The University of Georgia’s Corsair Society

March 25, 2019 | Articles

Written by Lori Johnston (ABJ ’95 UGA) and Jeremy Bales (AB, ABJ ’01 UGA) and published in the December 2014 issue of GEORGIA MAGAZINE

The Statue of Liberty looms in the distance through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the 27th floor of Citi’s Greenwich Street offices in the Tribeca neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. Bethany McCain (AB, AB ’13), surrounded by fellow University of Georgia alumni, takes a final few moments to savor the view of the Hudson River before she and the others head off to their jobs at Citi, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and other investment bank and private equity firms.

The 30-plus professionals gathering for this mini reunion in early September are among more than 100 recent UGA graduates who have earned jobs at top-tier investment banks and management consulting firms through their participation in the Corsair Society.

The Corsair Society is a student- and alumni-led organization sponsored and supported by the UGA Honors Program, which collaborates with the Terry College of Business and other parts of the university. Founded as a small, informal group in 2006, the organization’s participants have been earning positions and excelling on Wall Street and in some of the most competitive jobs in the business world.

“It still kind of takes my breath away that we have these kinds of opportunities,” says McCain, a UGA Foundation Fellow who works for J.P. Morgan, part of JPMorgan Chase & Co. “I’m very, very grateful to Corsair Society for the opportunity to be up here.”

The 16 Corsair members with 2014 internships all earned job offers as their senior year began.

“The fact that every single person in our class received an offer is significant, and I’m really proud of them for that,” says David Battle (BBA ’00), Corsair’s co-founder. “Participants have been more successful than anyone involved could have imagined.”

Opening the doors on Wall Street is contributing to overall success at Terry, where the placement rate for the class of 2014 grew to 84 percent (up from 50 percent five years ago). The ripple effect is that more opportunities are available for UGA students.

“The most challenging, difficult jobs to get, our students are getting them, and they’re getting them in scores, and they’re getting them in either London or New York or San Francisco or wherever,” says Les Franks (BBA ’89), a managing director at UBS Investment Bank.

Corsair’s impact on Wall Street and other financial districts has driven Citi, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and McKinsey & Co. to begin traveling to UGA on recruiting trips. Wes Walraven (BBA ’83), global head of industrials at Citi, says when UGA students came to New York on their own dime they were ready to impress. Corsair is why Citi is recruiting at UGA this academic year (Duke is the only other Southern school), in addition to visiting Ivy League institutions.

“They articulated very well they wanted to be an investment banker, which is an important question,” Walraven says. “They had a personality. They had poise in the interviews.”

Corsair originated after Jeff Bogan (BBA ’02) asked his professor, now UGA President Jere W. Morehead, to recommend an alumnus working in investment banking. Morehead (JD ’80) suggested Battle, who was with Wachovia in Charlotte, N.C., at the time.

“I remember when David Battle and I first discussed this concept,” Morehead says. “I agreed it was needed and would benefit our university and, more importantly, our best and brightest undergraduates. I have been very impressed with the speed, breadth and scope of the group’s success.”

Wall Street was a long shot at the time, but Charlotte was within reach. Bogan placed the call.

“I would not have gotten my job in investment banking if it weren’t for David,” says Bogan, now head of the institutional group at Lending Club in San Francisco. “All he did was have three one-hour phone calls with me and it made the difference between me getting a job and not getting a job.”

Battle, now at Metalmark Capital in New York, and Bogan began working with interested students, eventually partnering with David Williams, associate provost and director of the Honors Program.

“We saw the opportunity to provide a support network for the best students to help them find and compete for junior-year internships,” Williams says.

The students have secured internships and excelled at them, receiving offers for full-time employment at a rate Battle and Williams (AB ’79, MA ’82) describe as remarkable.

Vienn Kim (BBA ’11) speaks during the reunion’s breakfast meeting, hosted by CitiGroup at the firm’s Greenwich Street offices in Tribeca.

Corsair’s success, Battle says, stems from preparation and introspection. Participants start thinking about their careers and work diligently to develop technical skills (including research and financial modeling) through peer and alumni mentoring that complements coursework.

“The goal is to make sure they are more prepared than their competition,” says an early Corsair supporter, Charles A. Watson (MBA ’94), managing director in the Financial Sponsors Group at William Blair & Company in Charlotte.

Each fall, seniors fresh off their internships choose the student applicants who they think will be the best candidates in investment banking, sales and trading, and management consulting that UGA can offer employers. Corsair Society 2014 President Sam Kinsman, a finance major, says his biggest obstacle was learning to talk about himself in a way that shows companies how he thinks and makes decisions.

Andrew Ward (BBA ’07), a member of the founding class that named the Society after J.P. Morgan’s yacht, remembers Battle and Bogan coaching him on the phone about interview attire and what questions he should expect.

“It’s amazing to see how far the organization has come and how much further it can continue to grow,” says Ward, senior associate at a private equity firm in New York. “It doesn’t take a genius to do what we do, but it’s all about how prepared you are for the interview and how you set yourself apart.”

Until Corsair, UGA students lacked the “secret sauce”—starting with the code and lingo—to access interviews and jobs on Wall Street, says Mike Ostergard (BBA ’89), managing partner of Accenture’s health care strategy practice. As he approached graduation from Terry, opportunities in investment banking weren’t available to him.

“UGA kids, as smart as they are, never had a chance,” Ostergard says.

Starting in the fall, the Corsair senior leaders meet weekly for hours with the juniors, as well as some MBA students, providing instruction and mentoring. They review research on companies, knowledge of financial models, résumé preparation and interview attire. They conduct mock interviews that help the students develop concise, yet detailed, answers.

About halfway through the semester, Corsair students receive the coveted list of alumni in investment banking and private equity who are willing to give honest—and sometimes blunt—advice and feedback. Alumni take a distanced approach, Bogan says, because they want students to demonstrate a strong work ethic, which employers demand. After all, students will be working more than 40 hours a week and on little sleep.

“They have to go out of their way and show initiative. We want it to be a challenge,” he says. “If we held their hand the entire time, interviewers would see right through it. Hard work is the only way.”

Corsair students already are gifted, but the group serves as a targeted training program that provides the tools to succeed in the interview and the internship, says David Kirby (BBA, MAcc ’08), an associate at Goldman Sachs.

“We have been able to [attract] the most talented students at Georgia that are interested in finance to [coach] them specifically on how to get a job up here.”

Mike Heider (BBA ’13) describes UGA alumni like Battle and Kirby as his “LeBron James.”

“I wanted to emulate characteristics and traits that they had,” says Heider, who works in the industrials group at Goldman Sachs.

Instead of mumbling through phone calls or writing casual emails, the students learn to employ networking and communication skills used by professionals. It’s not enough to get the internship and a job offer, but students must make sure they are the best they possibly can be, says Shan Siddiqui (BBA ’14), who interned and works full time for Citi.

The early Corsair members paid their way to interviews in New York, since no Wall Street firms with investment banking internships were recruiting at UGA until recently. Now, the Honors Program sponsors Corsair, including covering the cost for the students (both Honors and non-Honors) to travel to interviews and hosting firms that recruit on campus.

As former chair of the Terry Dean’s Advisory Council, Darren DeVore (BBA ’86) helped Corsair transition from being run by a passionate group of alumni to a more formal part of UGA, in order to increase the number of students in Corsair and UGA’s overall reputation.

“I’ve always wanted to help students and young people that want to do what it takes to succeed,” says DeVore, managing partner at Broad Pine Investments in Atlanta. “We all have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, relative to some schools viewed as more prominent, and the chip on our shoulder is, we went to the University of Georgia. We know we are well trained, and we are proud of it. We’re out to prove something.”

In mid-September, moments before explaining the hours involved in Corsair to more than 100 students in a standing- room-only Corsair information session in Sanford Hall, Kinsman beams with the news that Goldman Sachs has made him a job offer.

“Not only can our students compete with the best in the country… but we’re all being asked to come back as full- time employees,” he says. “We’re just as competitive.”

McCain remembers walking into her interviews, armed with encouragement from her Corsair peers, alumni and faculty, such as Terry professor Chris Cornwell, head of the department of economics. “I felt so comfortable and confident.” She thought, “Why shouldn’t I be here?”

Williams and Battle believe the organization serves as a model of alumni engagement that could translate to other schools and programs, and to jobs around the world. Links exist between business and media, engineering and other areas, Battle says.

With the number of alumni working in investment banking and private equity firms—and spreading to San Francisco, London, Dubai and Asia—Battle believes the group could expand to 40 students a year, if they are willing to put in the effort. For the 2014-15 academic year, Corsair has its largest class ever, with 24 students.

Prominent alumni from the fields of investment banking, strategy consulting and industry visit campus to speak at Terry and to sophomores in the Introduction to Markets and Enterprises course, which will be offered for the third time this spring (the Honors course also accepts non-Honors students). The course, overseen by Williams, complements the existing curriculum at Terry, broadens the students’ perspective of potential careers to areas such as investment banking and strategy consulting, grounds them in ethics and gives them real-world knowledge and confidence to make decisions.

“As we progress, we’re able to create a sustainable bridge that connects Athens, Ga., to not just New York City, but investment banking and strategy consulting,” Ostergard says.

When Patrick Dever (BBA ’10) receives a stack of 150 résumés applying for positions at Citi, the quality in terms of high GPAs and relevant experience from UGA students stands out, and not because it’s his alma mater.

“Almost universally, when I talk to people at Citi, people say, ‘The Georgia kids come in, they interview better than everybody else, they have better résumés than everybody else, they know what to say.’”

This issue of Georgia Magazine is available here