When the question of whom to award the 2017 Duke Financial Economics Center’s (DFE) Leadership Award came up this spring, the DFE teaching faculty had no difficulty agreeing that seniors Derek Chait and Felipe Concha were top contenders. Chait, an economics major with a finance concentration and Spanish studies minor, and Concha, a double major in economics and public policy studies, have been driven by their passion and work ethic in pursuing finance, leading them to excel in coursework as well as leadership and mentoring roles.
"Since Felipe and Derek arrived on campus they have both been actively engaged in many DFE activities,” said John Caccavale, executive director of the DFE. “However, it has been their willingness to help younger Duke students that I will always remember about each of them."
Both men are headed to New York City after graduation, Concha to work in sales & trading at J.P. Morgan, and Chait to take a position with Lazard’s financial advisory business. Despite pre-graduation busyness, they kindly took the time to answer some questions.
How did your interest in finance develop?
Chait: My initial interest in finance was piqued after I interned for a local independent financial services firm back in high school. I came to Duke with an open mind and eager to explore a number of different fields. However, I was especially intrigued by the smart, talented people that made up the Duke Investment Club (I-Club). I enrolled in its Investment Training Program (ITP) and completed the 10-week course during my freshman year, and through this I was able to familiarize myself with the basics of investing and financial analysis. Student organizations like I-Club were instrumental, as I was able to meet upperclassmen and alumni on Wall Street who would go on to become mentors and teach me about the various opportunities available in the industry.
Concha: I participated in DukeEngage in Santiago, Chile during the summer after my freshman year. I taught technology classes and worked with micro-entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. This experience opened my eyes to the universal impact that financial proficiency can have on people and businesses, and sparked my interest in having this impact on a larger scale.
What finance-related activities have you participated in at Duke?
Chait: I have been involved with the I-Club for all four years and currently serve as the investment co-president. I also serve on the executive board of the Duke Business Society and have learned a tremendous amount from my peers in both organizations. I have participated in several DFE-sponsored competitions that take place on campus and ultimately competed in various national finance competitions, as well. On the side, I managed a small portfolio with a group of fellow Duke students.
Concha: I have been involved with the Duke Business Society since sophomore year, and was fortunate to serve as its president this year. We've hosted original programming to educate undergraduates about different roles within finance, and have provided interview prep and guidance to students going through the recruiting cycle. I've also participated in the hedge fund competition in Linsey Hughes' class, and am a member of the executive board of the Duke Blockchain Lab.
How did you come to be involved with the DFE?
Chait: I heard about the DFE during my freshman year and was an immediate fan of its diverse course offerings and engagement programs. I began to take advantage of the student/faculty/alumni collaborations afforded by the platform. The competitions were always exciting, and I enjoyed the Lunch & Learn series, as well.
Over time, I had the opportunity to take courses with some of the distinguished individuals who make up the DFE, including Intermediate Finance with Emma Rasiel, Global Capital Markets with John Caccavale, Inside Hedge Funds with Linsey Hughes and Behavioral Finance: A Taxonomy of Money Mistakes with John Forlines III.
Concha: When I was a sophomore I attended a DFE pizza dinner hosted by John Caccavale and Emma Rasiel, in which they discussed financial markets with students in a casual environment. I was happy to find a place where I could ask candid questions, grow my financial knowledge, and receive career (and life) advice from two incredible professionals and educators. Since then, the DFE team has served as an invaluable resource in my professional development and preparation for a career in finance.
What events, programs, and people had the most impact on you as you’ve pursued finance? What skills have you picked up?
Chait: A large portion of my personal growth as a student can be directly attributed to the interactions that I have had with the finance-focused faculty in the DFE, especially those whom I mentioned earlier. Each has made themselves readily available to the undergraduate community and together they have fostered a first class, accessible program for all of those interested in finance. Their class assignments and projects have pushed me and taught me to think critically about how to solve complex problems.
Much of my progression at Duke can also be attributed to a number of students who have helped further the DFE’s mission and goals. These include, but are certainly not limited to, Tim Evans ’14, Karolina Povedych ’14, Max Lipscomb ’15, Zhou Fang ’15, David Chui ’15, Wes Koorbusch ’15, Jared Ziment ’15, Seamus FitzPatrick ’16 and Diana Lam ’16. In helping to channel my passion into action, they taught me more than just technical financial skills. I learned how to effectively communicate to large audiences, manage a team, and efficiently juggle multiple tasks at a time.
Concha: Connel Fullenkamp's Financial Risk Management course had a significant impact on my finance education. This course taught me to be wary of the “human factor” in financial analysis, and to understand that psychology often plays a bigger role in financial decision-making than does economics. Linsey Hughes' Inside Hedge Funds course taught me the value of constructing compelling narratives, with respect to both financial markets and one's own career.
Of all the contributions you’ve made through finance-related activities (both DFE and non-DFE), of what are you proudest?
Chait: I am proudest of my contributions to the I-Club. I have enjoyed watching the group grow, and it has been really gratifying to lead such a collection of dedicated and talented individuals. Under DFE supervision, we have been able to launch a certified Duke house course for students interested in financial services, and we have continually engaged the next generation of Wall Street professionals through managing our fund. The club’s presence on the national scene at various competitions has grown immensely, and to see our members succeed on such a big stage is extremely rewarding.
I also want to take the chance to thank my co-president, Travis Wolf, who has made incredible contributions to the club over the past four years. I have learned a ton from him and the club would not be in the position that it is today without all of his hard work and oversight.
Concha: I am proud of the impact I have been able to have on younger students, particularly as a mentor while they explored their interests and navigated the finance recruiting process. I feel fortunate to have met so many brilliant peers of mine, and to have assisted them in finding fulfilling extracurricular and professional opportunities. While at Duke I have personally benefited from the guidance of a multitude of mentors, and I hope I have been able to pass on some of the wisdom that they have imparted to me.
Beside finance, what other interests have you explored while at Duke?
Chait: Through my Spanish minor, I had the opportunity to conduct an independent study on the capitalist features and the sustainable debts of the Spanish King Philip II under Professor Elvira Vilches. It was a great complement to my economics major, and I was able to present my findings at the Seventh Annual Undergraduate Research Conference, “Old Worlds, New Worlds, Future Worlds.” I also enrolled in different courses that revolve around service learning-based curriculums and initiatives. I had the chance to travel and study abroad through the Duke in Oxford program.
Concha: I have explored the intersection between finance and policy through my public policy coursework (particularly courses taught by Nicholas Carnes and Bentley Coffey) and my involvement with Connect2Politics, an organization dedicated to bringing a diverse spectrum of political leaders to campus to meet with students. These experiences have taught me to analyze how financial principles can be applied toward solving open-ended public sector issues.
I have also worked as a DJ at local radio station WXDU, and I am an active contributor to the music blog Sunset in the Rearview.
What advice do you give underclassmen, in general and in terms of pursuing finance?
Chait: Explore and utilize all the different resources that are available at Duke. The DFE was instrumental in providing me with a sense of direction and helped construct a road map that positioned me to achieve different finance-oriented goals while still taking full advantage of the Duke liberal arts curriculum. In using the mentorship and the support networks afforded by the program and its partnering student organizations, I encourage underclassmen to find an area of finance (or any other area of study) that truly interests them. Even if a career in finance is not their objective, the skills they will acquire from different DFE endeavors will help them in numerous areas of their professional lives.
Concha: Nurture a broad array of interests, and don't forget to have fun along the way – your time at Duke will truly fly by.
Never hesitate to ask a fellow Duke student (or alum) for help. I'm repeatedly amazed by the compassion of the Duke network, and the willingness of members to take time out of their busy schedules to help their fellow peers.