For the Duke Financial Economics Center (DFE), each spring brings the opportunity to honor a number of seniors for their exceptional leadership qualities and commitment to mentorship throughout their involvement with the center. Directors John Caccavale and Emma Rasiel established the DFE Leadership Award in 2011 for this purpose. They are pleased to add the 2021-2022 winners to the list of recipients: Gianna Affi, Arjun Bakshi, William Bradley, Davis Jones, and Thomas Schaefer.
Coming from a wide range of academic interests and extracurricular pursuits, Affi, Bakshi, Bradley, Jones, and Schaefer demonstrate that Duke students with a passion for finance cannot be pigeonholed. This month we are highlighting each of them in a Q&A profile.
William Bradley has been both tenacious and thoughtful in seeking opportunities to explore finance over the last four years. He took time off during his junior year to intern at Valor Equity Partners, an operational growth equity and venture capital firm in Chicago. After finishing classes abroad in the fall, he will graduate in December as an economics major with a finance concentration and a philosophy minor. He then plans to return to a venture capital and growth equity role.
“William’s involvement in finance activities across campus brought him into contact with many younger students who benefited from his unusually broad investing experience,” said Rasiel. “He’s also been an excellent contributor on the DFE Student Advisory Committee, helping come up with creative new ways DFE can serve students.”
How did your interest in finance develop?
My interest in finance initially developed in high school through general curiosity and a strong mentor. I was immediately passionate about the role of finance in supporting companies and new technologies. Arriving on campus in my first year, I knew the general field I was interested in yet knew nothing about potential career paths. Joining the student group Scale and Coin my first semester provided a strong community of upperclassmen and peers who supported expanding my interest. Then I got involved in several finance-related extracurriculars on campus, participated in DFE programs, and enrolled in classes taught by DFE faculty. These resources are responsible for turning an interest into a passion.
How did you become involved with DFE?
DFE was one of my primary considerations in coming to Duke. I valued the education offered by a liberal arts university yet still wanted an environment to grow professionally and build foundational skillsets. This made me eager to get involved with DFE early in my first year, which led me to participate in Markets Discussion Group (then called Diversity Reading Group) and Lunch & Learns. Spring of my first year into the fall of my sophomore year, I had the chance to build relationships with Emma Rasiel and John Caccavale, which unlocked new opportunities through classes and extracurriculars. In my sophomore spring, I became a member of the DFE Student Advisory Committee.
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?
The abundance of finance organizations, educational opportunities, and on-campus mentors at Duke is incredible. In the first DFE program I got involved with, Markets Discussion Group, John Caccavale encouraged me to hold differentiated opinions and to follow the news actively. Those sessions led me to take ECON 370 Global Capital Markets in the fall of my sophomore year, which further deepened my ability to form new ideas and perspectives on the markets. The same semester I also took ECON 256 Practical Financial Markets, which has likely had the most significant impact on my early Duke finance education. The course, taught by John and Emma, provided a strong finance foundation in technical skills, industry understanding, and best practices. Most importantly, the ECON 256 competitions co-hosted by firms like Wells Fargo and BlackRock provided a venue to gain hands-on experience building a pitch or constructing a thesis-driven portfolio. Both John and Emma have been strong mentors throughout my time at Duke.
In my senior year, I had the chance to take several electives with DFE faculty that built on skillsets from my internships and cultivated new perspectives. Goodner Equity Research, taught by Emma and ’96 alum Blake Goodner, gives students the chance to run a semester-long diligence process on a single public equity. This experience has unlocked a new understanding of the importance of finding an edge in research and has provided unique opportunities to connect with industry experts.
John Forlines III has been incredibly supportive as a professor and mentor in my final year. I had the privilege of taking ECON 255S Shakespeare and Financial Markets in the fall semester, which opened my eyes to the beauty of Shakespeare and the fascinating parallels between his core themes and the world today. It is an extraordinary interdisciplinary offering. This spring, I served as a TA for his private equity class, ECON 333, another example of a course that offers a unique learning experience through real-world projects.
Lastly, the willingness of the Duke finance alumni network to engage in on-campus events and networking has been very important for my growth and career path.
Of all of the contributions you've made through finance-related activities (both DFE and non-DFE), of what are you the proudest?
I am most proud of the new programs and opportunities I have helped launch on campus during my four years. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I got involved in Duke Impact Investing Group (DIIG) in their private investments division. With support from DIIG founders Michael Tan and Peter Sun, I launched the public equities division in the spring of 2020, which has since grown to 12 people across two diligence groups. We are not only providing unique hands-on experience with a public diligence process but also iterating on improving the ESG and impact investing framework. The mission of DIIG is exciting, and I am very proud to have been involved in expanding its reach. I highly encourage anyone interested in the impact side of finance to get involved!
I am also proud of my involvement in the DFE Student Advisory Committee. As a student who has greatly benefited from classes, competitions, and events made possible by DFE, it has been an honor to work with John Caccavale, Jennifer Valentyn, and the rest of the committee to enhance current resources and build new programming.
Outside of finance, what other interests have you explored at Duke? What non-finance accomplishments are you proud of?
I have explored many different subjects of interest outside of finance through classes and extracurriculars. I have thoroughly enjoyed the chance to minor in philosophy. The mental framework and complex problems explored in the courses have been fascinating and have provided a skillset for analytics and thinking.
Outside of classes, I have taken advantage of clubs on campus to explore other areas of interest, like blockchain technology and real estate. I took leadership positions in Duke Real Estate Club and Duke Blockchain Lab during my sophomore year. While both have a natural connection to finance sectors, the clubs were able to pull a unique collection of members across multiple majors or backgrounds.
I have also participated in many events hosted by American Grand Strategy. It is a great program that has allowed me to stay up to date on global news and have multiple dinners with leading policymakers.
Finally, I believe the basketball community at Duke is one of the most powerful elements of our university experience. Cameron Indoor creates a venue that constantly pulls alumni back to campus, and the season creates an excitement that reinforces the pride of being a Duke student, alum, or parent. I have tented two of my four years on campus and am very proud to participate in this culture. Go Duke!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Thank you, Emma, John, Jennifer, and the rest of the DFE team, for your commitment to DFE. The program's growth over the past decade is remarkable and has had a positive impact on maximizing the potential of Duke students. I look forward to continuing to give back as an alum! I encourage anyone with ideas on improving financial education on campus to get involved!
Watch the video below to hear William's advice for his fellow Dukies.