Q&A with DFE Leadership Award Winner Eric Little ’21

Headshot of Eric Little in business attire in front of tree with green leaves
Eric Little '21, 2020-2021 DFE Leadership Award winner

At the end of every spring semester, the Duke Financial Economics Center (DFE) selects seniors to receive the DFE Leadership Award, which honors students’ initiative in finance-related activities and dedication to mentorship. The 2020-2021 recipients of the DFE Leadership Award are Itamar Barak, Noah Karpel, Eric Little, and Hannah O’Sullivan.

Despite the challenges of the 2020-2021 academic year, these seniors continued to step up, making themselves available to younger students for advising, organizing events to help their fellow students stay engaged, and rounding out their Duke experiences with other activities that ignited their passions.

We are featuring the recipients in a series of Q&A profiles. In this installment, economics and computer science double major Eric Little talks about the discoveries, people, and ventures of the past four years that helped him pave the path he is on today. In July, Eric will be starting at Bain Capital as a private equity analyst.

“Eric is the type of leader who makes his teammates great,” remarked John Caccavale, DFE Executive Director. “Whether in class or working to help younger Dukies succeed, Eric is an example of what great leaders do for others.”

How did your interest in finance develop?

My interest in finance actually developed in high school after I took AP Physics. I took it my junior year, and up until that point, I believed that I would go to college and major in a natural science. After a semester of this class, I realized that I could not stand how theoretical it was and began reflecting on what I was actually interested in. This is when I stumbled upon classes about and jobs in finance. I loved how interconnected finance was with the companies, products, and ideas that I interacted with every day. This interest was cemented after I read the book Quality Investing: Owning the Best Companies for the Long Term. I was fascinated with the case studies that combined rigorous investment strategy with real-life examples and experiences from companies in industries ranging from elevators to airplanes. I knew that by studying finance and pursuing it as a career, especially by going to the buy side, I would be able to build a deep understanding of concepts that I was truly curious about.

How did you become involved with DFE?

Coming into Duke, I knew absolutely nothing about finance. Being from Syracuse, NY, I had never heard of most of the firms that recruit at Duke, let alone how to get a job at one of these places or even what the actual roles entail. Luckily, I met some upperclassmen through clubs that I was involved in freshman year, and they all told me that I needed to talk to DFE Teaching Director Emma Rasiel. I remember going to her office hours in Social Sciences and writing my name on the whiteboard, waiting be summoned into her office. The student before me was going over an intermediate finance problem set with her, and I felt extremely out of place. Eventually I was called in, and I explained that I wanted to learn about jobs and classes regarding finance at Duke. She saw that while I knew nothing about finance, I had the motivation to be able to build this knowledge and be successful. She introduced me to DFE, and since then, she has been an important mentor to me over the course of my four years at Duke.

What events, programs, classes, and people have had the most impact on you as you’ve pursued finance? In what ways have they helped you grow?

Without the resources of DFE, I certainly would not be in the position I am today. One very important event was the Diversity Reading Group led by John Caccavale. This helped me grow because it started to teach me how to connect the dots between the world of finance and news stories. It also taught me how to discuss these topics in both a formal and informal setting, which was very valuable.

John Caccavale has been a mentor for me throughout my time at Duke, starting with when I took his Econ 370 Global Capital Markets class. Emma Rasiel was also extremely impactful on my finance journey. She was always willing to answers any questions I had, connect me with anyone I had questions for, and help me game plan as I thought about recruiting. I have also thoroughly enjoyed her class Econ 472S Goodner Equity Research Project. Finally, Professor Fullenkamp has been extremely supportive of me since I took his class freshman fall, and without his support, guidance, and advice, would likely be in a very different spot today.

Also, alumni were a very important part of my path to finance. In particular, Matty Mejia-Johnston ’18, Max Lipscomb ’15, and the Duke Bain Capital team were extremely helpful when I went through private equity recruitment. Going into the full-time recruitment cycle without having any previous finance experience, I felt extremely disadvantaged. I reached out to Matty and Max and they were more than willing to help me through the process. This turned into me having conversations with them every weekend during recruitment, and I would not have been successful if it were not for them.

Of all of the contributions you’ve made through finance-related activities (both DFE and non-DFE), of what are you the proudest?

The mentorship that I was able to provide to students interested in finance, especially other minority students, is the contribution that I am the proudest of. As someone who received lots of advice and coaching from upperclassmen when I was an underclassman, it was very important to me that I paid it forward. Whether by speaking on finance panels, holding office hours, or even just mock interviewing people who reached out to me, this made me very proud. I think it is very easy to forget that people also helped you out, so I am glad that I was able to give back in various ways.

Outside of finance, what other interests have you explored at Duke? What non-finance accomplishments are you proud of?

Outside of finance, I explored a wide variety of interests. I majored in computer science (alongside economics) and worked as a product manager at a small startup my junior summer. This was an experience that I think actually helped me when it came to private equity recruitment, and it was an internship I really enjoyed.

In terms of extracurriculars, I was involved in lots of service-oriented groups at Duke. Most notably, I was the executive vice president of Duke Partnership for Service and the director of operations and member of the founding team for Audacity Labs. The accomplishment that I am the proudest of is growing Audacity Labs, which started as two-day, after-school program to teach students about entrepreneurship. Now, it is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides a daily high school after-school program, startup incubator, and co-working space for teens. Working on Audacity Labs from my sophomore spring to senior spring has been a very meaningful part of my Duke experience.

What advice would you give first-years and sophomores, in terms of pursuing finance and in general? What advice would you give students who will be upperclassmen in the fall?

Eric Little offers advice to fellow Duke students on pursuing finance and getting the most out of their time at Duke.