Putting Knowledge to Work

Putting Knowledge to Work

For the last 22 years, students from 24 of the region’s top universities have grown TVA’s $12 million Investment Challenge Program (ICP) into one of the nation’s largest and most successful student-managed investment programs.

“It’s inspiring to see that ICP has advanced over 10,000 students’ financial education over the last two decades,” says Tammy Wilson, TVA Vice President, Treasurer, Chief Risk Officer and Investment Challenge Program executive sponsor. “Each year we look for new ways to help our students build skills that will propel their professional careers.”

To understand what makes ICP a valuable learning tool, Wilson asked Dr. Floyd Tyler, one of ICP’s founding professors when he served as Assistant Professor of Finance at The University of Memphis, to share his perspective about the program. 

 “I am a huge believer in ICP,” says Dr. Tyler, now President and Chief Investment Officer at Preserver Partners. “As a professor and investment manager I know firsthand how the core skills that ICP teaches have a positive, long lasting impact on students.”

Here, Dr. Tyler (pictured, right) shares his thoughts on the ICP program.

What got you into finance?

I grew up in inner city Memphis (Tenn.). My parents knew the value of an education. My father wanted me to be a pharmacist; however, spending my days in a chemistry lab was not my passion. I wanted to be around people and I was curious about how markets worked. I went over to the business school and I talked to an advisor about economics, finance, the stock market and dealing with money.

I realized that if I learned about money, I could take care of my family over the long run.

Once I got into the first economics class taught by Dr. Bob Figgins, it was an epiphany. I understood the charts, the concepts and it made perfect sense. I graduated from UT Martin with a degree in economics. Then went Carnegie Mellon for a Master of Science in Public Management Policy. I also earned my doctorate in finance at Florida State University.

How did you get involved with ICP?

It started when the University of Memphis hired me to teach an upper-level investments course in the late 1990’s. I’m proud to say I was one of the first faculty advisors in the ICP program. I thought it was a great idea. For the first time, I could give my students the practical experience of managing real dollars with faculty oversight and appropriate guard rails. You can teach about fundamental analysis and portfolio construction. However, ICP is a teaching tool with real money and performance benchmarks. It was a great idea at the time, and I still think it is a great idea.

How can ICP students benefit from the program?

As a young person in college and when I was teaching, you didn’t get a lot of interaction with professionals outside of alumni receptions or career fairs. ICP has evolved to provide exposure to working professionals and the students are better for it. Building your professional network is just as valuable as learning to invest.   

In addition, ICP can help guide your career choices. If ICP was an option during my undergraduate work at UT Martin, I believe I would have gone right into the investment industry.   

I don’t regret getting a doctorate. Nevertheless, I think investment management is what I was born to do.  ICP would have gotten me on that path to where I am today sooner.

Does ICP teach more than investing?

Yes. As a professor and now as an investment manager, I know first hand the positive, long lasting impact ICP has on students. I often have interns and hire for entry-level positions.

ICP teaches quantitative and qualitative skills. ICP is an opportunity to be part of and work as a team. Investing is the hook to teach those skills.

Unlike textbook work, you are doing real analysis. There is real stress; something we can’t duplicate in the classroom. You see the stock price moving either against you or for you. While the technology we use to do the analysis has changed over 20 years, the skills I mentioned remain relevant over the decades. ICP is one of those benefits that can enrich your educational experience. Don’t pass it up. 

What is your opinion on student investment programs like ICP?

I think every university should look at adopting a student investment program if they have the faculty capacity to do it well.

ICP is an important tool in the university’s curriculum and an advantage for those universities that have them. It benefits students by advancing putting textbook knowledge to work with real money with accountability and monitoring. When I taught ICP, the students’ portfolio did just fine. ICP allows students to develop themselves to be better professionals.

What career advice can you give students?

A bachelor’s degree is not as unique today as it was 30 years ago. When I look at entry-level candidates, I look at the things they have done to enhance their knowledge and skills beyond their degree. If person “A” has ICP experience and person “B” does not – with all things being equal, we will give person “A” a much harder look because of ICP.

I know ICP students demonstrate successful team building skills, presentation skills and analytical ability. Those are the skills that I’m looking for when filling entry level positions. 

In addition, I encourage students to participate in as many career-building activities as you can in school. Look at Toastmasters or civic groups. Build a mosaic of extracurricular experiences. That way when you start looking for that first position you have a portfolio of experiences and skills to offer that company.

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