Penn State Asset Management Group Will Help You ‘Win The Day’
When John Spagnola stepped on Penn State’s campus as a biomedical engineering major in 2014, preparing himself and other students for jobs on Wall Street wasn’t exactly where he thought he’d be five years later.
Spagnola, now a super senior after taking a semester off from school to complete a co-op with Phillips, is currently the president of Penn State’s Asset Management Group (AMG). The Asset Management Group helps students develop the knowledge and skills necessary for positions on Wall Street and other areas of business.
AMG was started at Penn State in 2014 by Spagnola’s older brother, who originally named it the Hedge Fund Club. As Spagnola explained, his brother and a couple of his friends saw an opportunity to bring people of unique backgrounds together “to teach them about finance from the ground up.”
The group was initially interested in uncovering the links between international news and the world of business or financial markets.
In 2015, the club’s name changed to Penn State Asset Management Group. Despite having an attractive name, Spagnola didn’t feel that “Hedge Fund Club” truly echoed what the club’s identity was.
“When they started it out, to be honest, Hedge Fund Club sounds pretty cool,” he said. “‘Awesome — I want to work for a hedge fund and make a lot of money.’ But I think that wasn’t really the identity that our club had.”
Spagnola became involved with the club in 2015 when he arrived on campus, but becoming president just a few years down the road still wasn’t on his radar in the slightest. He remembers his first few months with the club, explaining, “my brother’s doing it, he kind of forced me to join, so I guess I’ll pay attention.”
Soon, though, the biomedical engineering major’s eyes were opened to the world of finance and just how much AMG was doing for so many Penn State students. The original plan, Spagnola says, was to challenge himself academically at Penn State and attend medical school at some point after college, but AMG quickly turned his focus elsewhere.
His second thoughts on a career in engineering or medicine were confirmed after taking a semester off to complete a co-op with Phillips. He soon realized that working as an engineer was too dry and impersonal for him. Spagnola knew he wanted a career on Wall Street after another internship as a software engineer at JP Morgan, which he described as “impersonal” and “tech-savvy.”
The former medical school hopeful quickly dove head-first into becoming involved with AMG, working as an analyst in his first semester and soon worked his way up to a position as a lead analyst.
As Spagnola explained, one of the biggest differences between being a regular and lead analyst is the fact that you’re interviewed on your overall knowledge of what you’ve been taught. He remembers being grilled on general fundamentals as well as being put through behavioral interviews.
Spagnola is most proud of AMG’s teaching of effective communication skills and, in turn, helping members become more comfortable in interviews.
“Each step in the climb involves interviews, which is great practice,” he said. “We’re also more than willing to meet up with anyone to sit down and work through a practice interview.”
After spending time as a lead analyst, Spagnola ran the commodities and derivatives sector of the club for two years. AMG is broken into three sectors — the other two are fixed incomes and currencies and equities.
For each sector of the club, there are 8-12 lead analysts who are chosen to become portfolio managers or directors based on performance. The lead analysts are also responsible for choosing the executive board.
No matter what sector of the club you’re in, interviews and networking tools are practiced constantly at club meetings and other events. Although the club does value the pure fundamentals and knowledge of how the world of business operates, being personable and memorable is just as important when getting a job.
Spagnola explained how some topics that are practiced include e-mail etiquette, following up with someone that you meet at a network reception, or generally separating yourself from other candidates.
AMG prides itself on teaching members how to properly sell themselves to employers and be confident in high stakes job interviews. Spagnola made it clear that the club has been successful in turning Penn State into a consistent name that appears on many employers’ desks.
“Employers are starting to see our name on résumés and are saying, “Oh, wow, Asset Management Group. They grow some good kids, have some strong candidates, and have a good thing going right now,” he said. “We see our growth as exponential.”
Although AMG may sound similar to The Nittany Lion Fund, a hedge fund run by students through Smeal that also has a mission to get students employed at jobs on Wall Street, the two programs are not affiliated.
AMG does encourage its members to become involved with the Fund, as its strong networking abilities and reputation make it one of the most notable clubs of its kind in the country, but Spagnola explained that the two clubs are not exactly the same.
“In order for our kids to get onto Wall Street, they have to have this mentality that they will not stop until they get what they want,” he said. “Whether they don’t go out for two months straight because they’re studying vigorously or sending out forty emails a day to alumni.”
This non-stop mentality is something Spagnola tries to instill into his club’s members. In fact, it has slowly become AMG’s overall motto: “Win the day.”
What does this mean? AMG wants its members to do the things that other people won’t in order to succeed. One example that Spagnola used as something that most other college students aren’t doing is waking up before 6 a.m.
“Nobody’s up before 6 a.m., which is why I love getting up early,” he said. “Getting up early, reading the Wall Street Journal, grabbing a cup of coffee, doing some work, getting a workout in — there’s nothing better than that.”
AMG has clearly been “winning the day” in the past few years, participating in plenty of activities that are getting its members real-life experience on Wall Street.
Recently, the club has been blasting out market reports from the different sectors to Wall Street firms in an effort to increase the exposure of lead analysts. This has given lead analysts the opportunity to make pitches in various sectors and develop strong connections with several managing directors at powerful Wall Street firms.
AMG has also grown its alumni network by taking club-wide visits to trading floors in New York City. The club went on a trip to Wall Street last year and will return after spring break. It made visits at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Bank of America, and Citi, as well.
Spagnola is proud to see how far the Asset Management Group has grown and helped countless Penn State students earn their dream jobs. He understands that he doesn’t have much need to be involved as a fifth-year, second semester senior, but that doesn’t matter to him.
“It means a lot to me to give back and make sure some of these kids have the same opportunities that I had when I was younger,” he said.
The club’s mindset of consistent hard work and a willingness to go the extra mile has clearly done wonders for many of its members. Spagnola wants his club’s members to remember their simple motto and where it can take them.
“If you win every day for long enough, you’ll reach wherever you want to go in life.”
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