Photo of Sarah Nicholson ‘19

Sarah Nicholson '19

The path to one’s dream career often consists of unexpected twists and catalysts. For Sarah Nicholson ’19, who currently works for The Walt Disney Company in its Direct-to-Consumer strategic finance team as a senior financial analyst, the first inkling for her career path took shape during her undergraduate studies at Cornell University.

When she first started at Cornell at the College of Arts and Sciences, Sarah did not know that she was going to take the finance path. As a lacrosse athlete, Sarah spent a large amount of time every week training and competing with her team. Some of her older teammates served as mentors. As many of them were going into sales and trading, they pitched the field to her. “It’s a competitive environment,” they told her. “It’s fast-paced, and if you like that style, then you should give it a shot.” Sarah was intrigued. However, after taking NBA 4120 – Equity Investment Research and Analysis with Professor Scott Stewart and participating in the Undergraduate Women in Investing (WIN) Conference hosted by the Parker Center for Investment Research, she found that she was also attracted to investing.

Sarah attended the WIN Conference twice. In her junior year, she was on the stock pitch team and was able to learn from older teammates and present a stock to industry professionals, which she found to be a valuable experience. She also enjoyed the panels at the conference, where she heard from people in various roles and gained insight into what the investment world looked like, both the challenges and rewards.

In the end, during her senior year, Sarah had two job offers, one in trading and the other in research. Having done a sales and trading internship the summer before, she was sold on the fast-paced environment and the level of decision-making she had at the trading desk. When she graduated in 2019, Sarah started at Credit Suisse on an options trading desk.

While she learned a lot in this role, she realized that ultimately, trading was not for her, and she wanted a role that was more deal-driven. Thinking back to the WIN Conference, she reached out to Professor Stewart and spoke with him about making a career move into the realm of investing, which he encouraged. Her efforts to pivot led her to Invesco’s Distressed Credit Fund. There, she picked up her core investing knowledge, including research and due diligence, financial modeling, and memo writing. It was in this role that she realized she wanted to become an expert on one company, rather than several, and focus on its long-term trajectory. This clearer idea of what she wanted in her career, together with a new, enhanced skillset, eventually led Sarah to Disney, where she has worked since July 2022.

Sarah’s team at Disney acts as a chief of staff for the CFO of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer division. As a senior financial analyst in the team, Sarah is involved in building out granular models for ad hoc analyses that come from the executive level, focusing on the financial implications of new business opportunities. For her, it is rewarding to quickly see her analyses influencing business decisions.

To current students planning their future careers, Sarah encourages them to be proactive in networking and finding resources. “Resourcefulness has helped me navigate my career since graduating,” Sarah says, adding that Cornell has so much to offer in terms of knowledge and support, but it is a huge school with so many students, so those resources are not going to come to students unless they are proactive. Being proactive means leaning on teammates, classmates, professors, alumni, and old employers for guidance and insight, while also taking advantage of mentorship programs in school and internships. It also means nurturing those relationships. Some of Sarah’s best mentors ended up becoming very close friends of hers. Sarah says her transition from trading to research would have been very difficult without the resourcefulness she learned in her undergraduate years.

Sarah is very happy where she is now, and the beauty of Disney, she points out, is the exposure to so many different lines of business. Plus, she admits that she—like many of her colleagues—is a huge Disney fan. As for the future, who knows what it will bring, but she is optimistic. After all, there’s a lot to be excited about when you work for the place where dreams come true.