Education – Is Book Learnin’ Important?

“Everyone has the brainpower to follow the stock market. If you made it through fifth-grade math, you can do it.” -Peter Lynch.

I am a successful broker but it may have more to do with dumb luck than my education. Unlike most of my colleagues and competition, I do not have an MBA from an Ivy League school. I don’t have an MBA at all, actually, and never even got a minor degree in business or economics. I majored in East Asian Studies with a minor in Hindu and Buddhist Art! (You can read my story here).

Unless you are already in the business with several years experience, most investment banks won’t look at you without that Ivy League background. When I worked at UBS in New York, they ONLY hired people with Wharton MBAs. A Harvard MBA, or Columbia MBA was good but Wharton was the mandate. You could argue that this produces an army of clones – and you would be right. Look at what happened to UBS! Generally speaking, an MBA is useful to have but not mandatory. If you don’t have one it would help to have something else, another special skill or industry experience, for example.

My Family:

When I met my wife she was in the middle of her THREE YEAR MBA program (which I am still paying for!) and never worked in finance after graduation despite that being her goal. (I got in the way). However, she benefits from having gone through the program because she understands the business and knows how it works and also knows what I am doing every day. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to explain to friends and family what I do for a living and have failed. As my elderly mother quaintly tells her equally ancient friends, “My son works in the Chinese stockmarket.”!

An MBA is helpful but there are other ways. Getting a CFA, or CAIA, or other industry designation is good too. The CFA is a three year program and you come out the other end being a “Certified Financial Analyst.” You have to be working in the business while you are going through the program, however.

I have a CAIA and am now a “Certified Alternative Investment Analyst,” which means I am a hedge fund “expert.” This didn’t help me get in the door because I achieved the designation relatively recently, in 2008. Other specialist skills can be real industry experience.

By “real industry,” I mean anything other than finance! Perhaps you were a senior marketer at Ford, or were a forensic accountant at KPMG. This is also helpful. No matter your educational background, the best way “in” is to know someone already working where you want to work. Get them to make an introduction to a manager there for you. That is very powerful.

Do NOT start with Human Resources! I will write a separate post on this another time. If you want a job on the front line, in the front office, you need to get in front of a front office manager. (Try and write a sentence using the word “front” that many times!).

In the past, we have hired many young hopefuls without Ivy League MBAs as desk assistants. This is a low-paying, “gopher” type of job but it gets you in the front door. From there, it is up to you. You can read more here on your resume, the interview and what to expect in your first job.

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