The class welcomes 20+ guest speakers from Google, Facebook, and more.
One of my most valuable courses has been Deals, which features alumni speakers who are successful in the worlds of business and finance. They came from as far away as England, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. In addition to class time, we took turns joining the speaker and professors Karl Egge and Paul Aslanian at meals hosted by the Egges.
In advance, we studied the speakers’ materials, including introductory information on their industry or the specific transaction they intended to cover. Class participation was crucial; we were expected to read the Wall Street Journal daily and stay abreast of developments in business, finance, and economics.
For our term paper, my partner and I looked into the investor psychology around stock bubbles and the recent aggressive valuations of tech, mobile, and social companies like Twitter, WhatsApp, and Airbnb.
Each presentation offered something uniquely valuable. Scott Barrington ’90 is the managing partner at North Sky Capital, a clean technology-focused private equity and venture capital fund. He opened my eyes to the increasing commercial viability of the clean tech sector.
Mark Vander Ploeg ’74 covered consumer and retail for Salomon Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Evercore over the years. He cut through a lot of the noise and glam around the industry: It’s a relationship business; to be successful long term you need to advance your clients’ interests, not chase the fees that come with doing deals.
He also encouraged students to stay abreast of the big ideas and evolve along with them. In every era there are immutable trends that fundamentally reshape the way people live and interact. In the last decade, it was the Internet. Today, it is mobile and social media sharing and entertainment. Whatever the next one is—clean technology, bioengineering, or something that isn’t even on our radar yet—will be extremely intellectually and materially rewarding for those that make sure to insert themselves into the center of it.
Ali Alizadeh ’85 is a no-nonsense investment banker turned entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurship, he says, isn’t the game-changing app or technology that some wunderkind dreamt up in his dorm room; it’s marginal improvements on existing concepts. Ali sees the world through a “Could we do this better?” lens.
Steve Arnold ’72 is partner emeritus at venture capital firm Polaris and has worked closely with George Lucas and Bill Gates over the years. He discussed the importance of relentless self-evaluation and evolution, and openness to new experiences.
Life and careers, Arnold says, are made up of phases and it is necessary to recognize when you have apexed in one and need to find another to grow. Consequently, one must be constantly aware of the cognitive processes that govern their behavior and seek to cultivate better ones.
Plus it’s always good to see Steven Fitzgerald ’12. Steve, an analyst in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s mergers and acquisitions team, is joining a private equity firm in Boston this summer. Steve and I were football teammates for one season. He’s a great guy and I stay in his apartment when I visit New York City.
The take-aways were many. It’s simplistic to the point of cliché, but hearing it from these incredibly successful individuals drove the lesson home: be good to everyone you deal with.
Our speakers were not compensated or reimbursed; they came back because they understand that Macalester was formative in their success and they want to share their knowledge with the next generation of students.