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Bryant Stibel x Pepperdine—What It Looks Like and the Skills Gained

Students chatting together on Zoom virtual call

What brings together a former U.S. Navy Sailor, cathedral destination developer, Beijing basketball athlete, and a Shanghai-based quantitative research specialist? Pepperdine Graziadio and a shared interest in finance and alternative investments!

In early October, MBA, MS in Applied Finance, and MS in Business Analytics students came together for an information session in an economic theory course and the Bryant Stibel Internship Program. Application to the program is competitive. To be admitted to the study, students must have taken the University’s core corporate finance course and submitted a purpose statement. The program has two modules: the first module is a directed independent study with Professor Davide Accomazzo and Dr. Clemens Kownatzki on a chosen area in alternative investment. Selected students are then invited to move forward to the second module. Students get to provide strategy and analysis to grow capital from Bryant Stibel with a one-year investment time frame.

  1. How did you learn about this program, and why did you apply?

    Gabriella Dominic: Someone once told me that an MBA is an experience that can help you solve complex problems more accurately at a faster pace. I came to Pepperdine with a desire to become the most exceptional version of myself and a hunger to bolster my quantitative skills. Last spring, I participated in a pre-MBA summer experience with various business leaders. One of the speakers was an engineer with an MBA, a wife, a mother, and a private equity expert. She was the private equity practice leader in the Americas for her firm. I left the summer feeling so inspired! I want to develop a rare and valuable skill set combination to provide more excellent service to others. I shared this vision with a recent Pepperdine MBA graduate who told me about this opportunity. I had not heard of this program before, and I was blown away when I found out about this!
  2. What was your favorite part of the program, and why?

    Gabriella Dominic: I spent the first seven weeks focusing on private equity. In 2016, the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported $460B uncommitted capital in existing buyout funds known as "dry powder.” In early 2020, it was more than $1.5T worldwide. Recent private equity returns are cyclical and mirror stock market trends. Interestingly, top-performing funds in the top quartile have outperformed the S&P 500 over the 10-year life. I worked very closely with two professors to dive deeper. I learned different elements contributing to exceeding private equity returns and factors that significantly value fund performance. Our cohort was highly blessed with the high caliber and caring professors and senior executives who came as guests in the class. We learned from seasoned leaders at KKR, UBS, a partner at an asset management firm, a CEO, an angel investor, and more.

    The second module was teamwork. Each team analyzed market opportunities, picked a company to invest in, presented investment theses to the Bryant Stibel team, and signed our first term sheets. While on the journey, we presented our work-in-progress to different seasoned investors for live feedback. Their input helped us to grow at an accelerated rate, and there's nothing like it.
  3. Because of the pandemic, you were based in Shanghai and not in Malibu. What was it like for you?

    Ian Zhang: Finance is a rapidly changing, evolving area involving various subjects, individuals, and countries. As an international student studying in America, I cannot stress enough that this course has brought me valuable first-hand information, insights, and new perspectives. This course gathered students from different backgrounds. It is genuinely a diverse group where we can learn and have intellectual discussions with each other. As I learned from my peers about their thoughts on trending financial news or events, I can add to new opinions based on my experience growing up in China. So, for an investor-to-be, it is precisely the experience that I want to have. I want to gain a holistic view and potential opportunities to reposition myself in the future.

    As one of the few international students, we conducted group meetings and discussions in different time zones. But our team pulled that off, and we formed a deep relationship with each other. We become more confident and skilled to work and communicate in an online environment. It opened up an opportunity for us to work in a remote setting in the future.
  4. You have chosen finance as a concentration for your MBA studies. How has this class prepared you for your future in the field?

    Joseph Theobald: The Bryant Stibel course is an actual test for MBA candidates/students of finance. Following an intense independent research study, students are asked to form teams and embark upon an intense seven-week analysis journey to formulate a viable investment thesis. My first module research was on Mezzanine debt, and in the second module, our team chose a technology company that had recently gone public via an IPO. This exciting challenge harnessed our analytical skills because none of us had ever valued an IPO before. Most of our prior class experiences focused on the valuation of mature companies with sufficient historical financial data. Although we conducted traditional valuation methods such as a discounted cash flow, financial statement, and ratio analysis, this project provided us an opportunity to delve into alternative valuation methods such as comparable companies and transaction multiples, along with statistical methods such as Monte Carlo simulations. However, this project was much more than just finance calculations. It also required strategic analysis and thinking to formulate a defensible position.

    With a bit of creativity and storytelling, our team transformed our strategic and financial analysis models and concepts that we have learned throughout our tenure as business students and compiled a truly top-tier, professional presentation consisting of our team's independent valuation. We pitched our ideas to the Bryant Stibel Executive Team. We proceeded with actual transactions with real money behind them, and future results can be featured on our resumes.

    The Pepperdine Bryant Stibel experience is an opportunity to showcase business acumen. It demands professionalism, teamwork, determination, risk-taking, risk management, and an ambitious mindset. I couldn't be more proud of myself and our team as we rose to the occasion. Our work here confirms that we are all prepared for the next step in our careers, whether an analyst, financial management, or consulting role.
  5. What advice would you give to future students?

    Our team recommends that future students start thinking about this early in the fall. Info sessions are in October, and you don't want to miss them. Second, commit. It's a challenging class, and your heart has to be in it. We get out what we put in. Third, be bold. Don't be afraid to try new methods. Fail fast, seek feedback, and iterate. Don't get stuck in a box when you approach problems. Use this opportunity as a learning experience. Don't be afraid to speak up and contribute to the class. It's a caring environment, and everyone is kind. We are all learning from each other, so participate and have fun. Last but not least, always remember our shared Graziadio values: integrity, courage, pioneering spirit, and actions taken today, not tomorrow!