That famous movie line “greed is good” isn’t too far off the mark for USC professor Colin Jones. He’s trying to build a world-class finance program to go with the Darla Moore Business School’stop-ranked international program. The goal is to make USC students competitive for top-dollar jobs from Wall Street to Main Street.
By Cecilia Brown
USC business professor Colin Jones, who’s out to create a program that makes students competitive for some of business’s best-paying jobs, doesn’t necessarily take issue with the fictional Gordon Gekko’s observation that “greed is good.”
“I think greed motivates all people,” said Jones, a clinical assistant professor who has helped create a finance scholars program at the Darla Moore Business School. And if a little greed helps power the finance that “brings together capital and ideas and makes the economy work,” that’s not all bad, he said.
Jones, who came to USC after getting his doctorate at Penn State in 2013, has brought all extracurricular finance clubs together as the Carolina Finance and Investment Association. And this year he started the finance scholars program, which aims students toward nationally competitive jobs by selecting them as sophomores and putting them through a rigorous program.
“I have a hard time ignoring students when they seem to be good students that want to work hard,” Jones said.
Jones’ boss, finance department chairman Gregory Niehaus, said improving the financial savvy of USC’s graduates is important.
“I know finance gets a bad name sometimes, but the underlying functions of finance are extremely important for the economy,” Nieuhaus said. And besides, he said, “You wouldn’t see many top business schools without a strong finance program.”
In addition to going out of his way to help students, Jones is a good recruiter for bringing students into the finance department, Niehaus said.
Jones “is doing a lot to make USC’s finance program stand out,” said graduate Felician Stratmann who worked closely with Jones as a senior and president of the Carolina Finance and Investment Association in 2013.
“Colin is getting students up to speed to really succeed on Wall Street or anywhere because he’s fostering a mix of technical skills and intrapersonal skills in the finance program now,” said Stratmann, who now works for Morgan Stanley in New York.
We sat down with Jones to talk about the role of finance and the changes he’s made so far in the way USC’s business students learn about modern finance. This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.
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And what are some of the changes within the finance department that you have you helped implement since you started working here?
So the extracurricular activities for our best finance undergrads was very haphazard and unorganized when I showed up. And so one of the things we’ve done is bring that all together under one unified front so that students who want to try to be better and go outside of the curriculum and run faster and further know which direction to run and so that not every student is figuring it out on their own for the very first time. So we’ve combined a lot of the resources of our alumni that they’ve used, and put it all under one spot, and we have a lot more organization to help our best students do better.
We’ve also launched this finance scholars program, which is essentially an honors program within the finance major that is targeted toward the best and brightest finance majors and pulls a lot of that extracurricular activity into the curriculum and not only gives them runway to run down but also pushes them to faster and sees how fast they can run and how far they can go, and we’re getting a lot of success with great placements. I’m excited to see the future of that program.
And how would classify those placements, like where do people normally look for jobs after they graduate?
Investment banks is sort of the place that everybody wants to go because it gives you an incredible skill set and a lot of exit opportunities, so people view it as a two- to three-year program. They go in and they work tremendously hard, they learn a lot of valuation skills and a lot of business skills that are very applicable to a wide variety of careers. … So they’ll go into corporate finance, or they’ll go into private equity, or venture capital, or go work at a hedge fund, or they’ll go work for a nonprofit sector or go work for the World Bank, but they build this valuable skill set in investment banks. And those are sorta the most prestigious finance jobs to get, and so we sort of targeted our program toward training people for those jobs. And if you’re trained to do those jobs, and to interview for those jobs, then you’re pretty much trained to do anything else. …
And why should people outside of the business school think it’s important for these finance students to land jobs after they graduate?
Well I think it gets back what to the role of what a state university is. And so, one role is to provide education for a lot of people, but another role is for them to provide very high quality education and very high quality opportunities for the people in the state of South Carolina. And I think we educate a lot of people, but what we are doing a better job of now is giving the students of South Carolina the very, very best and creating a lot of opportunity that you can come to the University of South Carolina and compete with anybody in the country and so it gives our best students the ability to achieve you know by staying in South Carolina. …
And sometimes people view financiers in a negative light, what would your response be to people that view finance as evil or bad?
I think we’re always scared of what we don’t know and so finance can be a little confusing. It’s a whole major within a university so there is a lot to it and I encourage people to you know not jump to conclusions. Finance makes the world go round, and there’s a lot of ideas, and a lot of these ideas are good ideas and a lot of these ideas are not good ideas and all of these ideas need money to be implemented. Finance brings together capital and ideas and makes the economy work.
What is the finance scholars program?
The finance scholars program is an honors program within the finance major essentially. That tries to identify and select our very best students in their sophomore year and then give them very specialized high end turbo charged training designed to push them further and faster so that they can target nationally competitive jobs and compete with students from Duke, and Vanderbilt and UNC.
And does that benefit the finance department directly?
I would say so, because you know what is the metric of success for a finance department? I would say it’s the success of our graduates, and students that enter this program are going to be more successful than they would be without the program. So I think that’s absolutely a measure of success. …