Banque AIG in Paris
A native Oregonian, CHC alumnus, and UO Foundation trustee, Jim Shephard ’80 followed a path from Eugene to Paris and back again. We caught up with him after he was named as the new chair of the CHC Advisory Council.
Jim grew up in Eugene, and learned about the Clark Honors College from his high school English teacher. At the CHC, Jim crafted his own major in the humanities by taking upper level courses in history and English literature, French language and literature, art history, music history, and Old French to pursue his interest in medieval civilizations.
Guiding him through-out his CHC years were two mentors, Professors Michaela Grudin and her husband Robert Grudin. As Jim recalls, “(Michaela) was a literature professor at the CHC and she taught a Chaucer class my freshman year. That was my introduction to the medieval world. She challenged me, (and) she was very good at critiquing my analysis and writing. She was passionate about her subject, and made me passionate about it too. Her husband, Robert Grudin, a professor in the English department, encouraged me to pursue a general humanities major as a precursor for going to graduate school and law school. They were both very strong influences.”
“ My hope is that 100 percent of CHC students will go overseas. ”
— JAMES SHEPHARD
Jim spent his junior year studying abroad in Poitiers, France, describing it as “an exciting experience living in a town that had an architectural and cultural heritage from the Middle Ages.” After returning to complete his degree and write his honors thesis on maritime law in the Middle Ages, he applied for and received a French government teaching fellowship through the Fulbright program. He returned to Poitiers and eventually completed two graduate degrees at the Centre d’Etudes Supérieures de Civilisation Médiévale, a master’s and a Diplôme d’études approfondies, a post master’s degree, roughly equivalent to completing oral exams for a PhD in the United States.
Jim recounts that his focused research on maritime law and commerce in the Middle Ages taught him a lot. “Doing original research you learn a lot of things about the subject, but also about learning itself. I discovered that I enjoyed tackling a difficult subject. When I began my research, my advisor was pessimistic that I would actually be able to find something original because it was a topic that had been extensively studied, researched, and written about since the fifteenth century. . . 500 years of historiography. Scholars in England, France, the Netherlands, and Germany had all looked at this subject, trying to answer the same questions that I was trying to answer, namely how did these laws come about, where did they develop, and what were the reasons for them. After a lot of footwork and research, in 1985 I made a breakthrough and identified a key manuscript that contributed to resolving the questions that nobody had previously considered important. In 2004, I published an article on my discovery in a collection on the Lex Mercatoria that included scholars from around the world in Comparative Studies in Anglo American and Continental Legal History, published by the University of Tübingen in Germany.”
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the UO, Jim enrolled at Tulane University where he originally intended to study maritime law. After his first year, he decided to explore the possibility of practicing law in France and decided to switch his career path to business law because maritime law generally involved litigation, and at that time non–French citizens were not admitted to practice before French courts. After obtaining his JD from Tulane, he took a job with a major international American business law firm, and moved to their Paris office. His knowledge of French and graduate degrees from French universities were crucial in bringing Jim the opportunity to work in France. After moving to Paris, Jim became a French avocat when the law changed to allow admission of non–French citizens to the French bar. He adds “wearing the traditional black gown and being sworn in as an avocat in the Paris Palais de Justice was definitely a professional highlight.”
In 1994, Jim joined Banque AIG in Paris as general counsel and became president and CEO in 2009. After navigating the treacherous waters of the recent financial crisis, Jim now enjoys more opportunities to see friends and family back in Oregon. As a UO Foundation trustee, and chair of the CHC Advisory Council, Jim has an opportunity to give back to the UO. As Jim states, “in my view, what I’m doing today I’m able to do because a CHC education helps teach you to identify problems, to be creative in solving problems, and to be an effective oral and written communicator.” As one of the first international trustees of the UO Foundation, Jim is at the forefront of helping the UO and the CHC develop an international footprint. With the success of recent alumni events in France, Jim and fellow international trustees are doing just that. As Jim says, “We are trying to work to bring more international students onto campus, and to facilitate the students going abroad. My study-abroad experience was profound, and changed my career in many, many ways. I’m a very strong proponent of international study; it’s a great thing for CHC students. My hope is that 100 percent of CHC students will go overseas.”
The CHC is already receiving the benefits of Jim’s vision. The Shephard Family Scholarship for International Students brings international students to Eugene, while the Shephard Family Scholarship for Study Abroad sends students overseas. As Jim concludes, “I think this is a very exciting time for the university, and for the honors college. The CHC is light years ahead of when I was here; there are more students, more faculty, and the facilities are going to grow. As the honors college grows its footprint within the university it’s nice to be a part of that.”