Investment Management, A Career to Uncover the Truth

As an investment manager in training, if I were to take an abnormal level of risk at any point in my life, it would be now. This is not because I have infallible risk management skills but because the entire Johnson School is behind me

by Sheryl Zhou, MBA '13

Investment Management, A Career to Uncover the Truth

I was originally trained as a scientist in medicine. After learning more about the investment management industry, I became particularly interested and committed to a career in this field. As a scientist, I was trained to observe phenomena, raise hypotheses, design experiments, collect data, reach a tentative conclusion, and repeat the research cycle until I found out the truth about a particular subject. There are similar processes involved in investment research - using my analytical skills to pick the best investment ideas and to manage the risk that comes with it. I understand that a career in investment management requires perpetual innovation and stringent risk management.  But, in my opinion, the rewards of a career in investment management are well worth the challenges and risk that come with it. Johnson’s Parker Center for Investment Research attracted me as it has a dedicated program to train the next generation of investment professionals. 

The Second Years at Johnson: Student Portfolio Managers, Friends and Mentors

In my first year at Johnson, I was competitively selected to serve as one of seven students who had the opportunity to participate in the management of the Cayuga MBA Fund, Johnson’s flagship $10 million hedge fund used as an educational platform to train investment professionals.  As a first year sector analyst, I was able to not only participate in researching and pitching stocks for the Fund just months after I came to Johnson, but also had the opportunity to work with second year MBA students who were portfolio managers in the fund. Have questions on company valuation? Want to practice stock pitches? Can’t sleep before interviews? Or just want to unwind after Super Day? The second years are always there to help. It is especially helpful to learn from someone who recently traveled a similar path to my own. My second year mentor in the Fund was always willing to help, including 1) when he just came out of emergency room; 2) when he had a bad flu; 3) when he was just rejected from his second-most-want-to-go company (he went to his dream company after graduation).  This characteristic is what defines the Johnson community.

Picking the Best, Overnight, at Johnson’s annual MBA Stock Pitch Challenge

I was proud to also have the opportunity to represent Johnson in Cornell’s highly regarded annual MBA Stock Pitch Challenge. At the competition, students from top MBA programs are challenged to prepare investment recommendations on stocks in under 12 hours and present to a panel of distinguished investment industry experts the very next day. Stocks selected for the competition are often controversial, which sparks heated discussion and requires vigorous defense (just imagine analyzing investment management firms in front of investment managers from that firm!). Lasting only two days, this event provided a fantastic opportunity for me to assess my performance and potential in a fast paced environment. In addition to gaining valuable experience, I had the chance to share my investment analysis strategies with the judges, who are also prospective employers.

Not the Only Woman in the Room Anymore - at the WIN Conference

When I attend financial conferences, I often find myself the only woman from over 100 attendees (sometimes 200). This is certainly not the case at Johnson’s much lauded Women In Investing Conference (WIN). At WIN, women from top MBA programs gather from all over the country to network and learn from successful professional women in investment management who share our own fascination with investment management and challenges as women in the field.  I appreciated the opportunity to have experienced women investors guide my growth and was fascinated by panel talks on investment careers and new perspectives on the investment industry.  In contrast to the MBA Stock Pitch Challenge, which tests your limit within a very short period of time, the WIN conference provides a platform to showcase your stock picking skills to industry experts after preparing for well over a month.  I also appreciated the mentorship opportunity with sponsoring firms and the feedback we received from judges on our pitch, which helped us get ready for internship interviews in the spring.  

One Classmate, One Alumnus, My Dream Internship and the “Warren Buffett of Healthcare Investing”

“I applied to this position, but I was told they are looking for someone with a healthcare background. You have to apply.  It fits your background so well.” One of my classmates pointed out a posting on Johnson’s recruiting system. It later turned out that the employer, a fund, is closely connected to the Harvard endowment. Yet, they chose to recruit from Johnson and this is because one alumnus in the fund strongly supports our school.  So I applied and was offered a summer internship.

The position was at a prestigious hedge fund, whose founder has decades of experience in healthcare investing. Health care is an area about which I am particularly passionate and to which I devoted years of my professional career before business school.  To me, the founder of the fund is the “Warren Buffett of healthcare investing”. This was a unique opportunity that I had never dreamed would come my way and indeed, it turned out to be THE best experience of my life.  I learned so much from every single conversation I had at the fund, whether it was stock picking, due diligence, valuation, and portfolio construction. My mentors at the fund spent enormous amounts of time with me every day, introduced me to top fund managers and company management, and shared their investment philosophy with me, including the “secret sauce” of the fund.  I never felt more productive at work. It was like, playing 24x7. “No running in the house!” one senior manager would always call out when I tried to walk too fast (on high heels) to get documents ready.  It just felt like home.

This is how Johnson works – the school and the Johnson community helping Johnson students become successful. Johnson opened these doors of opportunity for me and supported me in reaching higher levels of excellence.  It’s been an incredible journey so far and I intend to continue and support Johnson’s tradition of excellence and community to help future generations of students!

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