What impact does an Ivy League education have on your investment career? Across all the institutional investors we have interviewed, perhaps unsurprisingly, one consistent trend is a propensity for having studied at Ivy League schools. Graduates of Harvard and Yale were particularly prevalent, perhaps a reflection of their successful investment offices. Attending an Ivy League school can be transformative experience, in terms of the quality of education, the doors it opens, and the alumni networks it establishes.
In this week's edition of Trusted Answers, we look at the value of an Ivy League education:
I was a graduate student at Yale. I had a great experience. It was, and perhaps still is, the number one program in French literature in the world, with world-class professors and students. I had some fabulous professors who were great mentors then and one of whom was a great mentor after I left academia.
Do I think that being part of the Yale network and having a Yale degree has been a help? I think it has. I am very proud of being a Yale alum.
I would say that my experience at Yale was truly transformative.
I would say that my experience at Yale was truly transformative. I thought that the opportunity to be able to attend and learn from the professors there as well as my fellow classmates was truly remarkable and something I will always cherish. I found that the professors at Yale truly helped extend and broaden my perspectives on several things. With regard to what I do today, I think any good liberal arts education will really help to develop the whole person, so as a result, I feel I have grown on so many different dimensions as a result of having gone there.
...I definitely think that having had that experience helped shape my opportunities as well as perspective throughout my career. Working as a management consultant was a decision that I made in the mid 80s between consulting and investment banking, I’ve always enjoyed the intellectual challenge that consulting presented and trying to help companies function better and increase shareholder value was an enjoyable experience. I truly believe that all those things would not have been possible had I not have the opportunity to study at Yale.
...I don’t think it directly shaped my attitude [towards investing], because I didn’t really study investment when I was at Yale specifically. I did take classes in investment but my primary focus and major was in economics. I would say that in general, the experience taught me that through hard work and effort, in the end you are able to come to some better understanding or assessment of whether it is a good investment or not. To be successful at an institution like Yale, you have to work hard, so I think the training is more so in terms of being ready to put forth your full effort and analysis to any situation so that you can arrive at a good informed decision.
In terms of its impact on investment philosophy, it was less that Harvard formed my investment philosophy and more that it gave me a perspective on the different investment philosophies that are out there and the different models. It gave me great exposure to different investment firms that I might not have otherwise known or heard of.
I was fortunate I was in a class that Andre Perold taught. Each class was literally a case study on a different type of investment or a different manager. That was probably one of my most valuable classes.
...I was the first person from my family to ever go to college. So going to an institution like Cornell where “any person can find instruction in any study” was a real eye-opening experience for me.
...I was the first person from my family to ever go to college. So going to an institution like Cornell where “any person can find instruction in any study” was a real eye-opening experience for me. Coming from a humble background, it was valuable to attend an institution large enough to stretch me, to open my eyes and mind to the world.
Furthermore, Cornell brought a diverse group of people together in one idyllic campus. I learned quite a bit from my fellow students. I was fortunate to meet a terrific group of friends in college who I still count as dear and valued friends today. Cornell and the relationships I developed as an undergrad expanded my horizons then and now. I learned that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and as those friends enjoy pointing out, I am still learning what I don’t know.
In graduate school, it was very different. I went there for a specific reason: to invest my time to learn and grow as a professional. I had a more defined sense for what I needed to learn, was hungry to learn and was more engaged academically. Unlike Cornell University, The Johnson School is relatively small, which suited me well. At the graduate level, I was the beneficiary of being a student in a familiar and beautiful campus environment and getting very specific instruction from some first-class professors like Harold Bierman and Joe Thomas, who taught me lessons and skills I’m still using today. By the time I went to graduate school, I had a better appreciation for what a special place Cornell was, and I was determined to get the most of out the experience. I think I was successful in that endeavor.
So the two experiences were very different, although they were both at the same university. In undergraduate school my “education” was more personal, I learned that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. By the time I went to graduate school, my educational vacuums were readily apparent to me, so my graduate education helped me fill that vacuum and develop a professional skill set. I benefit from both experiences today.
...If I’ve had any success, I am indebted to Cornell, both undergraduate and graduate. How much, I don’t know. What I do know is that my Cornell experiences have been vital to my growth as an individual and professional. For someone who came from a humble background, the opportunity to attend an institution like Cornell at two inflection points in my life was irreplaceable. So my Cornell experience was transformative, at least for me.
When I went to graduate school, the only ‘bond’ I knew was 007.
...When I went to graduate school, the only ‘bond’ I knew was 007. The Johnson School was a place where a liberal arts undergraduate could develop a well-rounded graduate academic foundation with a focus on finance. It opened doors for me that I didn’t even know existed beforehand, one of which was to Goldman Sachs. That was a good door.
Looking back on it, I am also grateful for the many individuals in the Cornell community who helped me along my way. At one time or another, administrators, professors and coaches all lent me a hand when I needed it. And I needed it. If they hadn’t helped when they did, I don’t know where I’d be today.
Columbia was a phenomenal experience. CBS [Columbia Business School] is a very competitive environment. Certainly the investment industry is wickedly competitive and being in a business school with the same atmosphere felt customary. I mean whether we're nice or not, we're all very competitive individuals or we shouldn’t be in the investment industry. Since we’re all definitely type-A individuals, being in an alpha-dog type pool for graduate studies was pretty great.
I wouldn’t say that’s true across all the Ivy's. I know it’s stupid to generalize like this, but I would say it's different. Columbia shapes a culture that no matter how good you are, you’re constantly reminded that there's a ton of brilliant people out there. Whereas Brown, for example, shapes a culture more around the individual. I think everywhere has its own unique culture, and being a global portfolio manager at UBS/DSI, I was in the right competitive landscape for me in the investment industry.
The globalization of class and the locale were hugely influential on me. I was seriously torn between whether to go to Wharton or to CBS. In the end, I thought CBS was a better fit for me, as they had so many people from the New York asset managers and from so many geographic backgrounds. New York was the melting pot and home to so many asset houses; it was high innovation with a high investment competitive spirit and within walking distance to great bars -- a perfect combo.
I know if I’d gone to Wharton, I’d similarly end up here although probably more through the private markets, as opposed to Columbia, where much of my current growth had been in the public markets.
But if I’d attended neither? Maybe it would have taken me longer to get here? I don't believe one’s prevented, without an Ivy League education, from advancing in investments. I don't believe that at all. However, I believe we're all granted opportunity by our circumstances, and being an Ivy grad certainly allows our abilities to be recognized.
...It's interesting because Ivy League students have the education, the background, the network and the intellectual firepower. They can harness it and get better, and that's wonderful. A potential drawback, depending on the type of person, is that it could backfire and create a sense of entitlement, which is a disastrous trait if one wishes to be a successful investor and a reason we spend a lot of time assessing our managers’ personalities.
I think [an Ivy League education] was extremely important, as I was coming into the investment world as an outsider with no business experience. I think if I'd tried to boot-strap my career or had attended an educational program with less visibility, it would have been much harder. I believe the value of a degree from a well-regarded business school, whether Ivy League or otherwise, is hard to overstate. The doors that are opened for you and the professional credibility that you are given are tremendous advantages in this intensely competitive industry.
The Harvard experience provided a great opportunity through the case study program to gain insights in a variety of fields that I hadn’t personally experienced. It helped me learn how to identify the key facts in a new situation and then apply them to whatever I was trying to do.
My observation of David Swensen was that I realized that even then he was a true contrarian. When he heard about the wine-tasting evenings, he organized something completely different, so he introduced his own beer tasting night.
When I was an undergraduate at Yale, it was during the same time that David Swensen had just come back from Wall Street. He was a graduate fellow at Berkeley College, one of the Yale’s residential colleges. At that time, the Berkeley College master held wine tasting evenings, one for red wines and one for white wines, to educate us on a variety of wines (This was back when the drinking age in Connecticut was 18). My observation of David Swensen was that I realized that even then he was a true contrarian. When he heard about the wine-tasting evenings, he organized something completely different, so he introduced his own beer tasting night.
Spending the evening with David Swensen learning and drinking different kinds of beers is something that I will always remember. Upon reflection, I definitely saw him as a man who has his own path and saw things in different ways and I’ve always respected him for that.
Trusted Answers is a weekly series that delves into some of the most pertinent issues within institutional investing, and shares some of the insightful responses from the 40+ institutional investors we have interviewed in the past year. Take a look at some of our other Trusted Answers.