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Leading for success in investment management

A fresh injection of alumni funding has given the Center for Excellence in Investment Management a new lease on life. The center was founded in 2007 at the dawn of the financial crisis to prepare UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School students for the most challenging jobs in cutting-edge finance.

A generous gift from Jim Jones (MBA ’06), partner and portfolio manager at William Blair and chair of the center’s advisory board, provided the catalyst for the center to expand its activities, including its hugely popular hands-on practical training. His gift also motivated other distinguished alumni to engage with the center through their time, talent and treasure.

The support comes as interest in investment management as a career path grows at the Business School amid renewed excitement about tapping into rising investor demand for strategies that promise to bring about positive environmental, social and governance change.

Investment management at UNC Kenan-Flagler encompasses various investment management disciplines such as public and private equities and debt, capital allocation, private wealth management and alternative investments, as well as capital markets and sales and trading.

“This is the beginning of the second life of the center,” says Ric Colacito, faculty director of the Center for Excellence in Investment Management. “We are at a moment when excitement about investment management is at an all-time high.”

The number of MBA students taking the concentration in Capital Markets and Investments has almost doubled every year since 2017. This reflects a concerted effort to engage with students, alumni and other key stakeholders to stimulate enthusiasm for investment management as an academic discipline and employment destination.

UNC Kenan-Flagler has made key hires, including Pramita Saha as the center’s director of student and alumni engagement. She is a valuable resource for students, having spent over 15 years in the financial services industry, primarily in capital markets and sales and trading and including roles at Goldman Sachs, Citi, BBVA and Standard Chartered.

Career opportunities at such firms are expanding. “It has been a vintage year from a career placement standpoint,” says Saha.

One of the center’s key aims is to foster greater diversity in the $110 trillion global asset management industry and support the recruitment efforts needed to make the workforce truly diverse.

When it comes to the portfolio managers who make investment decisions, a very small percentage of assets are managed by minorities or women. Part of the problem is that such candidates do not see investment management as a viable option for their career, says Saha.

“There’s a lot of barriers to entry,” she explains. “People think if I didn’t grow up talking about stocks at the dinner table this is not for me. That’s definitely shifting, there’s a huge focus on tackling that.”

The center aims to increase the number of MBA candidates taking the concentration in Capital Markets and Investments from diverse backgrounds to 50% of the class.

More broadly, the center aims to help UNC Kenan-Flagler students keep pace with the rapidly evolving financial services industry through a variety of programs, publications and outreach.

The MBA concentration in Capital Markets and Investments prepares students for positions on the buy and sell sides of the capital markets, including corporate treasury, securities analysis and portfolio management.

The center offers investment management as an area of emphasis for the Undergraduate Business Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Many students apply to the Applied Investment Management (AIM) course, in which students manage a real portfolio of financial assets worth about $2 million. They are responsible for all the decisions that go into management of the fund, from securities selection to asset allocation and risk management.

In addition, AIM students prepare an investment report and presentation to an independent advisory board of alumni and industry practitioners, which meets twice a year. “This is a class students tend to love as it doesn’t get more hands on than this,” Colacito says.

The Investment Management Practicum is a course that also offers a spring internship with an investment management firm for valuable practical training and experience.

Numerous co-curricular activities include networking events with alumni, the student-run Investment Management Club and the Alpha Challenge, which Jones founded when he was an MBA student.

Another central financial resource is the Capital Markets Lab, where students get practical experience using Bloomberg terminals as well as research tools like FactSet, CapIQ and Morningstar.

The Alpha Challenge has become one of the world’s premier investment pitching competitions, as well as a primary interview hub for investment management recruitment. Three-person teams from top MBA schools pitch their long and short ideas to a panel of some of the most successful investment managers and buy-side firms in the world.

In addition, the center promotes academic and applied research in advanced financial strategies, which informs teaching at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

“We have a world-class group of scholars and the center provides cutting-edge research funds through which faculty members can purchase novel data sets, hire research assistants and travel to some of the most prestigious conferences in the profession to present their papers,” says Colacito.

UNC Kenan-Flagler also runs the Asset Pricing Conference, designed to bring together leading scholars in the field, jointly with Duke University.

Looking ahead, the center is focused on improving diversity in the sector by engaging students at a younger age to challenge perceptions that this is a closed industry and working with advocacy groups to improve visibility.

It has been deliberate to ensure diverse representation on its advisory board, made up of senior figures in fund management.

“That is a crucial step in the right direction,” says Colacito. “It is important that our students can see there are people who look like them who have made a great career for themselves in investment management. If you can see it, you can be it.”