Amherst Magazine

How to Beat the Market

“I know that internships and jobs are drying up in some of the more traditional fields,” acknowledged Rhamey Elhosseiny ’10 at the start of this year’s Business Leadership Seminar. He was speaking in Stirn Auditorium, where 60 students—eventual job-seekers all—were gathered for the three-day seminar.

Elhosseiny is executive director of the Pre-Business Group, the student organization that runs the seminar. Opening line aside, his attitude about the economy is far from gloom-and-doom. Just before presenter Philip Gorth ’04 gave a speech on “demystifying the investment bank,” Elhosseiny offered a pep talk. “We’re young,” he said, smiling at the audience, “we’re geographically mobile—and we’re cheap!” He rattled off a list of businesses that got their start during a recession: General Electric, FedEx, CNN, Hewlett-Packard, Trader Joe’s. Most of the students in the crowd were sophomores and juniors getting the lay of the land. Some were job-hunting seniors. Many were dressed business-casual, but some wore interview suits; all looked better than usual for 10 a.m. on a cold winter’s day.

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Mike Jordan '83, creative director at the advertising firm Gotham, speaking at one of the power lunches.

The Business Leadership Seminar began in 2003 and, in recent years, has focused mostly on how to get jobs and internships in investment banking and consulting. This year, Elhosseiny says, “I wanted to expand our notion of business,” in part because of the economy but also because “our generation is very entrepreneurial.” In addition to presentations like “An Inside Look at the Summer Analyst Position,” this year’s seminar featured power lunches with Mike Jordan ’83, creative director at the advertising firm Gotham; Michael Kopko, who founded DormAid; and Andrew Miller, co-founder and CEO of Quattro Wireless. Ken Natori ’98, vice president of finance and director of e-commerce at the Natori Co., gave a talk on operating a fashion business.

“Opportunity always comes from inefficiency,” said Paul Wolansky ’78, chairman and CEO of New China Management Corp. and New China Capital Management, in a talk on investing in private equity in China. Today’s economy, he said, “gets you thinking about what you really want to do at a time when the opportunity cost is low.”

The Pre-Business Group began to feel the effects of the bear market a year ago, when several speakers on the 2008 seminar lineup cancelled at the last minute, says Michael Guttilla ’09, who organized that year’s seminar with Justin Holtzman ’09. For this year’s program, Holtzman helped to recruit speakers, working off a list of business e-mail addresses the group had on file. “We’d send e-mail,” he says. “It would bounce back.”

Still, Elhosseiny (who, in his spare time, is already working for Kopko, the DormAid founder) remains optimistic. “The low-hanging fruit of a bull market isn’t there anymore,” Elhosseiny says. “But there’s no technology that can displace the skills you’ve learned.” If you take the long view, he says, “I don’t see how you can’t be optimistic. This is a huge opportunity.”