Click HERE to read more about their win from the MUW Website.
Teams of students whose portfolios outperformed the market in 2018 celebrate their accomplishment alongside Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer John Thomas, TVA’s Board Chair Skip Thompson, and Vice President, Treasurer, and Chief Risk Officer Tammy Wilson.
Baptism by Fire
When Jeff Givens started his financial career in 2008, little did he know that he would have a ring side seat to the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression. Here, he shares his Investment Challenge Program experience during the collapse and how it helped shape his career.
Anyone who watches their 401(k) can tell you that 2018 was a challenging year to identify investment opportunities, particularly in the second half of the year. For the university students who manage more than $12 million in TVA’s Investment Challenge Program (ICP), delivering results and overcoming challenging market conditions is par for the course. “I was in ICP in 2008 during the meltdown,” says Jeff Givens, who participated in the ICP 10 years ago and now works as a retirement planner for Fidelity Investment. “This year’s class will look back on 2018 as their baptism by fire that will set them apart from all others because they had to learn more and work harder to succeed.” Because of the similarities between the 2008 and 2018 market, it was perfect timing to talk to Givens, a Tennessee Tech MBA graduate. Givens told us “ICP served as a catalyst to get into this industry. I was an MBA student during the recession of 2008. There were so many people struggling how to define and redefine retirement. I wanted to help them plan for success.” GivensFrom that point, Givens (pictured at right) was off and running as an educator, coach and helping hand to help people plan their financial future. We caught up with him to answer a few questions.
You did not start in finance. How did you get into the field?
No, I didn’t. I started in environmental science. I was actually an intern with TVA at Norris in the GIS — Geographic Information Systems — while going to graduate school at the University of Tennessee. Then I worked at a GIS company in Knoxville. I enjoy GIS. I wanted to do more field work, but my job was focusing on the technical side of the business. So, I elected to go into sales. I was successful and moved up into management. Long term I felt that it was not a good fit for me and that’s when I attended Tennessee Tech to earn an MBA with a concentration in finance. One of my best friends finance in college and took ICP and said it was really hard. I enrolled in the ICP as an elective after completing my first graduate level finance course. I didn’t know if I was ready for it, but I took the course and it really helped define the road I wanted to go down, which led to the decision to become a financial advisor. It was really ICP that got me into the field.
How is your career developing?
Nicely. In 2009, I began my career with Edward Jones. I was building my own practice. But I really wanted to do more coaching and helping people on a larger scale. I wanted to spend more time with clients than going out to find clients. Then, I was approached by Fidelity 2013. Fidelity needed a dedicated planning and guidance consultant who would work specifically with TVA employees providing guidance and investment education. I’ve been in this role for the past six years.
How did ICP help your career?
ICP gave me the investing background to succeed. It built a lot of credibility, especially in the beginning of my career as I was working to acquire various certifications. There is a tremendous amount of research that goes into picking stocks. Having that knowledge especially in the beginning when I entered the field gave me an advantage. For example, at Edward Jones when analysts made buy and sell recommendations, I could walk clients through how the analysts came to those decisions. I was able to help clients build a balanced portfolio to help achieve their financial goals. Sounds like you have a mission to serve. Tell us about it. One of the reasons I went into finance was because I was an MBA student during the recession of 2008. There were so many people struggling how to define and redefine what retirement looks like and how to manage their money. My technical background coupled with my sales and finance experience works together perfectly. I felt the responsibility to work with families and individuals through those tough times. That is how I ended up in this roll to serve others that’s similar to TVA’s mission of service.
Going though ICP in the midst of the great recession, is there an experience that stands out to you?
Absolutely. I’m in the ICP class and we are right in the middle of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. I was really shocked to see how many people allowed that event to impact their ability to retire. Many families didn’t have a plan. If they did have a plan, they didn’t have somebody to manage their strategy. ICP opened my eyes to how financial matters affect lives. I wanted to get into this field because people were really doing the opposite of what they should be doing. When there’s a lot of volatility in the market, it’s really a buying opportunity.
What is your take on student investment programs like ICP?
I was blown away. I didn’t think it was possible to let students manage money. At first, I thought it was play money or monopoly money. Then I quickly understood the gravity of the situation. Its real money and a real client. This wasn’t pretend trades. We had to go in and do our due diligence before we would make a recommendation. Today, working with TVA employees, I’ve been able to keep up with the ICP program. The students have outperformed the S&P by 57 basis points over the past 21 years. That is a cumulative return of more than 38 percent.
When you look at those numbers how can anyone be critical of that?
This year, there were nine ICP outperformers. Hats off to the students because there was a lot of volatility in 2018. There were a lot of professional investors that preferred to sit on the sideline. Bottom line, I think ICP does a really good job helping students define what risk looks like and the importance of diversification. ICP is a great learning tool because students have to put in a lot of time and effort into building their recommendations, and they have to convince a jury of their peers and professor that they make sense.
What would you tell students looking into ICP?
My recommendation is to just get as much out of it as you can.
How many opportunities in college are there to take theory and put it into practice?
Maximize those opportunities to pick your career path. For me, ICP served as a catalyst to get into this industry. I was not sure what direction I wanted to go in. Starting out, I had an MBA with a concentration in finance. However, I did not have the accounting background that was required for many jobs. ICP helped me leverage my background and I made a seamless transition into this career path.
Teams of students whose portfolios outperformed the market in 2017 celebrate their accomplishment alongside Chief Financial Officer John Thomas and Vice President of Treasury and Chief Risk Officer Tammy Wilson.
For the past 20 years, TVA has helped over 9,000 students at the region’s top universities learn to invest, giving them an advantage in today’s competitive job market. Here, one successful participant looks back at the edge it gave him.
With more than $12 million in assets, TVA’s Investment Challenge Program (ICP) is delivering results by growing into one of the nation’s largest and most successful student-managed investment programs. Currently 25 universities from across the Tennessee Valley participate in the ICP, and students in this program are no “average Joes.” Since 1998, the 9,000 students who’ve participated have beaten the S&P 500 Index by a cumulative 32 percent.
“At TVA, we know there is nothing more important than investing in knowledge,” says Tammy Wilson, TVA Vice President, Treasurer, Chief Risk Officer and Investment Challenge Program executive sponsor. “We care about our students in the Valley, and we want to give them every advantage to succeed.”
Wilson caught up with ICP alumni and Vanderbilt MBA graduate Chris Denny, now a portfolio manager at Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, to learn how the ICP helped prepare him for his financial career. Denny told us “If you are interested in the economy, business, finance or accounting—definitely join the Investment Challenge. You will learn more through this program than you ever will in the classroom.”
Here, Denny (pictured, above) answers a few of Wilson’s friendly questions.
What got you into finance?
It started with a senior high school project. My teacher wanted to push our class and asked us to explore a topic we’ve never studied before. I chose the stock market, because I really didn’t know much about it. I started investing what little money I had on a few stocks. After that, I kind of got the itch for investing and learning about how markets function. Then in college, I started taking classes that would help my finance career—business, accounting and economics. From there, I decided I wanted to manage money. Today, I ensure 368,000 plan participants have a secure financial future through the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.
What interested you about TVA’s Investment Challenge Program?
Managing money is not something you can pick up from a book—the more hands-on experience, the better. So when I was getting my master’s at Vanderbilt and saw they had ICP, I jumped right in.
You have a goal to beat the market, you track to see how you’re doing and you actually end up creating a portfolio of diversified assets. This looks great on your resume—even if you are not interested in investment. You also have quantifiable experience that will help in job interviews.
Is there an ICP experience that stands out to you?
Definitely working with people who had different backgrounds, views and experiences. Everyone on the team had unique theories and views on the market, securities and investing.
ICP showed me not to get too wrapped up in my own views and investing philosophies. It’s important to keep an open perspective, because the decisions you make directly affect a person’s financial security—never take these decisions lightly.
What value does the ICP provide students?
It’s one thing to learn about investing in the classroom. It is another thing to invest real money in real companies while you learn about business, the economy and accounting. Only real-world experience can show you how economic functions fit into the valuation of a stock price.
Anything in particular you want to tell students about the ICP?
The ICP gives you access that you won’t get once you graduate. For example, we called the companies we wanted to invest in and talked to their investor relations (IR) team. Most IR teams are willing to set time aside to talk to students and explain their business and how they operate.
People want to help you learn at this stage of your life. You could visit top-tier companies, meet the CEO or CFO. The ICP network and friendships you build will really help with your career. Who knows? If you impress them maybe you can get a job that way.
What is your take on student investment funds?
Over the past 20 years, students’ performance in the ICP has beaten the S&P Index 500 by a cumulative 32 percent. That’s amazing! It’s difficult even for professional money managers to beat the S&P 500 on a consistent basis. The fact that students have done it year-over-year with limited knowledge is impressive.
The more you are around this industry, the more you start second guessing yourself on every decision. In my position I know a lot more about investing in companies, accounting and how markets function than I did in college. The problem with this is you start overthinking.
Investment fundamentals tell me there is risk because the estimates out there are too high. So I’m going to hold off investing. Whereas a student may say, “This product is good. I use it. All my friends use it. The number of people who could use it could grow a lot.” Students keep it simple and don’t get distracted by the noise. That is probably why they do so well.
Do employers like candidates with student investment experience?
Yes. I can almost guarantee if you are going into an interview that deals with investing, markets, investment banking, wealth management or equity research, one of the first questions asked will be: “Are you in a student investment program?” I know because it is one of my first questions when interviewing an intern or potential employee.
Be ready to answer the question, “How did your team perform?” Employers want you to talk about your experience. If you want to get into finance, you should have this in your background.
What was it like knowing the ICP is helping 9 million people?
It’s a badge of honor. I knew the money I was investing was building a better future. That’s important. When you put money to work and invest in trades, you realize even the little things matter. Good money managers always take the trust people have in them seriously.
The ICP prepared me for what I do today for the State of Tennessee. I work for retirement plan participants who trust me to make the right investing decisions for them. I don’t want to let them down.
TVA’s Investment Challenge Students Beat the Market in 2017
“Our student investors exceeded expectations by beating the S&P 500 average and outperforming last year’s strong financial market,” said TVA Vice President, Treasurer, and Chief Risk Officer Tammy Wilson. “We care about our students’ success, and the ICP is a smart investment in their future as we work to train and foster the next generation of financial leaders in the Valley.”
This week, TVA recognized more than 200 students from 25 universities in TVA’s seven-state service area for generating a 23.88 percent average return on investment. Nineteen teams produced returns above that of the S&P 500, which only returned 21.83 percent. Students that outperform the S&P 500 in a calendar year earn performance awards for their respective universities.
The top three performing ICP teams in 2017 and their annual returns are:
- Western Carolina University, 29.54 percent
- Tennessee Tech University, 29.41 percent
- Western Kentucky University, 29.25 percent
“For the past 20 years, TVA has partnered with the region’s top universities to help over 9,000 business students learn to invest, giving them an advantage in today’s competitive job market,” said Wilson.
With more than $13 million in assets, TVA’s ICP is delivering results by growing into one of the nation’s largest and most successful student-managed investment programs. Student teams gain hands-on financial asset management experience that they could never get reading a textbook. They actively manage stock portfolios for TVA, design long-term investment strategies and select investments under the guidance of faculty members and within investment guidelines established and monitored by TVA.
While the S&P 500 has returned 6.46 percent since the ICP was established in 1998, the students have collectively outperformed that benchmark by a cumulative 32 percent.
Other participating universities are Alabama A&M University, Austin Peay State University, Belmont University, Christian Brothers University, East Tennessee State University, Lipscomb University, Middle Tennessee State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women, Murray State University, Tennessee State University, Trevecca University, University of Alabama at Huntsville, University of Kentucky, University of Memphis, University of Mississippi, University of North Alabama, Union University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Martin and Vanderbilt University.
When U.S. Army vet Brad Clark returned from his tour of Iraq, he met a new challenge: the TVA Investment Challenge. He was up for the mission, and helped lead a team to a 34.5% return on investment, more than 2% over the S&P 500—and found a dream job working for the Pacific Investment Management Company.
Brad Clark began his professional career serving his country on a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq. Growing up in the hills of Oak Ridge, Tenn., he knew about the Tennessee Valley Authority from school. However, he never envisioned that, after returning to civilian life, he would participate in a TVA program that would give him real-world experience and help him land the job of a lifetime—working for Pacific Investment Management Company, or PIMCO, a global investment management firm with over one trillion dollars in assets under management.
Students who participate in TVA’s Investment Challenge Program (ICP) actively manage real portfolios for TVA by designing and implementing long-term investment strategies under the guidance of their professors and within TVA’s guidelines. In the Spring of 2013, Clark’s ICP team at the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) constructed a portfolio that delivered a strong 34.5% return for the calendar year, beating the return of the S&P 500 by over 2%.
Here, Tammy Wilson, TVA Vice President, Treasurer, and Chief Risk Officer, caught up with Clark—PIMCO associate in the Institutional Business Development group and 2013 TVA Investment Challenge alumnus—to capture his thoughts on the ICP and how it primed his career.
First and foremost, thank you on behalf of everyone here at TVA for your military service. Since you discharged from the Army, how is your career developing?
I’ve taken my career from the sands of Iraq to the sands of Newport Beach, Ca., where PIMCO is headquartered. It goes to show you that with focus and hard work you can achieve your goals. For the past three years I’ve been working as an associate in the Institutional Business Development group for PIMCO. I am responsible for servicing the firm’s consultant relationships, and positioning PIMCO’s strategies to provide attractive solutions that meet their customer investment objectives.
Why did you choose a career in finance?
It was a discovery process. When I was discharged from the Army I thought I wanted to keep doing what I trained for in some capacity, so I decided to pursue a career in intelligence. When I enrolled at the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), I took foreign language and international business classes thinking they would align well.
Everything seemed to “click” when I started taking accounting and finance courses. I quickly discovered that finance was an area where I exceled. When not in class, I was reading about and closely following the markets. So, I switched my degree to finance.
While seemingly different, I feel finance aligns closely to my original career goals. In finance, there is a lot of technology and detective work. I’m good at gathering bits of data; then stringing that data together into information. Once you get the information you can make sound business decisions.
What interested you about TVA’s Investment Challenge Program?
I heard about the ICP when I switched my major to finance. You didn’t have to participate in the ICP at UAH to graduate, but I saw the ICP as a smart career move. The program added real-world financial experience to my resume, setting me apart from other job seekers when I graduated. Unlike many college classes based primarily on textbook theory, the ICP allows you to put theory into practice with real dollars at stake.
Is there an ICP experience that stands out to you?
Just like in the Army, it takes an engaged team to find success with the ICP. Real money means there is real risk to evaluate. My UAH team gelled that semester, and we came together to develop an effective Excel-based screening tool. We used the tool very successfully to build a matrix and rank different companies. Think of it as the starting point in our investment process. I still use it today when making investment decisions.
Did the ICP help your career in any way?
The ICP definitely helped with my knowledge and understanding of how equity markets work. As far as my career goes, the knowledge and experience I gained from the program helped me hit the ground running when I was hired at PIMCO. For example, my team at UAH presented our stock picks and investment strategy to the UAH Capital Management Group, a collection of local investment professionals and business representatives including TVA.
The question-and-answer portion of the presentation was the hardest part because these professionals live the markets every day. We had to clearly articulate our decisions, supporting our views with suitable evidence. That experience is essentially what happens during any investment strategy meeting here at PIMCO. Every day we carefully look at our investment plans to ensure we provide maximum value for our clients.
Overall, I would say that the ICP helped me start contributing at PIMCO in a major way from day one. I believe ICP students have an advantage over other students—those who just took finance classes—because of the real-world, practical experience the program offers.
Anything in particular you want to tell students about the ICP?
I would tell students that if they have a chance to participate in the program, do it! Engage yourself 100 percent. If you are interested in investment management or a similar career, the ICP can prepare you for what you will be doing on a daily basis—it gives you an idea of how the job truly looks and feels. Plus, the program gives you the real-world financial experience to set yourself apart from your peers, who will be competing for similar jobs.
Ultimately, I think the ICP is a great program. It was truly one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience, and I appreciate TVA for giving me that opportunity.
On April 6, 2016, TVA recognized the ten universities who outperformed the S&P 500 Index in 2015 at a dinner presentation in Nashville, TN. Eight of the ten universities that produced returns above that of the S&P 500 in 2015 were present to accept their award. Congratulations to the award winners!
Alabama A&M University
Western Carolina University
Middle Tennessee State University
Austin Peay State University
Tennesssee Tech University
The University of North Alabama
East Tennessee State University
Welcome to the all-new online headquarters for TVA’s Investment Challenge Program. This site will henceforth be the hub of activity for students and teachers participating in the program. We’re glad you made it!
Once you’ve registered an account as a participant, you can fully utilize the forum space and school-based groups to share information and build strategies with your team.
Each school gets their own private forum, but the team here at TVA will be actively following all thread activity. The more engaged you are, the more you’ll get out of your Investment Challenge experience! We’ll be keeping an eye out for enthusiastic contributors.
Each student is encouraged to fill out their online profile, including uploading your resume and adding a link to a personal website or portfolio. Add your friends. Post a status. “Like” an article— help us build a thriving community to help each other get the best results on this journey.
While we encourage sharing information and supporting each and every participating member, in the world of finance there are clearly defined winners and losers. So put on your game face and together let’s take home the gold. No matter what happens in the end, we will all have gained new knowledge and experience along the way.
When you think of professional money management, the image that comes to mind may be expensive suits on Wall Street. But here in the Tennessee Valley, a new class of investor is being cultivated: young, smart business students from 25 universities in TVA’s seven-state service area—a group that regularly outperforms the S&P 500.
Student investors in the Tennessee Valley are young, smart and— through TVA’s Investment Challenge Program (ICP)— have outpaced the S&P 500 since the program began in 1998. Next month, TVA will recognize these student investors at a ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee, where the company will announce which team earned ICP top honors.
“TVA’s Investment Challenge Program provides real-world, hands-on financial asset management experience that can’t be simulated in the classroom,” says Dr. Kristen Van Rensselaer, professor of finance at the University of North Alabama, who was one of the founding ICP professors and has been a program coach for nearly 18 years.
Dr. Kristen Van Renssalaer Holds the ceremonial check from 1998 when TVA presented seed money to begin the Investment Challenge Program at the University of North Alabama.
The ICP began when universities and TVA came together to look for ways to enhance business programs at the university level.
For many college investing courses, students pick and track stocks only through simulated portfolios. Some students take these investing exercises seriously, while others do not because there is no “real money” in the game.
“We asked TVA to help us take our business curriculum and students’ experiences to the next level,” Van Rensselaer recalls. “We needed to develop a program that would apply real-world pressure on our students, and TVA made it happen.”
Students who participate in the ICP actively manage real portfolios for TVA by designing and implement long-term investment strategies under the watchful eyes of their professors while following TVA’s guidelines. The money students invest sits in TVA’s Asset Retirement Trust Fund.
“The ICP is a natural fit that benefits both students and TVA,” says TVA vice president and treasurer Tammy Wilson. “The program is a smart TVA investment strategy that diversifies the financial management of the trust fund, while giving students a ‘wow’ moment to develop the skills needed to compete in the workforce.”
Van Rensselaer remembers how her students agonized and debated for weeks over which stocks to buy or sell. “We were looking at adding company X or company Y to our portfolio,” says Van Rensselaer. “Students researched each company and presented reports similar to what any CEO would expect in a board meeting. I was amazed how detailed and professional the analyses were.
“While students only manage a small portion of the trust fund, the experience they receive is priceless,” she continues. “They treat the ICP as if they are managing the client’s entire investment portfolio, and, more importantly, they say they are proud to manage money for the people of the Tennessee Valley.”
Not only do the people of the Valley benefit from the students’ hard work, so too do the business schools students attend. Similar to professional money managers, universities that outperform the S&P 500 are eligible to receive up to 20% of the money earned with a total cap of 2% of funds under management.
Student teams have earned nearly $1 million in performance awards for their schools over the life of the program—awards that universities use to purchase research tools, enhance classroom facilities and/or seed student scholarship funds.
Participating ICP universities are: Alabama A&M University, Austin Peay State University, Belmont University, Christian Brothers University, East Tennessee State University, Lipscomb University, Middle Tennessee State University, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi State University, Murray State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech University, Trevecca Nazarene University, Union University, University of Alabama at Huntsville, University of Kentucky, University of Memphis, University of Mississippi, University of North Alabama, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Martin, Vanderbilt University, Western Carolina University and Western Kentucky University.