The annual Boston College Finance Conference is known for taking a broad cut at its subject, featuring high-profile speakers on matters that bear directly or indirectly on financial markets—from monetary policy and geopolitics to technology and business innovation. The 2024 Finance Conference held May 2 on the Chestnut Hill campus was no exception: presenters included a former U.S. secretary of defense, a former Fed President, two leaders of NFL franchises, and an AI scientist.

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General James M. Mattis

General James M. Mattis, who served for two years as defense secretary during the Trump administration, headlined the in-person conference attended by nearly 250 finance professionals, policy makers, academic researchers, and others. The four-star general highlighted the crucial importance of strategic alliances amid a variety of global threats that he said leaders in financial services “can’t ignore.” He spoke at greatest length about Russia and China, including the challenges they pose to international security and democratic values.

Mattis pointed out that President Biden was able to spearhead a quick and unified Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine precisely because of America’s traditional alliances, namely with European nations. “That is our strength,” he told conference participants. “Allies, allies, allies. That’s how we have to move forward.” Referring to his former commander in chief’s “humiliation of NATO,” he added, “It’s a fantasy that you could just walk away from that.”

John and Linda Powers Family Dean Andy Boynton

John and Linda Powers Family Dean Andy Boynton moderates "The Big Business of the NFL" panel.

A 44-year veteran of the Marine Corps, Mattis also issued a warning: “If Ukraine falls, our number one trading partner, Europe, will be totally consumed by the Russian threat.” Calling Ukraine “the shield of Europe,” he said it would be “at most 2-3 years before Russia moves on” to Finland, and Western Europe would be only a year or two behind. According to Mattis, Europe knows this, as dramatized by the fact that Sweden ended a 200-year tradition of neutrality within two weeks of the Russian invasion and joined NATO. Finland, which was neutral all through the Cold War, entered NATO as well.

Other speakers at the Finance Conference included:

Eric Rosengren

Eric Rosengren presents his economic overview.

  • Eric Rosengren, who served as president and CEO of the Federal Reserve of Boston from 2017 to 2021. At a time of intense speculation about the timing of interest-rate reductions, Rosengren brought the audience into the thinking of the Federal Reserve. He noted, for example, that the Fed was looking for “two consecutive positive reports” on inflation before it begins lowering interest rates. On that basis, he told the finance professionals and others to “expect 1-2 reductions” during the remainder of the year, although he cited the possibility of no rate changes. Rosengren cautioned the Fed against waiting too long to begin easing rates. “The longer that rates stay high, the more we’ll have risks to the banking sector” as well as to the broader economy, he said. Nearly two months later, the Fed seemed on track for no more than one rate reduction before 2025.
Jonathan Kraft and John K. Mara

Jonathan Kraft, P ’24, and John K. Mara, P ’03, '05, '08, '12, share a laugh during their panel conversation.

  • Jonathan Kraft, P ’24, president of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots, and John K. Mara, P ’03, ’05, ’08, ’12, president, CEO, and co-owner of the New York Giants. The two discussed the business of the NFL, together with John and Linda Powers Family Dean Andy Boynton, who moderated the session. Citing dollar figures that show the NFL has “greater than the combined value of all other professional sports,” Boynton asked what the future growth possibilities might be for the NFL and whether it has reached saturation. Kraft and Mara agreed that an expansion of the NFL (more teams) is not in the offing, but they envision playing more games in Europe, possibly extending the season for each team from 17 to 18 games, which would help broaden the league’s fan base internationally. They addressed an assortment of other issues such as the NFL’s embrace of sports betting, about which Mara expressed ethical reservations. “I just worry that we’ll create more problems with people … [developing] gambling addictions,” he said.
Anima Anandkumar

Anima Anandkumar discusses the state of AI technology.

  • Anima Anandkumar, 2023 Guggenheim fellow in computer science, former senior director of AI research at NVIDIA, and a Bren scholar at Caltech. With Seidner University Professor Paul Romer as moderator, much of the conversation centered on what AI still needs to learn to truly have the impact on business and products that many have predicted. Romer explained that humans are able to respond to rare occurrences—while driving, for example—and quickly extrapolate what they should do. “Machines don’t seem as good as that yet,” said Romer, a 2018 Nobel Prize winner in economics. That’s because, Anandkumar explained, AI needs to go beyond an understanding of each single event and gain a deeper sense of how objects interact in the world. “There’s a lot more about knowledge of the physical world that these models can’t account for,” she said, adding that scientists can take the next steps by way of simulations for learning that machines can do “millions of times faster than human simulations.”

Videos of the Mattis, Rosengren, NFL, and AI sessions are available at the Carroll School’s website until July 16.

William Bole is the director of marketing and communications at the Carroll School of Management and editor-in-chief of Carroll Capital.


Photos by Dominic Chavez.