Jack M. Guttentag

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The Wharton School is deeply saddened at the passing of emeritus finance professor Jack M. Guttentag, who died peacefully on February 6, 2024, at the age of 100.

Guttentag joined the faculty at Wharton in 1962 after serving as chief of domestic research at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. His focus on reform and innovation in banking, monetary policy, and housing finance established him as an expert in the field. He worked with business leaders, policymakers, and economists from across the globe on ways to make housing more accessible and affordable. And he encouraged the use of different mortgage models to benefit a wider swath of consumers.

“Jack was a wonderful colleague and friend. He had an innate curiosity about how things work and, equally importantly, how they could be made to work better,” Wharton finance professor Richard J. Herring said. “Jack’s passing marks the end of an era. He was the last of a small group of scholars who set the finance department on its trajectory to become one of the world’s leading centers for financial research.”

Although Guttentag left an indelible mark on academia, it was his second career, launched after his retirement in 1996, that made him a household name. Known as “the mortgage professor,” he became a tireless consumer advocate. He fought for transparency in the home loan marketplace and wanted people to understand their options. He wrote several popular books on the topic, including The Pocket Mortgage Guide and a nationally syndicated advice column titled, “Ask a Mortgage Professor.”

“He was scrupulously honest and had the highest level of integrity of any person I ever met,” said Allan Redstone, a longtime friend and colleague. “If he thought a policy issue was detrimental, he was completely unabashed about laying it out there. He developed what he thought was the right answer, and he would doggedly pursue it. “

Redstone was in the Wharton MBA program when he first met Guttentag in the 1980s. Redstone wasn’t his student, but the professor hired him to help write mortgage software — an early version of fintech. That project grew into a lifelong friendship and partnership. The two men, along with late Wharton operations and information management professor E. Gerald Hurst, created GHR Systems Inc., a financial services provider for the mortgage and consumer banking industry. That venture was acquired by Metavante in 2005.

Guttentag continued working in housing finance and, in the last two decades, became interested in reverse mortgages as a mechanism for retired homeowners to unlock equity.

“He was a brilliant man, and he was incredibly passionate about these topics,” Redstone said, adding that Guttentag was “sharp as a tack,” researching and writing until just before his death. Herring said that one week before he passed, he and Guttentag had made plans to meet for dinner. Never one to rest on his achievements, Guttentag was always trying something new.

“Jack embraced change. He must have been one of the few centenarians who worked on his computer daily and maintained a website,” Herring said. “Happily, his mind remained sharp to the end.”

Guttentag was born in Brooklyn, New York, and earned his bachelor’s degree at Purdue University before attending Columbia University, where he earned his master’s and doctorate. He married his beloved wife, Doris Guttentag, who worked as a school counselor, and they raised two sons, Adam and Bill, who both graduated from Penn. Adam Guttentag is a radiologist and professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Bill Guttentag is a film director and lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Bill Guttentag remembered his father as always curious, always learning, and a man who embraced life as an ongoing adventure. He turned 18 two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and fought in Europe as an Army artillery spotter — a very dangerous job with a low survival rate. Bill said he believes that surviving World War II was a key reason why his father loved life and wanted to make a difference for others. He worked with the United Nations, the U.S. Agency for International Aid Development, and the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was an avid photographer and scuba diver, and he learned to ride a motorcycle at 55.

Jack and Doris loved to travel. In 1970, they took their young sons out of school and traveled with them around the world for about a year, staying in places where Penn had partnerships with foreign universities and visiting as tourists everywhere in between. During that time, Jack spent a semester teaching finance as an exchange professor in Shiraz, Iran.

“The lessons I learned on that trip as a 12-year-old were enormous and stick with me to this day,” Bill Guttentag said. “He wanted my brother and me to have that kind of exposure to the world, and it was also a window into him.”

Jack Guttentag maintained close relationships throughout his life. Bill said he and Adam have been moved by the sheer number of former students, friends, and colleagues who have reached out to the family to express their affection for the professor. Herring said Jack and Doris were “surrogate grandparents” to his two children; they were so close that Herring’s daughter named her son Jack. And Redstone said his college-age daughter considers Jack her hero.

“I deeply admire him, and what’s become clear is there are many other people out there who also deeply admire him.” Bill Guttentag said. “He was the hardest-working person I ever knew, and he always made time for family.”

Bill said his father’s legacy is a life well-lived.

“He loved what he did, and I think that it goes a really long way,” he said. “But it can’t just be work. You have to love what you do professionally and have a warm and supportive family life. I believe those were his keys to having a fulfilling life of meaning and value.”

Jack Guttentag was preceded in death by Doris Guttentag, who died in 2017. He is survived by his sons, their spouses, and grandchildren: Bill Guttentag and Marina Brodskaya, and their children, Misha and Sasha; Adam and Susan Hall Guttentag and their children, Rebecca and Benjamin. He also is survived by his great-grandson Micah Jin Kim, whom he was very happy to meet shortly before turning 100.