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Spirit is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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High Stakes

A competitive finance program in Mays Business School helps students reach their Wall Street ambitions.

BY CHRYSTAL HOUSTON

It’s a 1,600-mile-drive from College Station to New York City, but a chasm as wide as the Rio Grande in culture, experience and opportunities lies between the two. Bridging that gap can be a challenge for Aggies with a burgeoning passion for finance but little experience outside of Texas.

That’s where the Aggies on Wall Street program is making a difference. The high-impact program within the Department of Finance at Mays Business School equips top students with advanced training and access to opportunities in the highly competitive investment banking and private equity industries.

Now in its 23rd year, the program asks Aggies established in finance careers in New York for something far more valuable than simple monetary support: their time and their wisdom.

Aggies on Wall Street advisory board member and financial supporter Dan Sparks ’89 knows the students’ struggle firsthand. Recalling his own story, he said, “The biggest challenge for me was that I didn’t really know about the opportunities. At the business school back then, we didn’t have much exposure to careers outside of Texas. I was lucky that a few places I interviewed with in New York gave me an opportunity.”

After a long and prestigious career with Goldman Sachs, Sparks is now the CEO, CIO and founder of Shelter Growth Capital Partners. His hedge fund was recently ranked seventh in the world by Barron’s. Today, he’s investing in the current generation of Aggie finance graduates so that they won’t have to rely on luck; they’ll have a powerful network of Aggies to help them achieve their Wall Street ambitions.

Creating The Network

With more than 20 years of experience in investment banking and private equity in the United States and in Europe, Philippe Hercot, executive professor of finance and director of Aggies on Wall Street, knows what it takes to have a successful career in finance. “We are constantly adapting and changing the program to meet the demands of the job market,” said Hercot, who collaborates with Dr. Sorin Sorescu, longtime head of the Department of Finance. One recent shift was moving the program up a year to maximize the recruiting cycle. Previously, students joined Aggies on Wall Street during their junior year, but Hercot and Sorescu recognized that to make them more competitive, they had to start sooner.

The program begins with an application process at the start of students' sophomore years. While some students are still settling into college and considering a major, the 16 to 20 students chosen to participate in Aggies on Wall Street each year must start thinking like professionals. Only those with strong analytical minds, a willingness to invest significant time and effort in and out of the classroom, and students who seek a fast-paced, demanding and competitive career are considered for the program.

That career is anchored by an internship that occurs the summer between their junior and senior years. If they work hard and add value to the employer, that internship should conclude with a job offer. Recruiting for internships now begins as early as the spring of students' sophomore years.

The traditional finance major doesn’t tackle topics like corporate finance or investment banking until their junior year. Aggies on Wall Street students take these challenging classes as sophomores. They are also expected to keep abreast of current economic and financial news, as well as read additional books assigned by faculty. In their junior or senior year, they must master advanced financial modeling—curriculum not presented elsewhere in the business school.

The first year of the program concludes with a month-long investment banking seminar. Immediately following the class, students travel to New York, where they visit 35-plus investment banks, hedge funds, private equity firms and other financial companies. They are hosted by Aggies or connections of theirs who work at top firms from Credit Suisse and JP Morgan to Blackstone, Goldman Sachs and KKR. They also share meals with Aggies and friends of the program who open their homes and their contacts to students. Each interaction, whether in a boardroom or a living room, is an opportunity for students to learn and build their professional connections.

Hard but So Helpful

Mason Fugger ’20 went on the New York trip last spring. The experience was not a relaxing field trip. “It was meetings back to back to back,” he said, noting that their day began at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 10:30 p.m., at which point they went to their rooms to read case studies and prep for the following day’s visit, often until past 2 a.m. “You think you’re ready and you go into it knowing you’re going to work hard, but you get there and it’s like drinking from a firehose the whole time.” Students had to research each of the companies and complete assignments before and after each visit.

It’s better to hear negative feedback than to not know what you’re doing wrong.

A lot of preparation and high-level participation is expected by the hosts, as well as Hercot. He demands much of the students in the classroom and even more on the trip. “He gets you accustomed to harsh, critical feedback,” said Fugger. “He will tell you that you are completely wrong in front of a big group. Most people would be surprised that a professor would do that, but it’s part of the environment in this industry. It’s better to hear negative feedback than to not know what you’re doing wrong.”

“I keep them on their toes. My style is a little bit intense,” Hercot agreed, noting that he has students approve in writing before the program begins that he may give them feedback in front of their peers for career preparation. “Wall Street is very competitive, and they must be up for a serious challenge. They have unrivaled access to the builders and culture creators of Wall Street in this program, and they have to make the most of it.” He insists that students make a good impression while in New York, knowing that their career depends on it.

The students understand the stakes and appreciate his approach. He has a stack of thank you notes on his desk, written by students after the trip. “Your teaching style forced us to quickly learn from our mistakes, think outside the box, and grow at a very fast rate,” said one. “Thank you for pushing us and making us believe we can compete with the best,” reads another. “Your guidance has meant the world to me.”

Aggies Coast to Coast

Hercot hopes to expand the program eventually to include Boston and Philadelphia, where world-class asset managers are based, as well as a West Coast tour where students could meet venture capitalists. “So much of our future depends on Silicon Valley,” he said. “It would be just as eye-opening for Texas A&M students to visit there as it is in New York City.” Though the program has Wall Street in the title, he noted that, “our students could have great careers in finance in other places in the U.S. and internationally.”

The program prepares us with soft skills and technical skills so we can go anywhere and be successful

This summer, Aggies on Wall Street senior Richa Shorey ’19 completed an internship with global investment bank William Blair, within the technology group at its San Francisco branch. She worked with a team of investment bankers on sell side M&A transactions, IPOs and other valuation projects. A lifelong Texan, Shorey loved spending time in a new state and in a new area of the industry. “This program is extremely helpful for those of us who want to work in finance outside of oil and gas investment banking, which is largely what is available in Texas,” she said. “The program prepares us with soft skills and technical skills so we can go anywhere and be successful.”

Shorey was delighted to receive a full-time offer with William Blair at the end of the internship and will be joining them after she completes her senior year at Texas A&M.

Mentorship is a big part of the program. Final-year students like Shorey mentor first and second-year students, while being mentored by two professionals working in the industry. The professional mentoring relationships typically last until students enter the workforce. Once they are established in their careers, they become mentors to the next generation.

It makes me proud to give back to the program that helped me so much.

Aggies on Wall Street graduate Ben Benita ’14 is an associate at Spire Capital, a leading middle market private equity firm in New York. He mentors current students and hosts them at his company when they visit the city. “It makes me proud to give back to the program that helped me so much,” he said, noting that it was on his trip to New York as a student that he was first introduced to Barclays, where he eventually interned and started his investment banking career. “Aggies on Wall Street opened the door for me to build relationships with people in the industry; that was the key to getting interviews. It’s an honor to give back and help students achieve the same dream.”

Living the Dream

Thom Krauss ’89, Citi’s head of capital introductions for the Americas, and Catherine Flax ’85, CEO at Pefin, a financial tech firm, also host students, mentor and provide financial support for the program. Well-connected in the city, Krauss and Flax both advise students on navigating details beyond the workplace.

Krauss, a father of four and two-time Ironman finisher, said he sometimes hears from Texas A&M students that they are intimidated by Wall Street culture, unsure of how they could find a work-life balance. Krauss tells them it’s like how he trains for a triathlon—he must commit to working incredibly hard, but not forever. “Working in finance is like any top career,” he said. “If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you have to put in the work at the beginning. If you really want to catalyze momentum in your career, it’s going to be a big push for the first few years.” New hires are known to work 80 to 100 hours per week initially.

There isn’t a single student we’ve hired for an internship that we haven’t made an offer to.

Flax leads a firm that is developing the world’s first artificial intelligence technology for financial advising. In addition to career-oriented requests, she gets a lot of lifestyle questions from young Aggies: How do you build not only a career but also a life in the city? “I love it here. It’s a rich environment with so much going on,” she said. “Before I came to New York, I wondered how in the world people raise children here, and now I’ve raised three! I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.” Flax recommends graduates get involved with the local A&M club and points out that New York Aggies is the largest A&M club in the country outside of Texas. “It’s a valuable resource, and its members are eager to help newcomers navigate the city,” she added.

Flax and Krauss have both hired Aggie interns and testify to their quality. “It’s terrific to work with students who are extremely well-trained but who also have such great attitudes,” said Flax.

Krauss agreed, saying that Aggies’ lack of entitlement and willingness to learn is a refreshing change on Wall Street. He also noted that Aggies tend to be more well-rounded and have more leadership experience. “There isn’t a single student we’ve hired for an internship that we haven’t made an offer to come back,” he said.

Aggies on Wall Street is not only important to student participants, but also to the university. “We can’t say we are one of the top business schools and finance departments in the nation if we don’t have students working on Wall Street and in other financial hubs,” said Hercot. Many East Coast schools have a well-beaten path to New York due to their proximity. Aggies on Wall Street levels the playing field so Texas A&M students can compete with grads from Ivy League schools and succeed.

That’s a big part of why Craig McMahen ’89 is involved with the program. “When I started my career, there were very few Aggies in New York. The Ivy League schools had a network on Wall Street and Texas A&M didn’t,” he said. Today, McMahen is managing director in the investment banking department of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. One of the original founders of Aggies on Wall Street, he recently established an excellence fund for the program. “I want to improve salaries for graduates and improve the national reputation of Texas A&M,” he said. “If we open doors to the top students, this program will pay dividends.”

Making it to Wall Street

Aggies on Wall Street students pay $3,000 for the two-week trip to New York, which covers part of their expenses, such as lodging and some travel. “We don’t want there to be a high cost barrier for students,” said Hercot, stressing the value of scholarships that can enable students from all economic backgrounds to participate in the rewarding program. Many students at Texas A&M are the first in their family to attend college, notes Hercot. “For first-generation students in particular, this program can be a bridge to Wall Street and other opportunities they may not have otherwise,” he said.

Endowed scholarships may be created with a $25,000 gift, while excellence funds to offset student and administrative costs for the program may be established with endowed gifts of $50,000 or more. These funds will allow the program to continue expanding while keeping costs at a reasonable level for students.

Contact:

Brian Bishop '91

Assistant Vice President for Development
Mays Business School