Senior Chinmay Pandit Wins 2018 DFE Leadership Award

Chinmay Pandit (B.S. '18)

Economics and political science double major Chinmay Pandit (B.S. ’18) has been named the recipient of the 2018 Duke Financial Economics Center (DFE) Leadership Award. This award, given by the DFE faculty, was established in 2011 to recognize seniors who have demonstrated outstanding initiative, intellectual and professional curiosity, and a commitment to mentoring in their involvement with the DFE.

Among his many achievements at Duke, Pandit created a mock interview program for students participating in finance internship recruiting. In fall 2017, the program took place over a weekend with over 50 juniors participating in mock interviews conducted by seniors with recruiting experience.

DFE Teaching Director Emma Rasiel commented, “We feel Chinmay deserves this award for his outstanding creativity, leadership, and administrative efficiency in creating and almost single-handedly managing the first student-to-student mock interview program. We thank him for handing it on to next generation. This is the sort of mentorship activity that best exemplifies the values that DFE faculty hope to instill in our students.”

After graduation, Pandit will be joining the Blackstone Group’s real estate platform in New York City. He kindly agreed to share the story of his path to a finance career and advice to new generations of Duke students.

How did your interest in finance develop?

My initial interest in finance developed during my first visit to Duke in my senior year of high school, when I coincidentally met Professor Rasiel and learned about her career and interests. The enthusiasm with which she spoke about the blend of business and politics, quantitative and qualitative analysis, independence and team-oriented work – all characteristics of financial services – resonated deeply with me.

Once I came to Duke, a few friends and I decided to take the introductory finance course taught by the Investment Club. Truthfully, I found the material to be a little dry (sorry I-club, I still love you), but I formed lasting relationships with mentors that have crucially influenced my development up until this point. I slowly began to learn more about the world of finance through friends and classes and gained hands-on experience during my sophomore summer, when I interned at a consulting firm that focuses on financial services for half of the summer and taught high school economics at a rural boarding school in India during the other half. At the school, I worked closely with the school’s leadership to plan for their financial future and renovate the school. I loved working with companies and non-profits alike to “solve a puzzle” under uncertain circumstances, to try and brainstorm different scenarios and solutions to ensure the delivery of a quality product — regardless of whether it’s insurance or education.

My junior summer was spent at Blackstone working in their real estate division, solidifying my belief that finance can be an unparalleled first career step for those interested in business and innovation. I hope to get into development down the road. This position with Blackstone promises to surround me with high-quality, driven people who will trust me with undeserved amounts of responsibility, and I can’t wait!

How did you come to be involved with the DFE?

My initial involvement with the DFE came through the various classes I took in the department: from Rasiel’s classic Intermediate Finance to Linsey Hughes’ in-depth, project-oriented Inside Hedge Funds and John Forlines’ thought-provoking, atypical Shakespeare and Financial Markets. After TAing for ECON 201 and going through the finance recruiting process, I began working closely with Professor Rasiel to plan the Senior-to-Junior Interview Program, which has been my biggest involvement with the DFE.

What events, programs, and people had the most impact on you as you’ve pursued finance? What skills have you picked up?

Duke alumni and professors have been incredible sources of guidance and support as I have walked along the finance path; more importantly, though, they have instilled a constantly critical, reflective eye in me. They have pushed me to not just ask “What am I doing?” but to ask “Why am I doing it?” and “How can I do it better?”. From professors like Rasiel, Hughes, and Forlines, to my thesis advisor Tom Nechyba, to older students like Mehul Mehta (B.S. ’16) and Sebastian Baquerizo (P ’17), the mentors in my life have constantly driven me to think about my path, learn from their and my mistakes, and prepare for my goals judiciously while still being aware that all my plans may change in an instant.

Investment Club has been another crucial piece of my journey in finance. Aside from practicing the technical skills of analyzing and presenting a stock pitch, I have learned the importance of peer camaraderie — the freedom to talk freely about opportunities and concerns with those in the same boat as me. We share ideas and advice with each other every day and it has been a remarkable way to stay informed on the latest trends in finance and forming close friendships with people going off to be extremely successful in their lives. Additionally, Investment Club has improved my managerial and mentorship skills. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to guide and learn from younger students.

What inspired you to organize the Senior-to-Junior Mock Interview Program (SJMIP) in Fall 2017?

The idea for the SJMIP would never have been born without the candid feedback of countless Duke community members. Two interactions, in particular, stand out that led to SJMIP’s creation.

The first was over winter break of 2016-17, when I received a string of texts from younger friends asking for advice regarding finance interview preparation. I sent them all similar recommendations, based off of what was most helpful during my preparation, emphasizing the importance of talking to older students about their experiences and practicing multiple interviews in person with people knowledgeable about the process.

Unfortunately, though, several mentioned that they didn’t know older students who they would be comfortable asking for a practice interview. Many didn’t even know a single person (other than me) who had gone through the recruiting process! It was at this moment that the gears started moving in my head to figure out a way to efficiently bring prospective interns and senior students together to practice for job interviews.

A few weeks later on campus, I was speaking with a few of my students in ECON 201 discussion sections about the same topic of preparing for job interviews. The conversation veered slightly, however, taking the form of a critique of the current state of mentorship and professional support across Duke. Especially for those students not living with a particular group on campus (Greek life, SLG, etc.), it was very difficult to find support networks to learn about the professional world. This experience solidified my commitment to creating a program that would initiate formal mentorship connections across classes and provide a platform for anyone and everyone to ask questions and feel supported in preparing for the outside world.

As I always do, I reached out to mentors of mine to gather advice on beginning the program. Meetings with Emma helped to nail down the exact objective and form that the program would initially take. Later, meetings with people like former I-Club President Travis Wolf (B.S. ’17) helped me build out my understanding of the opportunities currently offered to students and those that are lacking. Eventually, with plenty of support from DFE, we brought together over 100 students across the junior and senior class to help out with the mock interview weekend, an event that seemed to provide exactly what students were looking for.

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

The SJMIP holds a special place in my Duke heart. Knowing that it will continue to grow and assist students in the years ahead makes it that much sweeter. There exists an unbelievable quality of talent and experience among the students we have right here at Duke. I am a big believer that the value of a Duke education is primarily driven by the people we meet and interact with on campus. Thus, the best use of our time, in my opinion, is to meet those around us, learn from their successes and failures, collaborate and continue to grow, and continue to give back. The SJMIP embodies these principles perfectly, and I am so proud to have worked with DFE to make this happen.

Beside finance, what other interests have you explored while at Duke?

I am very thankful to have been able to explore a variety of opportunities on campus. Education and teaching have been defining aspects of my college career. From the Mississippi Delta to rural south India to Duke Economics classrooms, I have taught in a variety of contexts, inspiring me to write my thesis about higher education financing within the United States. Because of my collegiate experiences, I plan on staying heavily involved in education throughout my career.

Meanwhile, through the Duke Political Review, I have found a community of students eager to write about and discuss global events. People in this organization have become some of my closest friends and sharpest debaters. As a student representative on the Duke Board of Trustees, I have been afforded the opportunity to serve the Duke community while learning more about the inner workings of university policy and management. Finally, as a club and IM soccer player and an amateur squash player, I have found a gratifying outlet to relieve stress, compete athletically with my peers, and find life-long friends along the way.

What advice do you give underclassmen, in general and in terms of pursuing finance?

A goal for everyone by graduation should be to have two or three professors who will stand behind you, provide guidance, and vouch for your character and capabilities. Obviously, tangible, surface level benefits arise from having professors in your corner (letters of recommendation, referrals, etc.), but more importantly, faculty members have a lifetime of experience and knowledge to share.

Turning to advice directed more specifically at those pursuing jobs in in finance, I recommend finding a routine that forces you to reflect on your journey. Find someone or some practice that makes you think critically about your goals and the purpose behind them. For me, my close friends, none of whom are in finance, incessantly ask me why I am going into finance and what I want to do with it.

At Duke and beyond, it is dangerously easy to blindly follow the crowd. “Everyone’s applying to finance jobs, I guess I will, too” is a pervasive mentality around here. As a soon-to-be full-time employee at a financial services firm, I certainly see why finance is attractive. There are many benefits from working in the industry. But it took me awhile to understand exactly why those benefits mattered to me and why they were better than the benefits of going in another direction. Only after careful consideration and reflection have I gained clarity, and I think it has injected a certain fortitude in me to pursue my personal goals relentlessly and not be passive about my life trajectory.