London Business School offered many memorable learning experiences for MFA alumna Alice Schenato. Here, she talks about the potency and influence of the School’s Career Centre – and how it opened her eyes to a much wider range of professional options post-LBS.
I handed my letter of resignation to Goldman Sachs the day the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic back in March 2020. A month later, I started my new job – remotely – at Blackstone Real Estate Debt Strategies. It wasn’t the ideal way to join a new business but the position, as an Analyst working on the private equity firm’s real estate opportunistic debt fund, was exactly what I was looking for. While business meetings and social events take place on Zoom, the work – searching and underwriting deals in a volatile market – is both challenging and rewarding.
It’s rare that a junior Investment Banking Analyst leaves their first job after only a few months, and I owe it to the LBS Career Centre and the School’s supportive alumni for helping me pursue my dream opportunity within the buy-side investment space so early in my professional career. The opportunities made available through the Career Centre to visit different companies and attend both formal and informal networking events, including with LBS alumni, gave me a clearer picture of the real-world professional opportunities within finance for an LBS graduate. One of these events was dedicated to the buy-side markets and was attended by alumni from Blackstone and other PE funds. These kinds of events and the networking opportunities they create are invaluable when thinking about and planning your professional future.
My introduction to London Business School came in 2016 during a summer internship in the finance department at Newbury Investments, a mid-size holding company in Berkshire. My mentor there, Leo Yu (EMBALS2016), was just completing an Executive MBA at LBS: hearing him talk about LBS and the learning and networking experiences available to him gave me a visceral sense of how tightknit the LBS community is, and the sense of belonging I’d always craved.
“Hearing about LBS and the learning and networking experience available to Leo Yu (EMBALS2016) gave me a visceral sense of how tightknit the LBS community is, and the sense of belonging I’d always craved”
During my work placement at Newbury, I was involved with acquisition due diligence and portfolio company management and reporting. I was only 19 and commercially naïve. I had two kind bosses – one of them Leo – who took the time to sit down with me every day, teaching me how to read a profit and loss statement and how crucial due diligence was during an acquisition process, all while dispensing valuable life advice. But above all, their patience and support taught me what great leadership really means.
Around this time, I decided that London was the place to pursue a career in finance. London is a European and world centre of deal-making, fundraising and financial innovation, with a world-class banking, investment and financial ecosystem. I’m from a small traditional village between Verona and Venice. Women there don’t tend to have high-profile jobs in finance, so I knew that being in a big, open-minded city would help me achieve my ambitions.
To experience more of London, I applied for another summer internship – from June to August 2017 – at Deutsche Bank with the Real Estate Investment Banking group. This was just after I finished the second year of my undergraduate degree in Economics and Finance at Bocconi University in Milan. Yida Jiang (MBA2016) was an associate in my team and I worked with him a lot. From a technical point of view, I was impressed by his knowledge and how he interpreted data. But he was also an LBS alum and I was inspired by the stories he told me of his experiences, the extra-curricular activities, the club opportunities, events and the approach to learning. I’m deeply grateful to both Yida and Leo for their patience, their mentoring and for introducing me to LBS.
“Being the first person in my family to go to university meant a lot to me – let alone attending a world-leading institution like LBS”
The LBS Masters in Financial Analysis was the obvious programme for me: it was a perfect fit for my skillset, ambition and personality. The MFA is known for being well-rounded in terms of the focus on academic content as well as experiential and real-world application of finance theory. I’d also heard about the opportunities for peer-to-peer learning through carefully designed study groups – and I particularly liked the sound of the Women in Business Club, the Italian Club and the Real Estate Club. But without a scholarship, it would have been challenging for my parents and I to afford an LBS education. So, I was beyond grateful to have been awarded the 50th Anniversary Scholarship to study the MFA in 2018. I was the first person to go to university in my family; to be able to say that I’ve also achieved a Masters degree at a world-leading academic institution – now that’s something very special.
Apart from the excellent academic teaching at LBS – and stand-out professors (I’ll never forget my corporate finance classes and boot camps with Alex Edmans) – I was impressed by the culture of the School, and the focus on social impact and corporate governance. The School’s Wheeler Institute for Business and Development funds research into how business can support emerging and developing markets, and the Centre for Corporate Governance (CCG) researches key issues like investor stewardship, executive pay and responsible business.
During my time at LBS, I shared a flat with Beth Anne Helgason, an LBS PhD student in Organisational Behaviour. Her research focuses on unethical behaviour in organisations and she works very closely with Professor Dan Cable. I spent many hours discussing my views on corporate social responsibility in finance with her, where people feel comfortable acting in ethically questionable ways and how people perceive others’ unethical actions. This is one of the benefits of studying at a research-oriented business school like LBS: it’s the best environment for exchanging and debating ideas with faculty and fellow students, and ultimately the best place to have a profound impact on the thoughts and actions of academics, business leaders and policy makers.
During the MFA, I went on a Global Immersion Field Trip to Medellín in Colombia, where I worked with the Marina Orth Foundation. Their work, with local schools in historically ‘difficult’ areas of the city, teaching English, tech and leadership skills, is truly inspiring. As a team of five, we worked as consultants recommending several sustainable options for the foundation’s scholarships, allowing disadvantaged kids to pursue higher education. Needless to say the experience was eye- and heart-opening and got me even more interested in giving back to the community down the line.
“I owe it to the LBS Career Centre and the School’s supportive alumni for helping me pursue my dream opportunity within the buy-side investment space so early in my professional career”
Through LBS, I picked up some great shortcuts and real-world insights that I now use in my job every day. During London Business Challenge Week, for example, we were put into groups of six and spent a week outside the classroom, working on real-life projects with London-based companies. My group was assigned PE fund Three Hills Capital Partners (THCP). We had to analyse an investment opportunity and then pitch it to THCP’s senior investment executives. The presentation was followed by an intense Q&A session, which I can now say with the benefit of experience replicates perfectly what happens at an investment committee in real life.
Working side-by-side with my classmates, some of whom had impressive work experience, during London Business Challenge Week, was a great learning opportunity and I remember staying up late to work in the library with a smile. While LBS gave us the theory and frameworks, we were completely independent in organising the project’s work and deliverables. It was a busy week and the presentation at THCP was nerve-wracking; but looking back we had a lot of fun along the way – and I get to use those same financial modelling tools and presentation skills every day on the job.
During classes, the faculty make sure everyone gets an equal chance to speak and express their views. And yes, they sometimes put you on the spot. It can feel uncomfortable, especially if you’re like me (not from a big city and possibly feeling like you don’t fit in) but LBS makes everyone feel like they belong. That confidence – that feeling of deserving to be where I am in my career and that my goals are realistic and achievable – is what ultimately gave me the courage to leave Goldman Sachs for the buy-side real estate market in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
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