When we decided to sit down with a current student for 24 to 25 Minutes with…, we wanted to sit down with an individual who could give a unique and well informed perspective about what it’s like to be an MBA student in today’s world. We wanted someone who could describe first hand the challenges graduate management students face in today’s market. And, we wanted someone who could set a positive tone for those students who will follow in his/her footsteps. The Zicklin School of Business is very fortunate to have many students who fit this description. Dave Sedelnick is most certainly one of them.
A second-year Full-time Honors MBA student, Mr. Sedelnick came to Zicklin with a strong resume in real estate finance and development. A year before starting his MBA, Mr. Sedelnick had an epiphany while on a trip to China. In his own words, he was “awed by the rapidity at which the real estate industry is broadening, deepening, and globalizing.” He realized at that moment that his long-term goal would be to manage commercial real estate projects in the developing world. In order to achieve that goal, Mr. Sedelnick identified the need to improve upon his analytical, technical, and managerial skills sets and chose the Zicklin School of Business to help him in doing so. Mr. Sedelnick, as a result, left a very successful career in Massachusetts and headed to New York City for his MBA. The following is his story….
Q. You started your MBA in the first week of September of 2008. Within two weeks, the world as we knew it would change forever. How have the events of September 2008 and the ensuing financial crisis/recession shaped your management education experience?
A. For me, the biggest change was from a job search perspective. I went to school to study finance and before classes were underway the financial world seemed to be in the midst of self-destruct. Massive layoffs, government bailouts and bankrupt financial institutions made finding an internship exceptionally challenging. Since the typical job search mediums were constrained a change in job-search strategy was required.
The financial crisis also effected our MBA education, particularly for finance classes. Frequently, professors would diverge from a typical ‘scheduled’ lecture, to discuss significant events and provide explanations. We talked about what was happening in the financial markets and what that meant for us as MBA students. We also discussed new opportunities (such as risk management) that were going to emerge from the financial crisis.
Q. Let’s delve a little deeper into changes in your job search strategy. How did it change as a result of the events?
A. Coming into the Baruch MBA program, I thought that a job-search would be the least of my worries. I was in the real estate industry prior to coming to school and had several high-level contacts in the NYC area. For example, my prior boss had referred me to one of his longstanding friends at a commercial mezzanine finance company. I had met with the CEO several times prior to attending grad school, and more-or-less had an open offer when I graduated. How that changed. Stressed by the real estate downturn, and just six months into my MBA education, his firm was forced to close its doors. All the contacts I thought I had either went sour or instituted a no-hiring policy.
Essentially, I was at square zero. So, I had to reach out of the box and pursue a different strategy. That started with a lot of networking. Instead of relying on my existing database of names, I was forced to, in a good way, reach out to different people, including professors. After a lot of hard work, my lucky break came along when I spoke to Professor Terry Martell, who, in a round about way, acquainted me with the CEO of the firm I’ll be working for after graduation; a mid-sized investment bank called Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW). I wasn’t really prepared for that. I thought that a job out of school was going to be pretty much sealed up and it wasn’t.
Q. In your admissions essay, you stated your ultimate long-term goal is to manage commercial real estate projects in the developing world. How has that goal evolved over the last 18 months?
A. Well, my ultimate long-term goal hasn’t changed — it’s still where I’d like to be down the road. Prior to grad school I had the experience of traveling to China. Seeing the changes taking place in this developing economy solidified my interest in emerging markets. The pace at which the changes were happening was just amazing. Buildings were going up over night. There are night crews working on buildings. The sense of urgency was just incredible. My post-graduate career path in real estate banking will be immensely helpful in building a strong analytical skill set and laying a foundation in real estate capital markets.
Q. What ideas, areas of interest, opportunities have you pursued over the last 18 months that you either did not consider prior to starting your MBA or did not know existed?
A. One of the most beneficial parts of my education that I wasn’t expecting was the different types of case competitions that are available. For example, I participated in the ACG Cup this year, which is a private equity M&A case competition. Fortunately, my team won the first round and we will be competing in the state-level competition in late April. It’s been a fantastic experience in itself. Competitions like this build on everything you learned in an MBA curriculum. It was a lot of work; but you get a lot out of it and it has been something I really enjoyed.
Q. Let’s talk a bit more about your ACG Cup experience. Your team won the campus based competition – congratulations. Describe the overall experience, how you built your team, and what set your presentation apart from the competition. And, secondly, what are your predictions for the next round?
A. I’ll start with the second question. The next round is state wide. My team will be competing against six other business schools, including NYU, Fordham, Cornell, Hofstra and a few others. I believe Baruch came in third place last year. This year I’m ready to raise the bar and I can definitely see a first place finish for us. But if we place second, I won’t be horribly upset, but I’d really like to be at the top of the podium. We’ve done a lot to prepare for the second round. We met with several of the judges after the first round to get advice as to how to change our presentation and what to focus on. We have gone through a couple of practice rounds since then. So, I think with this kind of preparation, we will be ready to take a shot at 1st place.
In regards to forming the group, as you are aware, the Zicklin School of Business is one of the most diverse schools of business in the country so it was a unique opportunity to build a team. No matter who you pick for teammates, you’ll be assured of not having two people who are alike or two with a similar set of experiences.
I started the team by recruiting two of my classmates, both of whom I’ve built a close relationship with during my time at Zicklin. Oytun Sepin, a student from Turkey who is studying Finance and International Business and Yuri Prokhorov, a student who was born in Russia and is studying Finance. Our group was assigned two additional students from the Flextime MBA Program, however neither were able to participate in the competition.
Once the case was assigned we had a week to prepare. We decided beforehand that we were going to give it 110% and that’s exactly what we did. I think we took first place in the competition because we drew on our diverse experiences, leveraged our MBA education, and gave 110%.
Q. So, aside from preparation and effort, what do you feel set your presentation apart? Give us a critique of your performance?
A. As I mentioned before, the competition builds on just about everything one learns in business school. We had to sit down, work together, and come up with a plan for a fictional private company that was looking to transition ownership. First, we leveraged our finance classes to develop a strategic alternatives model for the firm that addressed all of the stakeholders’ interests. Once we developed that plan, we had to decide how we were going to present it to the panel of judges, who represented the board of directors and senior management of the private company. Building on our marketing and business communication classes, we crafted a presentation and communication plan that effectively addressed management’s concerns. We rehearsed the presentation until it was second nature.
Overall, I think our performance was solid, though we did make one mistake in our analysis that nearly cost us the win. Somehow an Excel formula error slipped past all of us and as a result our valuation was too high. But our team compensated for that error in several ways. First, we were the only team, as far as I know, to propose a partial LBO for one of the owners of the firm. The case indicated that this particular owner was interested in retaining ownership and possibly running the company. We built out a model for that owner’s pro forma estimates and while we concluded that it wasn’t the best alternative for the company, I think the judges were impressed that we took the time to explore the avenue. Also, we were prepared for several of the judges’ questions. While a few questions tripped us up, overall, we anticipated the majority of questions that were posed. So when one of those questions popped up we were able to spout off an explanation and answer as if it was second nature.
In the end, I think we were able to edge out the win because overall we had a solid presentation. We clearly explained and justified our methodology while presenting and were careful to address management’s concerns in a consultative manner.
Q. You come to Zicklin from Massachusetts. What advantages/disadvantages are there in doing your management education in New York City? How have you personally taken advantage of the city?
A. I don’t see any disadvantages to pursuing my MBA in New York. Of course my family and some close friends are further away then I would like; but from an academic standpoint, I think New York City is the best possible location for an MBA education.
Unfortunately, I think sometimes students take for granted that they are in New York. We get many offers to attend national conferences that are being held in New York. Students from all over the country and abroad make plans to attend these events. For us, it’s simply a matter of waking up in the morning and jumping on the subway. Also, the networking opportunities have been unbelievable here in New York. Being right in the heart of finance has opened so many opportunities for networking events, industry conferences, speaker series, etc.
Q. What conferences/networking events have you personally taken advantage of?
A. I have taken advantage of several. The first was a private equity/venture capital conference that I learned about through Professor Terry Martell. It was at this conference where I first met several employees of the company I will be working for when I finish my MBA. I was able to make a significant number of contacts at this conference – I walked out of there with at least a dozen business cards.
A common consensus in Massachusetts is that New Yorkers are a bit more pretentious, and focused solely on pursuing their own livelihood. I’ve found the exact opposite. While there are always exceptions, for the most part, everyone I have encountered, including C-level executives, have been more than happy to entertain a phone call or an informational interview. Sure, sometimes business people are busy and you may not get on their schedule for two-to-three weeks, but usually they are more than happy to talk about how they got to where they are, discuss career goals and help shape a career strategy. In fact, out of the dozen business cards I walked away with from the private equity conference, I have kept in touch with three-to-four people and have had informational interviews with about six or seven. And that’s just one example. I’ve been to several other events and have had similar success at each, including the REIT Symposium.
Q. You are on the verge of graduating. What recommendations would you give to an individual who is on the verge of starting his/her graduate management education?
A. My first recommendation would be to have as much fun as you can right now. You are five months away from a lot of work. Especially the first term – it’s intensive and you’ll be forced to prioritize school seven days a week. That will be a big change from the ‘standard’ work week many are used to. There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to get back into the “school mode” and an MBA education is very competitive. Not just within classes but also with other schools. It’s collaborative too, but it is very competitive. If you have time, it can’t hurt to brush up on current events, and maybe get a head start on any topics you may not have had experience with. But other than that, kick back, relax, take it easy and prepare yourself for the hard work ahead of you.
Q. Looking back, what would you have done differently?
A. One thing that I should have done differently is to take on a more active role in clubs. I helped out with the Finance Club here and there but I think I should have branched out a little more and stepped out of the ‘real estate and finance’ box to look at more of the diverse number of clubs/events that Baruch offers.
Q. So, what’s next? What does your life look like after May 30th?
A. After May 30th, unfortunately things do not end for me as I will still be studying for the CFA Level I on June 5th. After the 5th, however, it’s party-hardy for about a month until work starts on July 7th. I’ll be working in investment banking, so it’ll be a lot of hours, but I’m prepared. As I mentioned, I interned at the firm I’ll be working for over last summer and enjoyed the experience immensely. To me, investment banking is very similar to business school. I worked in a small entrepreneurial group, everyone was intelligent, the culture was very competitive yet collaborative and everyone was willing to put in the extra time/effort to get the job done. That’s exactly the kind of environment I want to work in, so I am very excited.
Q. How would you say that internship experience affected your second year?
A. There is a specific standard that investment banks expect and that standard is perfection. If anything is wrong in what you submit, you are in a world of trouble. You quickly learn to have an extraordinary attention to detail. That level of detail has helped me in my second year of school. When I work on projects or valuations, I have a greater attention to detail. On a higher level, the internship also helped me to see that everything I was putting into my education would be realized ten-fold when I graduated.
Q. Finally, tell us about your classmates. What is it like doing an MBA in a close knit cohort like the Full-time Honors MBA?
A. I wouldn’t trade the Full-time Honors cohort for anything; it’s been one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in business school. The best things about the program are the caliber of student and the group diversity. Sometimes it can be difficult – it’s a love/hate relationship at times, especially when there are deadlines. But getting a diverse group of viewpoints – things I would not otherwise have thought of myself – was key to what has made this experience so great. Many of the relationships that I’ve developed with fellow classmates will last well-beyond grad school. The cohort atmosphere in the Full-time Honors program completely met my expectations.
1. Text Book that you will never depart with? The Handbook of Fixed Income Securities; Frank Fabozzi
2. Most admired business person? Warren Buffet & George Soros. For different reasons; I can’t choose just one.
3. Daily/Weekly/Monthly you cannot live without? The Economist
4. Spring Break destination? No Plans Yet; Hopefully Someplace Tropical
5. Course that challenged you the most? Probability Theory
6. Last non-school related book you read? A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel
7. Favorite Baruch-area eatery? Latin Thing http://www.latinthingnyc.com/
8. Favorite Baruch-area watering hole? Copper Door http://copperdoortavern.com/
9. What is your golden rule? Give 110%; Always Keep Looking Forward; Believe What You Can Achieve and Go For It.
10. Who will win the World Cup? Brazil will make their comeback