Pirates Eye on Kristin Kucsma '91
Throughout Kristin Kucsma's professional career, there has always been a common theme: a passion for people. A Seton Hall alumna of the class of 1991, distinguished Seton Hall professor, and now managing director of the Sobel Tinari Economics Group, Kucsma's approach to economics prioritizes people; a philosophy that has helped her to succeed in the field of academic economics as well as forensic economics.
Kucsma's professional journey began with an early interest in numbers that was fostered by her family. "As a little girl my dad used to give me all types of math problems and questions. I loved it and I was really good at it," says Kucsma. Her skill in math, and her family's background in science (her father, a chemistry major and grandfather, a physics professor) first pushed Kucsma towards a career in scientific research. However, as she progressed through high school, her plans began to change. "I still remember spending one of my first days in a chemistry lab. It was really interesting, but I remember thinking to myself 'Wow, if I was doing this day in and day out it just wouldn't be for me because I love working with people.'" As Kucsma explored more social professions, economics caught her eye. "Economics was the perfect blend for me because there's a lot of math, but at its heart what we do in economics is study human behavior. For me it was the perfect fit. I could continue doing math, I could study human behavior, I could work with people and it just allowed me to develop all my interests and all of my skills in one major."
Currently, Kucsma applies her expertise in economics to her position as managing director, principal of the firm, and senior economist at the Sobel Tinari Economics Group. Her responsibilities involve not only overseeing the day to day operations of the firm, but actively engaging in the economic research necessary to provide a type of economic consulting called forensic economics, which involves using a technique of economics for a very specific purpose. Kucsma cities some of the cases she's been involved in, including motor vehicle accidents, wrongful deaths, wrongful incarceration and medical malpractice. "The starting point for us in all of those cases is 'If the thing hadn't happened, from an economic perspective what would his or her life have been like?'" Answering this question involves calculating the losses in salary and benefits that would have been maintained if the event had not occurred. It also requires applying monetary value to services and activities that do not typically have an economic value, such as managing and cleaning a house, providing rides to one's children, and providing guidance and counsel to one's spouse. "We really recreate the story of a person's life with a particular focus on the economic side of things. … It requires the use of an economic theory as opposed to simply looking at a paycheck and trying to figure out what somebody was earning."
Prior to her position at Sobel Tinari, Kucsma had a successful career as a professor at Seton Hall, as well as at Drew University and St. Peter's College. Her academic career began as a Seton Hall student, where she pursued a degree in economics, volunteered as a peer advisor for incoming freshmen, and held a teaching assistant position for Dr. Alfredo Kraessel. Her position as a teaching assistant and a peer advisor provided a "first taste of teaching" and instilled an interest in further pursuing education as a profession and ultimately working with college students. Seven years and two degrees later, Kucsma was contacted by her former professor Dr. Jack Jordan about an open teaching position at Seton Hall. "Dr. Jordan was a really important mentor of mine when I was an undergraduate." Kucsma explains, "He's one of the professors that encouraged me to go to graduate school and someone who ultimately brought me back to Seton Hall to teach." Kucsma taught at Seton Hall for nine years, and one of her main goals was to cultivate a sense of community, by actively engaging with students both in and out the classroom. Her involvement as a professor and faculty advisor for the economics club led her receipt of seven awards from the Stillman School of Business, the Equal Opportunity Program, and Alpha Kappa Psi.
Ultimately it was her close ties to others at Seton Hall that led Kucsma to her current position at Sobel Tinari. While working at Drew University, Kucsma began to consider her career options, and decided to give Frank Tinari, a former professor of hers at Seton Hall, a call, "I was really just trying to have a general discussion with him about what I might do next. … And at that point he said 'well, I'm looking for an economist.'" One lunch meeting and a few conversations later, Kucsma was hired as an economist for Sobel Tinari, and ultimately succeeded Tinari as the head of the company when he retired.
When asked what advice she would give to current Seton Hall students, Kucsma draws from her own life, thinking back to her transition from professor to forensic economist to managing director of a multimillion dollar business. "Don't be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and to make mistakes. If it doesn't work out, if you fail, there's a very valuable lesson in that. That's really what allows you to ultimately find something that is going to be truly satisfying."
At the beginning of the year Kucsma was listed by NJBIZ as one of the Best 50 Women in Business for 2017. She is recognized alongside four other Seton Hall alumnae including Board of Regents member Mary Ann Christopher, M.S.N. '82, Lisa Osofsky, M.S.T. '91, Agnes Antonian, J.D. '00, and Anne S. Babineau, J.D. '77.