Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The MBA and the CFA

MBA students and professionals in financial services sometimes ponder getting a CFA, especially those in investment management, equity research or investment banking. They do so in the way they have sometimes considered adding a CPA or pursuing the MBA before they got it. In the recent environment of uncertainty, mentors and coaches have encouraged adding a CFA designation to make yourself known from the pack, to help brand you, or to demonstrate competence with prospective employers or even supervisors.

Pursuing a CFA is not a casual step. It requires time, discipline, focus, the ability to amass enormous amounts of information, and the skill in presenting cogent, insightful analysis. Similar to pursuing an MBA. So while students and professionals acknowledge the value of both, they wonder about the value, time and effort in pursuing both.

That's where the CFA Institute can assist. The institute is best known for being the organization that administers the CFA exam and sets standards and guidelines among CFA professionals. Allison Williams, Director of Diversity Outreach at the institute, is reaching out to those in under-represented groups in colleges, in business schools and via diversity partnerships to help them understand not only the value of the CFA, but what it takes to pursue it. They want to answer questions and raise awareness: What professions will likely require it going forward? For Consortium MBA's, how do you pursue both the MBA and CFA? Where do MBA and CFA studies overlap?

Williams and the institute have been instrumental in setting up partnerships with schools and organizations around the country. There are 118 partnerships in place, she says. They include ties to Consortium schools UVA, UNC, USC, NYU, Wisconsin and Cornell. Most recently, she and the CFA Institute agreed to support the Consortium and will be attending this year's Orientation Program in Orlando. The institute, she says, does not suggest the CFA is more useful or valuable than the MBA, but asserts that it helps MBA's enhance what they've already learned or plot strategies to pursue the CFA if they are interested.

MBA's "are already in study mode," she said, highlighting that they have the discipline and habits it takes to reach all three CFA Levels. In finance, some of the MBA/CFA courses of study overlap: economics, corporate finance, investment analysis, equity valuation, portfolio analysis, derivatives, etc.
Hence, Williams says their mission is to tell those from under-represented groups about the content of the exams and to show what they can do to achieve the certification, if they have the interest, time and discipline. They want to show those aspiring for the CFA how the MBA-CFA overlap can be used to an advantage. For example, an MBA student considering the CFA may want to take courses that will also help him/her prepare for the CFA, too. The three Levels of exams are widely known to be progressively difficult. The passing rate declines as a candidate approaches Level III. However, MBA immersion and depth of study help candidates be better prepared for CFA progression.

In some finance fields, just as they may do so with the MBA degree, employers are now either urging prospects to have the CFA or requiring them, especially in investment management or equity research. In investment banking and at private-equity groups, the CFA is not necessarily required, but is regarded as a badge of competence, a way to get inside the door or get promoted.
The institute also encourages networks and relationships between CFA professionals in chapters around the country with MBA students and professionals exploring the CFA. Williams says they want to pair MBA/CFA aspirants, including minorities and women in finance, with CFA professionals.

The Consortium Finance Network will explore sponsoring a webinar to allow Williams and colleagues at the institute to help MBA's decide if they should pursue a CFA, show the specific steps in achieving certification, and explain the contents of both the self-study work and the exam itself. She, also, wants to remind them of specific professions that will likely want to see both the MBA and CFA on the resume'.

For those interested in more, see http://www.cfainstitute.org/. Or contact Williams directly allison.williams@cfainstitute.org for more details about its diversity initiatives. CFN welcomes input about the planned webinar.

Tracy Williams

Friday, May 21, 2010

If It's June, It Must Be OP Time

If June approaches, then the Consortium's annual Orientation Program must be around the corner. This year Orlando (above) will host the big event--always a festive, memorable occasion to welcome over 300 new students to the Consortium family.

Orlando last hosted the OP in 1999 right in the shadow of DisneyWorld. The 44th OP is scheduled June 13-16 this year at the Hilton Bonnet Creek Hotel. True to the tradition of Consortium OP's, hundreds and hundreds of students, university representatives, corporate sponsors, and (more and more) alumni and other supporters will converge on the city to participate in one of the grandest and (increasingly) one of the most important business-school and diversity congregations in the land. One of the biggest networking sessions of all--where students and alumni have ample opportunity to connect with corporate representatives from every corner of the country. And where students get a head start on the business-school experience.

Over the years, OP has offered not only corporate contacts and introductions to b-school classmates and professors, but has afforded special experiences and lasting memories. On the surface, OP is a large-scale networking event. Beyond that, it is more than that--an uplifting event and confidence-builder for the 300-plus students, a launching pad to help them take full advantage of the b-school experience.

Students arrive excited about their having been admitted to top schools or having won fellowships. But they come wondering about the decisions they made and the engulfing academic experience they are about to encounter.

They leave OP energized by new friendships and encouragement from every person in sight. Many come away inspired and connected; many devise well-outlined game plans for how to manage the rigors of courses and recruiting. Some actually come away with actual job offers, although that's not a primary purpose.

Often at OP, there has been the perennially popular "Diversity Theater," featuring real actors playing roles in skits with diversity-related plots followed by lively, heated discussion afterward, an event students had to been torn away from. Through the years, there have been the career fairs, the industry panels, the university programs, and stunning speeches that rouse students and reps to standing ovations.

There have been prizes and events to meet whomever you want, to discuss whatever you wish. There have been private meetings, informational interviews, and academic competition.

There, too, have been the chances for a batch of Dartmouth students to convene for barbeque nearby to set strategy for the fall and just bond with each other. Or there are those moments when Michigan students spontaneously shout, "Go, Big Blue" a few dozen times to whomever around. A feel-good time to supplement the meetings, the connections, the business cards, and the we'll-there-for-you messages from mentors, staffers, and university reps.

There, too, have been the parade of colors--the assortment of reds, blues, greens, and oranges(mostly reds!) emblazoned on the students, who wear school attire, wave school pennants, or sit at decorated school tables. The fiery reds of Wash-U, Indiana, Wisconsin, Cornell, or USC. The cool blues of Michigan, Berkeley, UNC, Yale and UVA. The burning orange of Texas. The conspicuous purple from NYU.

In the 40-plus years of this frenetic, adrenaline-filled convention, experiences differ from year to year based on hosting sponsors, the times at hand, the dreams and desires of students, and the host city itself. That city gets to show off; the hosting sponsor gets to present itself as a most attractive prospective employer.

Minneapolis, for example, has hosted twice (the first time in 1997)--thanks to such sponsors as General Mills, 3M, and Target--and shown that a June Minnesota is as comfortable and fun as the visions of a January Minnesota may not be.

In 1998, OP landed in the middle of Times Square in New York City--thanks to host Chase Manhattan and host school NYU--where students could steal away to bustling Broadway in between sessions.

In Cincinnati in 2001, OP resided just down the road from lead sponsor Procter & Gamble, which had dozens of it reps from all over the globe around and about. San Francisco was a host in 2002, when many were at first concerned about travel in the wake of 9/11. Attendance and enthusiasm, nonetheless, were as high as ever. Well-known state politician Willie Brown addressed Consortium students at one luncheon.

It might have been hot, unbearable outside when the OP was in Atlanta and in Dallas (2008). Yet in both places, the 4-5 days were spirited, lively--with much to do and many to see inside. In Dallas, Pepsio-Frito Lay was a lead sponsor, and host school Texas gladly tooted its horns, happy to have been able to lure its Consortium brethren to the Southwest.

St. Louis in 2006 was a special year, as the Consortium celebrated its 40th year, taking time to reflect on significant progress, the organization's growth, and its evolution. Emerson was a lead sponsor. Banking and finance opportunities had peaked, and nearly a hundred students expressed interests in financial services.

Chicago hosted in 2000. In perhaps its last hurrah before its demise, with a proud public face, long-time contributor Arthur Andersen was a major host. In 2007, OP went to Indianapolis, thanks to sponsor Eli Lily. In one keynote addresss, Consortium alum Derica Rice spoke to students and described his career path from Consortium MBA (Indiana) to CFO at Lily.

Philadelphia and Washington have also been host cities over the past 15 years.

Ask just about any Consortium supporter, student, alumnus, corporate rep, or univeristy rep what they like best about the Consortium experience. The answers will vary, but inevitably they snap and admit "OP" is near the top. Ask others who have heard about the Consortium, some will say they are considering being a part of it--because of "OP."

"Make Your Move" is this year's theme for Orlando. So go ahead and make it.

(For more information, see http://www.cgsm.org/op/OP2010.asp.)

Tracy Williams

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Networking Resources

  • It’s Not Who You Know, But Who Knows You, Presented by Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande - Webinar playback

  • Connect with Consortium members on LinkedIn:
      Finance | HR | Energy  | Marketing & Branding | META | Health Care | Social Responsibility

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Networking Effectively: Who Knows You?

Dr. Benjamin Akande', dean of the school of business and technology at Webster University, likes to tell the story of how he approaches a business networking setting. Recently he walked into a large room filled with business professionals mingling and socializing.

"I sat and watched for 10 minutes. I watched the dynamics of the room to give me an edge," he said. Most were engaged in focused dialogue. Some were meeting, greeting and moving on. Some were performing host duties. Dr. Akande' was devising a plan.

Dr. Akande' presented a webinar on networking May 5: "It's Not Who You Know, But Who Knows You." The webinar was the fourth in a series of webinars, sponsored by the Consortium Finance Network. Over 170 people participated, joining the session from all parts of the country. They included Consortium alumni and students, corporate sponsors, new Consortium students, prospective MBA students, and Webster alumni and students.

In his networking story, Dr. Akande' scoped out the room and strategized on how he would benefit from the contacts he would make in the next few minutes. "I identified who was talking to whom," he said, describing his pre-networking plan. After he observed the dynamics of the room and plotted how he would work it, he decided just from careful observation whom he wanted to meet and where he wanted to mingle in the room. He proceeded to introduce himself and make proper contacts with the right people in the right way.

That day proved to be fruitful, he said. He made at least two very important contacts, and he followed up on them immediately.

In his CFN presentation, Dr. Akande' shared experiences of what has worked for him and recommended techniques for professionals. He provided guidelines for students, for MBA graduates looking for jobs, and for alumni who want to transition into other areas.

He responded to dozens of questions from participants, who wanted to know how he organizes the data in his network of over 5,000 contacts, wanted advice on how to prepare business cards, wanted hints on how to overcome shyness or rejection, and asked how to handle telephone interviews.

Dr. Akande' emphasized follow-up and immediacy. "A lot of folks don't take the time to connect, to do the little things to follow up." He told how at the gathering in his story, he made the two contacts, and by the time he was in a cab leaving the venue, he was already sending follow-up e-mails.

Be yourself, and be original, he said. Know the rules and traditions of where you are. Dr. Akande' noticed how in St. Louis, when people ask where you went to school, they often mean high school. He grew up in Nigeria and learned how to answer the question to his advantage when it came up in area social events.

He described the unusual ways and odd settings in which people can network. "I love networking at airports," he said. "The barriers come down. People want to meet other people." He said he has made meaningful contacts at church, because it's a "democratic setting," at sporting events, and in political campaigns (on both sides of the party spectrum).

Dr. Akande' said, however, his favorite place to network is Starbucks. "Yes, Starbucks on a Saturday morning. Try it." The calm, placcid atmosphere at a coffee shop on a weekend morning allows people to be more engaging, more themselves--free of hidden agenda.

He provided suggestions on how not to be a "pest," how to sense that the moment is going nowhere and the other person is no longer interested in dialogue. He recommended that people shouldn't "park" during networking activities, shouldn't remained glued to one group for long periods--even if they want to. He showed how one can withdraw from a conversation without being rude or abrupt.

Dr. Akande' told how to rebuild relationships that may have been diminished by long periods of no contact or little interest.

One other favorite hint? "I don't send Christmas cards," he said. "I send Thanksgiving cards." People remember them, and they read his notes. They stand out. And he wishes his recipients both a Thanksgiving and Yuletide greeting at once--and thanks them for whatever they might have done for him during the year.

It's 2010, the year of Facebook, Twitter, and an assortment of social media. Webinar participants asked how to use them to a professional advantage. Dr. Akande' reminded all to keep Linkedin profiles up to date and acknowledged the personal benefits of social media. "But social media cannot replace trust," he said, "or the ability to look at the other person in the eye. You can't hide behind it."

"Don't unfriend a friend (in Facebook)," he added. He found that offensive and reminded his audience that one never knows when that contact will be useful or helpful in the long term.

Many participants were new Consortium students who will journey to Orlando for the Orientation Program in June and meet corporate representatives while there. Some asked for his advice in approaching the event. He said, "Do research and homework on the corporations you are interested in."

Dr. Akande' has been dean at Webster the past 10 years. The business school has online offerings and campuses in the U.S. Europe and Asia. His academic interests include economic development, leadership, and generational diversity. He helped lead the effort to create the school's Global MBA, full-time, one-year program in five countries. He is currently working on a book, "The Ipod Generation: It's Their World, We're Just Living in It."

CFN will follow up to provide slide summaries of the presentation to those who registered.

Dr. Akande' said he hopes (and expects) to see participants in Starbucks for his next Saturday-morning coffee run.

Tracy Williams

Monday, May 3, 2010

To the MBA Class of '10

Over the next few weeks, more than 250 Consortium students will glide to the finish line after a memorable two years of hectic schedules, daunting course assignments, financial turmoil, vast uncertainty, late nights, and countless interviews. They will receive the MBA degree. About 60-70 of them will have concentrated in finance and (after some form of vacation, we hope) will head to positions in financial services.

A job well done. A notable accomplishment. An accumulation of experiences, contacts, knowledge, resources, and mentors. Now is the time to reach the next rung, to take the next step and turn the corner.

The Class of '10 heads out en masse after having endured two of the toughest, most volatile years ever in business school--when the financial world turned tumultuous and evil, opportunities vanished, corporations and banks disappeared, and professors improvised to make the real world relevant to coursework. Recruiting and career-strategizing became a fierce, suffocating battle. The Class of '10 dug in, reoriented their goals, remained steadfast to many of their dreams, and learned lessons from the crisis unfolding before their eyes.

Now with plans polished, altered and adjusted and with some renewed vigor (after seeing signs of a recovery), the Class of '10 departs--not having regretted a bit the MBA experience.

Before Consortium MBA's spread out all over the country (and globe), before they navigate long-term careers in finance, a few more messages of support or whispers behind the ear won't hurt.

1. Business cycles will always be. Prepare for them and brace for them. Understand the potential impact on you or your employer when trends head downward; take advantage of opportunities and the environment when they are on the uptick. As we've learned over the past two years, be suspectful of booms and seemingly unending periods of growth. But be hopeful and optimistic that downturns disappear and yield to better times and periods of promise.

2. Understand the MBA is not the end of learning. It provides a career-long foundation for understanding business, economies, financial systems, product markets, organizations, capital markets, and accounting. Learn to love learning. The MBA will have provided tools to sustain learning--even 20 years out.

3. Careers will have highlights, plateaus, and occasional troughs. A long-term career in finance will not be a recurring series of highs, promotions and big bonuses. Prepare for the ups and downs, and have a strategy for getting up from the downs.

When times are slow or career paths are stalled, try to be in the right place at the right time when business picks up. Use those slow periods to learn something new, take on a different role, or re-position yourself for good times.

4. Have a five-year career plan at every point in your work life. Ask yourself the following: Am I comfortable where I am? Am I continuing to learn, grow, and get better? Where do I want to go from here? How do I get there? Will there be others who can help me get there? What do I do if I can't get there?

Plan, prepare, and visualize where you want to be in five years. Decide how you will want to get there and whether you have the energy, motivation and skills to reach that goal. Focus on a Plan A, but know it's okay to have a Plan B or Plan C. Sometimes Plans B and C turn out to be better than A.

5. Be confident and comfortable in taking responsibility. The MBA provides the tools and experiences to permit you to take on tough projects, in-depth research, leadership of teams and groups, and unreasonable deadlines. Don't be surprised how often you come through. The deal gets done. The project is completed on time. The presentation succeeds. The research impresses. Responsibility begets more responsibility. Let others know you can get it done.

6. Be aware that some will try to undermine your MBA preparation. Many will say you didn't need the MBA to get promoted, to manage a team or group, and to complete a major project. Be comfortable and confident in your knowledge and skills. The MBA will have provided you a broad array of experiences, exposures, and networks. Your MBA foundation and tools won't fail you. Know that, continue to expand that knowledge base, and ignore the MBA critics.

But keep the MBA foundation polished by pushing yourself to keep learning.

7. If you are patient, somewhere somebody will recognize and appreciate hard work. Sometimes in a business setting, hard work, diligence, and an in-depth immersion in the project at hand are not rewarded. That can be frustrating and discouraging to young MBA's. If you continue to push and work hard, at some point, somebody will notice you. The hard work will pay off. But not necessarily in the first few weeks on the job. And sometimes the first year.

8. Just like businesses and the economy, the passion for diversity goes through cycles. Banks and companies sometimes get distracted. Sometimes they get too complacent. They reason (incorrectly) that diversity has an expiration date. So in some years diversity priorities shift to the back of the room. And other years, progress made in previous years recedes all of a sudden.

All the more a reason why you should remain resolutely involved in diversity issues and programs. Care about diversity and inclusion with a passion. Understand why it is important that those from under-represented groups should be at the table, in key positions, and in line for promotions. Help push the company forward on these fronts. Don't let the company rest on its laurels, as many are tempted to do.

9. Learn from and respect everybody. Learn from colleagues, peers, other associates, mentors, experts, senior manager, prominent deal-doers, salespeople and project managers.

Yet in a tough corporate environment, you'll find you can learn from those junior to you, from assistants, from analysts right out of college, from operations and systems personnel, and even from clerical staff. They know processes, people, corporate histories, networks and--just as important--how to get things done. They have access to resources, databases, and information. And they are happy to help.

If you respect what they know and what they do, they will assist you and help you get the deal done, the project finished on time, the research completed overnight, or step up to substitute for you when you can't be there. Or provide you with that one bit of expertise to get you over a hump.

10. Keep values in line. Work will become a top priority and will command almost all of your time. Armed with new knowledge, tools, contacts and a determination to succeed, you'll manage the workload and work pressures. In fact, you'll progress and might get promoted in timely fashion. You'll learn a lot, contribute to a company's growth, and get paid handsomely.

But don't let it all consume you; don't let it all define you as a person. Have perspective, maintain a long-term outlook, and keep your values intact. Proper perspective will keep you going as much as much as year-end bonus.

11. Pause, remember, reflect and appreciate. Remember classmates who helped you at 2 in the morning when you were completing a case project. Remember friends who sobbed with you when you thought none of you would find the right job. Remember professors who explained beta, LIFO, Black-Scholes or P/E ratios over coffee one afternoon. Remember those special moments, those pivotal classroom experiences and the vast, mind-boggling material you've mastered in just two years. And smile.

12. Give back. Don't forget those who helped you, guided you, and stepped in to become mentors or provided scholarships, funding and opportunity. Don't forget those who follow in your steps and crave your guidance, war stories, survival tidbits, recruiting strategies, and network contacts. Be gracious and give back--in the way you can--time, money, or guidance.

And always keep the Consortium in mind.

Tracy Williams