If a multi-million dollar organization gave a few dozen college students $100,000 and came back 20 years later, chances are, that money would be long gone.
Unless it was given to JMU College of Business students.
In 1999, the JMU Foundation did just that. The group — which manages the University's finances — decided to set aside part of their endowment and have students manage it with minimum faculty involvement. Members of the Madison Investment Fund, a club where students invest University money, have grown the fund to over $300,000 in the 20 years since.
On March 22-24, JMU placed first in the Global Asset Management Education Forum — the world’s largest student-run financial conference — core investment competition. The Dukes dominated colleges and universities from all over the world at Quinnipiac University in Manhattan, New York. According to Quinnipiac’s website, there were over 1,500 participants from 160 colleges and universities, and 54 countries and 48 states were represented.
“Every single time they go, you can see the others like, ‘Ah, here they come, they’re here again this year,’” MIF advisor Elias Semaan said. “It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful.”
The competition is based on a year’s worth of work and management of the funds on a risk-adjusted basis. Students are judged on their presentation of investment rationale and their decision-making process as well as the bottom-line performance. Semaan said there’s more to the process than just the results and there’s more to winning than simply how much money the fund made.
“Even your net performance is adjusted for the level of risk that you’re taking,” Semaan said. “The fact that they factor in the amount of volatility you’re carrying, the different metrics that you use in your assessment, how you make your investment rationale, all of these factor into the selection process. And as such, we basically kick butt.”
The MIF hasn’t only grown the University’s money, but represented it well on the national stage with three wins (’05, ’12, ’19), six top-three finishes in GAME and similar competitions and an “unmatched” track record on the international stage, in Semaan’s words.
When someone applies to the MIF, they go through a thorough vetting process where they enter an internship period, and after several weeks, make a presentation where MIF members vote to admit or deny the prospective student. After that, Semaan said he’s with the students and meets with them regularly, but isn’t “holding their hands.” Students commit year-round to MIF and spend time every week monitoring withholdings, researching and meeting — even in the summer.
“You’re doing a job that people traditionally are getting paid for to do full-time,” John Sadler, a junior economics major and the club’s incoming president, said. “You’re motivating people with a bunch of other interests to do that. The little things that come up when you’re managing people … it’s kind of ‘expect the unexpected.’”
Their work doesn’t go unrewarded, as Semaan said MIF graduates — including nearly all of its leadership team — land their dream jobs on Wall Street at companies like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Deloitte.
“[The] success that they’ve had in their career, it just blows your mind,” Michael Ellis, a senior finance and accounting double major and the club’s outgoing president, said. “It puts a fire under your ass … we need to hold up that same standard.”
MIF’s high standards quickly develop high-achievers, so even when leaders graduate, underclassmen are prepared to fill their place.
“I’ve seen people blossom from people that were completely clueless … [to] people that have connections across some of the biggest companies in the world,” Semaan said. “Next thing you know, they’re working on Wall Street, and they’re coming back and bringing other students.”
The club invests in the next generation by participating in an outreach called “Invest in Your Future” where students reach out to local schools and talk to students about opportunities at JMU and careers in finance. Some of these high school students eventually make their way to MIF, citing this program as an inspiration for their career.
“I actually came to JMU with the intention of more or less joining the Madison Investment Fund,” Ellis said. “The caliber of people, the conversations you have and realizing where these people are going … is what really drove me to join in the first place.”
Additionally, MIF started the Madison Sustainability Fund in spring 2016 with some of its assets and cash on the side to create a separate fund that invests only in green companies that meet certain sustainability standards. The club was able to recruit environmentally-conscious students to MIF and the “green side of investing,” Semaan said. It's another way the forward-thinking club is making a difference.
“MIF has been, in many ways, our trailblazer in the College of Business,” Semaan said. “It’s opened so many doors, it’s connected us with so many alums over the years. These are the students that stand out, that recruiters come back and say we want.”
Although MIF exists primarily as a function of one of the best public business schools in the nation, it’s not exclusive to business students — students of any major are encouraged to apply.
“[I’m] realizing the unrealized potential that we have here at JMU,” Semaan said. “We have an unbelievable potential at JMU. When challenged, our students … rise up to the challenge and overdeliver.”
Contact James Faris at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.