Alison Armistead (Hebenstreit)

M.S. in Commerce 2011 (Marketing & Management), University of Virginia

B.S. in Art History 2010, University of Virginia

After: Chilton Investment Company, Research Associate (New York City)

Now: Bartlett Agri Enterprises, Vice President (Kansas City, MO)

Leveraging liberal arts with a career in finance

Studying art history at UVA was one of the most fantastic liberal arts experiences a student could have. But, like most, my interests evolved over my four years as an undergraduate. By year three, with a liberal arts major and minor already declared, I realized I needed a business degree to be positioned for life after college and the career I wanted. The M.S. in Commerce Program allowed me to make the leap from art history to finance immediately. It introduced me to strategic approaches to problem solving, business strategy development, and industry analysis—frameworks I draw upon every day professionally—and gave me a solid foundation in accounting and finance. 

Equally important, I learned firsthand about working as part of a team and understanding when to lead and when to take a backseat. The M.S. in Commerce designation is a powerful differentiator when it comes to applying for internships and jobs. I found that even before I began the graduate school year, as potential employers appreciated my plans to go back to school to earn the degree. The M.S. in Commerce degree was the edge that made me a more serious and competitive candidate; taken together with my undergraduate degree in art history, it also made me a unique candidate. On a purely personal level, I can’t overstate the value of starting a new job with the confidence that I could go into a finance role and excel.

Most memorable class:  Strategy & Systems

Strategy & Systems was one of my favorite foundational classes. I learned to identify factors that determined the attractiveness of a market and to approach business problems by applying experience (as explored through case studies). Strategically thinking through which competitive forces were at play, learning the dynamics of business models, and applying that to understand why things worked when they worked helped me develop a lens that I rely on daily.

Preparation for a job in finance

Graduate courses in accounting and finance have certainly been useful to me. More subtle preparation came from classes in marketing. For instance, Brand Management, another favorite, enhanced my understanding of consumer perception and the value of a coherent and targeted brand message. As I spent much of my time at Chilton Investment analyzing retail companies—looking for long and short equity investment ideas in the retail universe—being able to identify a divergence in coherent messaging was an important tool. 

For me, the case study method was new, and I loved the introduction to this style of teaching and learning. Participation is an important component in McIntire’s grading system, so each class is lively and often filled with debate, as each person has an incentive to bring unique insights to the discussion. This also provided me with opportunities to learn how to present my viewpoint and effectively argue my position in front of an audience—skills I hadn’t developed in classes as an undergrad.

A typical day in my first role after graduation
​​7:00 a.m.  IPO breakfast at the St. Regis. A small group of investors will sit down to hear highlights from their roadshow ahead of the deal launch. ​
​9:00 a.m. ​Research meeting at NYC office. During this daily meeting, Research and Trading teams discuss rating recommendation changes and market moves important to our portfolio positions. 
9:30 a.m. Build IPO report. I spend the morning working on my IPO report and earnings model, basing some of my assumptions on takeaways from the breakfast this morning. I then read an IPO prospectus, relevant research reports, and constructed a comp-set based valuation template. 
​Noon  ​Lunch at my desk. I read emails and research notes published today that discuss names/indu​stries I help cover. 
​1:00 p.m. ​Finish IPO Analysis. My final product is a high-level summary sent to portfolio managers and our director of research in conjunction with a valuation analysis that supports my recommendation on whether or not we should participate in the deal.
4:00 p.m.​ ​Conduct calls with sell-side analysts. We will discuss their view on current portfolio holdings I help cover, especially if they’ve recently changed their rating on the shares. I summarize the high-level takeaways from these conversations and send them to the portfolio managers/director of research.
​5:30 p.m. ​Update monitors/cover earnings calls. I regularly build and maintain monitors for a few of my bosses to explain business trends and to confirm or refute an investment thesis as part of due diligence. One such monitor strictly tracks company announcements. Others capture and compare pricing for similar SKUs at different retailers. I send regular updates with my thoughts on observed patterns and potential implications. Also, if a company I help to cover is reporting quarterly earnings, I will stay to cover the earnings call and to update the financial model we keep.
Advice for those interested in finance

A lot of learning is done on the job—don’t fret about not knowing the ins and outs at the beginning. Be confident that you have the toolkit to do it, and come into the role ready to ask questions and to volunteer to help wherever it is needed. For at least the first six months, try to be the first one in each morning and the last one to leave. You’ll earn your colleagues’ respect and make fast friends, and you’ll be surprised by what you learn just by being present.

In terms of preparation, I recommend starting everything early. And start applying that even before the school year begins. I read several of the Strategy case studies over the summer, and this positioned me well for starting the fast-paced school year on top. You’ll be glad after the fact that you were part of the M.S. in Commerce class. It’s a challenging but worthwhile year—and it passes quickly—so make the most of it. The best thing you can do is to approach it with the mindset that you’re going to work really hard, make some good friends, and graduate better for it.

Importance of the Global Immersion Experience (GIE)

My experience on GIE prepared me for my role here. Specifically, as McIntire’s GIE gets you unique face time with CEOs and government leaders, it opens the door to feeling comfortable asking questions of high-level managers. As an analyst, I’m asking a lot of questions—of myself, of other analysts, and of management—and then trying to find out what these answers mean and how they can be put to work in the market. In addition, the companies and industries I analyze all operate in an increasingly global context, and the GIE gave me a firsthand introduction to the complexities of operating a business in this interconnected environment.

Most memorable GIE company visit 

Our visit to BMW in Munich, Germany, was the most memorable company visit. There was a real sense that the employees were proud of the machines they were building and the company they worked for. This culture of excellence was palpable on the manufacturing floor and in the C-suite offices.

Life after graduate business school

I was selected as one of the original junior members of Democracy Prep Charter Schools’ Junior Board. Our expanding group works together to devise fundraising strategies. We’re also working with the schools to develop the structure and to recruit professionals for “MentorMatch,” an innovative program that pairs college-educated young people with low-income, first-generation college students. In my free time, you can find me walking along the West Side Highway, trying a new NYC restaurant, and out and about exploring the city with friends.

Favorite Charlottesville activities

Hiking Monticello, picnic-ing on the Lawn, and spending time on the Corner with friends!