Ivy League Football `Mafia' Gives Wall Street a Talent Pipeline
University of Pennsylvania defensive back Josh Powers may have a better opportunity than playing for college football’s national championship: a six- figure Wall Street salary upon graduation.
Powers, a senior at the Philadelphia-based school, was able to use contacts on Penn’s athletic board to land internships at two financial firms.
“I have a job opportunity that the top, top percentile of applicants would give their right arm to have,” Powers said in a telephone interview from campus. “I’ve been blessed with a fantastic opportunity.”
Penn’s athletic board of overseers includes George Weiss, founder of the George Weiss Associates Inc. hedge fund in Hartford, Connecticut; Robert Wolf, chairman and chief executive officer of UBS Group Americas in Stamford, Connecticut; and Mark Werner, the former JP Morgan Securities Inc. vice chairman who is co-founder and CEO of Pierpont Securities LLC, also in Stamford.
Having that kind of board helps the Quakers get better players, coach Al Bagnoli, who led the team to the Ivy League championship last season, said in a telephone interview from the school’s campus.
“We call them our alumni mafia,” Bagnoli said. “Everyone looks out for one another. It’s a very close group.”
The school, founded by Ben Franklin, has an undergraduate enrollment of 10,300 full-time students.
Ivy League athletes often receive internships from executives involved with their school’s sports programs, while others use alumni for references or to gain insights into a company’s needs. Powers is one of dozens of student-athletes who had summer internships with financial firms.
Schools such as Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana; and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have similar networks.
“The alumni of the University of Notre Dame play a key role in assisting student-athletes in developing the skills critical to obtaining internships and jobs post graduation,” said Charmelle Green, senior assistant athletic director for student development and welfare. These programs have “all proven to provide student-athletes the necessary skills that lead to success beyond college.”
New York’s Columbia University formally recognized the importance of tapping into networks in 2006 by appointing Kimberly Curry, 36, as the first full-time director of career development for athletics in the Ivy League.
Curry holds so-called etiquette dinners where student- athletes are taught how to make small talk in a formal dinner setting. She schedules mock interviews, sets up talks by local business leaders and arranges for athletics alumni to help students by reviewing resumes, providing advice and making introductions.
Most college athletes aren’t going to make a living with their sports, especially those from the Ivy League, which doesn’t award athletic scholarships. National Football League teams had 334 rookie, or first-year, players on their 2010-2011 season-opening rosters, according to the league. None were from the Ivy League, which comprises eight of the top-ranked schools in the U.S.
There were five Ivy players on NFL rosters when the season started: center Matt Birk (Harvard, Baltimore Ravens), defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (Harvard, Oakland Raiders), quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard, Buffalo Bills), linebacker Zak DeOssie (Brown University, New York Giants) and guard Kevin Boothe (Cornell University, New York Giants), who is on the physically unable to perform list with a torn pectoral muscle.
Powers, the son of an accountant and high-school secretary in Fishers, Indiana, has a 3.42 grade-point average as a finance major at Penn’s Wharton School, ranked No. 4 among U.S. undergraduate business schools this year by Bloomberg Businessweek. He interned at Wolf’s and Weiss’s firms the past two years.
Powers, who started buying stocks with his allowance in high school, researched companies, built financial models and made trade suggestions based on his research at Weiss Associates.
“He did phenomenally well,” Weiss said. “He’s smart and they told me he was real aggressive. I said, ‘How can an analyst be aggressive?’ They said, ‘He is.’”
$80 Million Donations
Weiss, 67, has contributed more than $80 million to Penn, according to the school, including $20 million to recruit and fund professorships, $14 million for undergraduate scholarships and $10 million for a football stadium renovation.
“There is a huge benefit to having the support of our alumni network,” Weiss said in a telephone interview. “But it’s not a freebie, either. They have to pass muster. We work our interns 50 to 60 hours a week and I don’t tell them to hire a guy; they have to come to me and say they want to hire this guy.”
Weiss said the starting salary for undergraduates at his firm is about $120,000 a year.
The internships don’t violate National Collegiate Athletic Association rules because any student can apply for an internship or job. Participation in intercollegiate athletics is one factor that goes onto an application.
Pierpont Securities’ Werner hired Barb Seaman, captain of Penn’s 2010 Ivy League champion women’s lacrosse team, to work on his sales and trading team after she graduated with a degree in marketing from the Wharton school.
“These are really intelligent kids with a world-class education,” Werner, 52, said in a telephone interview. “It’s not just about pulling them up. It’s an advantage to us, too.”
Athletes can bring something extra that’s necessary for success in finance, Werner said.
“In a business where it tends to knock you down a lot, they tend to get back up,” he said. “That drive, that level of discipline, the rigor they have in their own personal lives and their willingness to take on hard challenges; a lot of that gets taught to you on an athletic field.”
Powers said while he loves football, he knows where his future lies. He interviewed with Nick Morris, the head of Weiss’s equity trading desk, and got the thumbs up.
Morris was a Penn defensive back in the 1990s. He was voted the Quakers’ defensive Most Valuable Player and was tri-captain of the 1995 team that finished 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Ivy League, tied for second place with Cornell behind Princeton.
“A lot of the time it’s who you know,” Powers said. “Then, of course, you have to deliver.”
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