Army Vet Embraces TVA Investment Challenge

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.

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