunch of places you can take it." SR


Photo by Linda Cicero