The Wake Forest Charlotte Graduate Finance Club has set the bar high.
The newly formed club held its first event on Wednesday, April 11 in the new Wake Forest University Charlotte Center. A full classroom more than 50 people from a variety of Wake Forest programs (Charlotte Evening MBA, Charlotte Saturday MBA, Full-time MBA, MSA and MA) attended a panel of finance professionals. The panel featured Private Equity, Investment Banking, Commercial Banking, Asset Management, Audit, and Compliance.
“It was a really diverse group with a lot of helpful advice,” said Lawrence Sansone (MBA ’12), a second-year full-time MBA from the Winston-Salem campus.
The panel discussed a variety of subjects, including career progression, the value of an MBA, soft and transferable skills, and how to switch to a finance career.
“Know what you want to do before you do it,” said Ryan Simmons (MBA ’11), an Investment Grade Credit Research Analyst with TIAA-CREF. Simmons offered three suggestions on ways to discover what career is the best fit for a student: 1) shadow someone; 2) be honest about what your skill set is; 3) be resilient.
“Have the ability to fine tune your internal barometer,” said Dan Niccum (’04), a vice president at Brookwood Associates. “Know when you need to dig into a financial model versus taking a 30,000-foot view, when to move at a fast pace or a strategic pace.”
Those career-evaluating tips may be especially salient for students interested in investment banking. Students often intend to pursue that career for salary, prestige, and experience. But the panel offered wise words of wisdom for students considering that industry.
“There are no transferable skills to prepare you for the rigors of the buy- or sell-side,” Adam Richeson (MBA ’11), who works in business development at private-equity firm CapitalSouth Partners, said. “There are sleepless nights, and giving up time with family. You have to really enjoy the working environment.”
Members on the panel from non-investment banking careers offered encouraging advice for students whose personality and skill set do not match investment banking/private equity.
“People are driven for their first job by how much money they can make, but I have seen people who are much more passionate about their jobs have a lot more success,” said Wes Beckner, a regional president for BB&T’s commercial bank.
“The word is equi-finality,” Ravi Correa, a senior vice president and chief accounting officer for RoundPoint Mortgage, said. “Don’t think there is only one way to get where you want to go.”
Students know they will develop the hard skills needed to succeed in a variety of finance careers from the Wake Forest curriculum. However, they were interested to learn what soft skills are necessary to develop before graduation.
“Building rapport with clients is critical,” said Matt Lindberg (’02), who serves as a vice president in the industrial group at Wells Fargo’s Investment Bank. “You really need to form long-term relationships.”
“Trust and relationships are what get deals done because valuations are relatively close nine times out of ten,” Richeson said.
The relationship management and communication skills are also needed internally, according to Beckner. “When you integrate with several areas of the bank on a routine basis, how you develop those relationships is important so that you always receive cooperation.”
The students were also interested to learn that their opinions can be valued from the very beginning of a new career.
“The thing that sets people apart is if you know your stuff and then speak your mind,” Correa said. “Nobody wants a ‘yes’ man. People appreciate ideas.”
“Know your stuff and challenge people. It is a skill that is appreciated,” said Anna Engstrom (MSA ’11), a compliance analyst at Wells Fargo Securities.
Members of the panel lauded students for choosing a finance path because “those skills are probably the most transferable” to other companies and roles. They also expressed that students were making the right education choice to further their career prospects.
“Getting my MBA showed I was committed to asset management, and that I wanted to stay for the long term,” Simmons said. “It was a game changer for me.”