By Amy Rudolph
Students at WC have the money in their hands — $700,000 to be exact.
The Brown Advisory Student-Managed Investment Fund Program (Brown Advisory SMIF Program) has grown from the half million-dollar mark to more than $700,000 and currently has holdings in Apple Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Pepsico Inc., Verizon, and McDonald’s.
The program wants students to have requisite knowledge of finance and stock trading. Admission to the program also requires successfully completing an Introduction to Accounting class. Professor Tsai said that this is essential, as students need to be able to understand stock reports from companies when weighing on potential investments.
The world of business and finance might be confusing to an outsider. Professor Susan Vowels, chair of the Business Department, said that businesses are difficult to understand due to their complexity and interconnection.
“Business itself is one of those remarkable things, because businesses are systems. They’re systems composed of systems that operate within systems, which makes them really fun to think about but also really challenging to think about,” Vowels said.
Utchen echoed Vowels’s sentiment on the complexity of business, and said, “I have learned [through the Brown Advisory] how complicated and interconnected the economy is, and the program has put into perspective the ways I am able to apply my academics to the real world.”
It is not just the students who realize that they have a passion for business and finance through the program; the effect is felt by professors as well.
“I have developed an interest in finance I never had before.”
W. James Price IV, a former partner and managing director of Alex, Brown & Sons, and a member of Washington College’s Board of Visitors and Governors, invested $500,000 to start an initiative that would soon take a life of its own as the fund.
The mutual fund allows students togain skills in stock trading, something Price believes will be a valuable experience for those wishing to continue in the economic and business fields.
“When I finished college, I had no real world knowledge of the investment world. When I started at Alex, Brown & Sons, I had great mentors but, as I look back, I always wished I had started with more knowledge of investments,” Price said, according to a WC publication.
The program members meet weekly to discuss possible acquisitions and learn from experienced industry members such as Richard Bookbinder. Bookbinder, the advisor for the program, serves on the WC Board of Visitors and Governors’ Investment Committee.
Bookbinder has founded two capital management funds and regularly invests in sustainable finance initiatives such as clean tech, renewable energy, water, and agriculture.
Professor Hui-Ju Tsai credits Bookbinder’s dedication to the Brown Advisory as one of the keys to its success. Bookbinder takes time out of his weekly schedule to travel from New Jersey to WC to advise students on investment choices, while still allowing them to come to their own conclusions. Bookbinder was instrumental in preparing the group of 18 WC students who travelled to Omaha, Neb. to meet Warren Buffett.
In 2016, Brown Advisory was able to send four students to Omaha to attend the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders’ Meeting. Each year, students compete to see who will have the opportunity to go to the meeting. In 2016, seniors Audrey Utchen, Jonathan Wendeborn, Ryan Leigh, and junior Shreyas Suresh won after a blind review of their essays, and they accompanied Bookbinder to Omaha.
The Brown Advisory helped make the Omaha Trip of 2017 a possibility, partly due to President Sheila Bair’s connections in the financial world. She was instrumental in providing the Brown Advisory with the opportunity to incorporate Thomson Reuters Eikon software, beginning in fall 2017.
“She definitely brings a new element and some extraordinary opportunities for students just because her of her wide connections in the world of finance,” Vowels said.
The program provides students with an array of experiential learning opportunities, and allows them to hone their critical thinking and analysis skills, while allowing them to look at the world of business through a lens that makes sense to them.
Students looking to apply should remember that the program is open to all majors on campus. Vowels stated that finance is interdisciplinary, and that there are many ways for students to look at the craft and fine tune their own interest. As outsiders, students need to understand the environmental contexts of business and how they operate, all of which can be learned through joining and working within the Brown Advisory Program.