By Robert Hunter
Derivatives Strategy, March 2000
Oldrich Alfons Vasicek is perhaps the most unlikely member of the Derivatives Hall of Fame. That he ended up studying derivatives at all can be chalked up to pure happenstance. Had events occurred differently in his early years, Vasicek might well have spent his career studying nuclear physics or marine biology rather than default probabilities. The derivatives world is fortunate things turned out the way they did.
Vasicek, now 58, was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and was drawn to mathematics at an early age. His father, a lawyer, had suffered through the vastly different but equally onerous political systems of Nazism and Communism, and believed his children should choose careers in the physical sciences, which were less vulnerable to political crosscurrents.
At his father's urging, Oldrich studied nuclear physics at the Czech Technical University, but never lost his passion for mathematics. When the university introduced a new degree program in pure mathematics for selected students, Oldrich jumped at the chance. In 1964, he earned a master's degree in math.
Immediately after graduating, he enrolled at Charles University in Prague to pursue a PhD in probability theory. He earned his diploma four years later, just as Soviet tanks rolled into Prague to restore order to an unraveling government. Within five days of the invasion, Vasicek and his wife, a physician, boarded a train leaving the country. ...