Noah Kirschbaum was still in high school when he decided he wanted to work in corporate finance and technology. The more he learned, the more he wanted to work in Silicon Valley.
“The tech industry is so fast paced that, in five years, tech companies will be working on things completely different than what they’re doing now,” says Kirschbaum, a Bettendorf native, Davenport West High School graduate, and now a University of Iowa senior. “Silicon Valley is one of the best, if not the best, areas to get started for a career in tech.”
The Hawkinson Institute of Business Finance was founded by the Tippie College of Business in 1998 to prepare high-potential Tippie students for demanding, high-profile positions in banking, sales and trading, and related financial sectors. The program provides a launching pad for future careers in private equity, hedge funds, venture investing, and other asset management arenas, as well as corporate finance and strategy roles at established and startup companies.
The institute selects about 20 top undergraduates to be Hawkinson Scholars on the basis of academic performance, leadership, professional potential, and interpersonal skills. The institute works with these students to develop the industry knowledge, technical skills, network, and internship experience that allows them to compete successfully with top students from around the nation for coveted jobs in investment banking. Many of the scholars become interns at high-profile investment banks after their junior years, and the institute’s job placement rate is 100 percent.
Kirschbaum got to try out his dream last summer when he interned at Barclay’s investment bank in Menlo Park, California. His work was in mergers and acquisitions and initial public offerings, providing support for senior bankers and creating presentations for clients.
“It was a wide variety of work, something different every day,” Kirschbaum says of his 10-week experience that went so well he was offered a full-time job starting next summer. “I expected to be working with cool tech companies doing really interesting work, and that’s what happened.”
Kirschbaum isn’t the only UI student looking at California’s San Francisco Bay Area for a career. Brian Richman, director of the Tippie College of Business’ Hawkinson Institute of Business Finance, says more and more Hawkinson Scholars are interested in working and living on the West Coast. The institute placed three interns at Bay Area banks each of the last two years and at least two more scholars are committed to interning there next summer. They intern at places such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, Barclay’s, and William Blair.
“The move is being driven primarily by students who have career ambitions of working in the tech industry or venture capital, who want to be on the cutting edge,” says Richman. Their high quality of work is helping to build a strong reputation for the university in one of the economy’s most important growth sectors.
Anthony Yang also will be there next year. The UI junior from Pleasant Valley found his internship at Bank of America Merrill Lynch by plugging into Hawkinson’s growing alumni network for leads and counsel. His application and interview process lasted more than three weeks and included a visit to Palo Alto for a round of face-to-face interviews, where he was asked questions such as, “How many all-nighters have you pulled in the last six months?” He credited the training he received from Richman and the Hawkinson network with helping him succeed.
“If I’d tried to navigate that interview process without Hawkinson, it would have been a train wreck,” he says.
The Bay Area has become such a draw that more Hawkinson alumni are moving there too. Of the program’s 250 alumni, 10 percent now live in California. Sung Cho, a 2016 UI graduate from Cedar Falls, interned with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in the summer of 2015. He proved so adept that the firm let him act as the sole analyst on two deals worth more than $400 million, which led to a permanent position with the bank starting last summer.
Cho says the internship was a chance to prove himself in a field that still looks mostly to schools such Stanford, UCLA, or the Ivy League to recruit talent. Fortunately, he received guidance from a Hawkinson alum whom he later learned was one of the office’s top performers, giving credibility to his UI and Hawkinson Institute experience.
“It was a great to have a mentor in the office helping me compete with candidates from more well-known schools,” says Cho.
Richman says it’s not unusual for UI grads to be unknown quantities to bankers on the West Coast, but Hawkinson alumni have done such a stellar job that the university is developing a solid reputation.
“Just like we’ve done in New York and Chicago, we’re becoming known in the Bay Area for producing top-quality students who perform at a high level and are willing to do the work and put in the hours they need to be successful,” says Richman.