20 Mar Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish: Interview with Michael Yuan
Our PBSN Finance Directors sat down with HBA2 student Michael Yuan to get exclusive details on what finance is really like. Michael is in his last year here at Western completing his HBA at Ivey. Throughout his time Michael has been heavily involved in a variety of things at Western from being a previous VP Communications of PBSN to now, the Co-President of the Western Investment Club. Read more to find out what he has to say about his time here.
How did you get involved with the Western Investment Club?
I joined WIC in first year – it was pretty intimidating as everything just flew over my head, something I am sure lot of other first years can relate to. In my second year I gave it another try. I thought I would just dedicate myself to going to at least one meeting every week; you eventually find that the material becomes less and less intimidating. I learned a lot in second year, not just the technical skills, but about the mindset of an investor. It helped me land an internship the summer after my second year where I used my WIC application stock pitch for cold-emailing and subsequently in the interview. Afterwards, I used what I had learned in the summer to apply as a WIC analyst in my third year and I was lucky enough to become part of the team. Since then, I have been more involved with a leadership role in the organization.
You said you developed the finance mindset more in second year. What kind of mindset did you have before that?
I was kind of on a back and forth route with finance. Out of high school I thought I wanted to go into finance, and to be totally honest, it was just for the superficial reason of working on Wall Street. I slowly discovered different fields such as Consulting, Entrepreneurship, and Technology through PBSN Panels and university events, so I gradually started moving towards that. What I believe really pulled me back to finance was my second year internship. I was looking at different stocks every day, thinking as an investor, and I realized that I was excited to go to work every day. That’s when I discovered that finance was something I liked doing, and was passionate about continuing.
What was the largest misconception you had that changed after your first day of work?
The biggest misconception was related to the people, and going off the thought that it’s Wall Street – people are very cutthroat, intense, and motivated primarily by personal goals . You very soon realize the people are similar to you; one or two years out of college with the same values as you. Especially Goldman, because at Goldman they focus specifically on how supportive the people they hire are. For example, every summer intern would be assigned a big buddy and mentor that would formally check in with you over the summer to make sure you were getting the most out of the experience. There is also an informal coffee culture where you can grab coffee with anyone in the organization no matter how senior they are, within reasonable limits, and just sit-down with them for a half hour to chat. I was pleasantly surprised with how supportive and relatable the people at the firm were.
Is it important to be different, or diversify yourself, for recruiting in order to be noticed?
I think it’s important to be different in anything that you’re talking about. Regardless if it’s finance or any other industry, originality is appreciated. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs: these are the role models we look up to, and they’re all highly original. The perception in finance is that it’s very traditional, conservative, and it’s true to an extent, but it’s important to be different within certain constraints. The industry is changing now that millennials are entering. It’s very important to stand out as a candidate. When I was going through the recruiting process for example, I would always try to insert my opinion into my answers. If someone asked me “Tell me about a sample mergers and acquisitions deal that you found interesting” I’d always give them the facts, but also my opinion, often a contrarian one. Rather than being upset, they really enjoyed it because they could see that you were interested in the field, able to think on your feet, and be critical.
Going back to thinking on your feet, what was the most left field question you ever experienced at an interview?
It’s pretty ironic, but I think the question I struggled with the most was when someone asked me: What do investment bankers do? It’s a simple question, but I just didn’t prep for it, so I stumbled to give him an answer. I think it shows the danger of people developing tunnel vision when preparing for interviews. It’s important to step back and ask yourself why exactly you want to go into a certain industry. I’ve noticed that a lot of my peers automatically gravitate towards finance or consulting because they are prestigious industries, but they don’t understand what they’re all about. The question threw me off guard because I was so caught up in prepping for the interview guides and getting the job that I hadn’t reflected on what it would mean to work in the industry.
You mentioned that doing a volunteer-ship abroad in Singapore in the summer of first year was an eye-opening experience for you. Do you want to talk about that job in Singapore a little bit?
It was a volunteering program through an organization called AIESEC, something I recommend PBSN members to consider for something to do this summer. This opportunity was specifically a social entrepreneurship internship in Singapore that combined volunteering with a business aspect. In Singapore, the culture is to eat out very frequently and almost every single time the containers they use are made of Styrofoam which is harmful to the environment. So, the business we were working with made these eco-friendly paper takeaway boxes, and then they combined the business aspect by selling advertising space on these boxes, to achieve a social mission while sustaining themselves. As interns we were asked to help with the advertising initiatives.
It was a good opportunity to learn about social impact and live abroad, but mainly a way to occupy yourself in first year summer and make sure you’re doing something. A lot of people I’ve been talking to are stressed about finding those summer internships after first year. I think it’s good that you stressed, but it’s more about the experience rather than getting the name. In Ivey, when you’re recruiting in third year, employers don’t care what you did in your first year summer as long as you did something. It’s just a check in the box; they’re not going to evaluate the brand name of who you worked for, because they understand how difficult it is as a first year to find a job, and they also understand a lot of opportunities are through family connections. So, we tell everyone this, but of course everyone being very ambitious and keen no one believes it. Don’t stress about not finding an internship in your first year summer. Realistically what you’re going to do is going to be a volunteering opportunity or some sort of program, like a government program, and that’s totally fine.
Do you have any advice on putting maximum effort into work and club involvement, but not spreading yourself too thin?
I think that comes with experience, over time you get a lot better at that balance in university. What my prof said in Ivey when we first came was “I promise you what you can achieve in a day will double by the time November comes around”. A part of that is overcoming that steep learning curve that you face when you get to university and it gets a lot easier over time. Having said that, I don’t know if this is a bit of a tangent, but if I could say some key pieces of advice for younger students it’s:
- Never forget about the kind of work that got you to where you are today. Everyone worked incredibly hard to get here, but what you’ll see is that a lot of people lose that ambition as time goes on. I would encourage everyone to remember what they did to get them here today, and to not let go of that.
- Don’t forget the other side of the coin, you only go to university one time! It’s four years of your life, so make the most out of it. Enjoy yourself, explore lasting friendships, and don’t get too bogged down into stressing out about what job you’ll get, or what sort of industry you’ll go into.
Before we end the conversation, opposed to WIC, what would help our readers build that investor’s mindset?
A guest speaker, Matt Hall, said something that really resonated with me, “a good investor will be able to make up his mind before he touches a valuation”. Additionally, Warren Buffet says “beware of geeks bearing formulas”, essentially it’s the mindset that matters more than anything. In terms of resources, I recommend reading the news regularly; it immerses you in world events and lets you borrow someone else’s mind for a few minutes while reading the article. Read up on some investment theses that other people post online, and read a lot of books. The Intelligent Investor is a great one. That’s the way you get better – surround yourself with intelligent people and expose yourself to intelligent resources.
If you enjoyed this interview and want to learn more about finance, come out to PBSN’s upcoming events the Stock Pitch Competition on Sunday March 19th and Inside the Industry: BMO Capital Markets on March 21st to get some hands on experience and hear from some more great people on if finance is the right fit for you!