New Fuqua Professor John Buley Brings Wall Street Insights to the Classroom
September 12, 2012
How have career opportunities on Wall Street changed since the financial crisis? How should MBAs best prepare themselves for the new environment? What are they keys to career success in financial services?
John Buley, newly appointed Consulting Professor of Finance and Executive Director of Fuqua's Center for Financial Excellence, brings a unique practitioner's perspective to these and other questions students consider. Buley also serves as Advisory Committee Chair of the Impact Investing Initiative of Fuqua's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE i3). In the following Q & A interview, he shares his insights on what drew him to Fuqua, how the school prepares students for business careers, and the current state of the markets and economy.
How were you first introduced to Fuqua?
My youngest son Thomas (Trinity '10) came to Duke on a college visit and we both loved the atmosphere here. In 2006, I was managing a business unit responsible for investing JPMorgan's capital in large and mid cap U.S. and European companies. At the same time, JPMorgan had launched a new initiative focused on impact investing in emerging markets. I found the new opportunity to volunteer in this initiative very compelling. But, being fully employed and committed to my "day job," I lacked experience in emerging markets and impact investing, which was a new field for bankers as it was incubated in universities. While I had a lot of experience in managing "regular" banking businesses, I had to learn quickly so I combined my parental visits with guest lecture opportunities in Greg Dees' social entrepreneurship course and began sitting in on finance and other classes when I was in Durham.
I was delighted to quickly learn that Fuqua was the academic leader in social entrepreneurship just as JP Morgan was the leader in the impact investing. Within two years I relinquished my other work responsibilities to devote all of my efforts to impact investing at JP Morgan. Fuqua became the first school to begin an impact investing initiative, and I was very grateful to be asked to become advisory chair of the initiative, working with Greg, Cathy Clark, Paul Bloom and other leaders in the field.
What made you decide to join Fuqua's faculty?
Professor David Robinson observed one of my social entrepreneurship lectures. At the time, we were in the middle of the financial crisis and we were able to exchange our views on the markets. I had the benefit of attending lectures by several professors in many departments and met several finance professors and students. I found the Center of Financial Excellence as a terrific grouping of students, faculty, alumni and practitioners who were looking at the same challenges the financial world was seeing through a unique academic lens and setting. Several months later, by coincidence, the opportunity to teach a corporate restructuring class arose when a long-standing adjunct professor retired. The founder of the Center of Financial Excellence had decided to return to his prior career in law and finance. I was humbled to be asked to take on the executive directorship of the Center of Financial Excellence, along with some teaching responsibilities.
I quickly realized that I could not effectively combine these activities while continuing to work in New York and decided to retire from JP Morgan. I had considered opportunities in the past at other business and law schools, but what really influenced me was Fuqua: its location; the academic excellence of both a general management program combined with several leading departmental specialties; and the type and quality of students. Fuqua's geographic location, away from the major financial centers, attracts self- confident, extroverted students who invest in building long-term professional and personal relationships and flourish in a nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment, with an appropriate distance from money center biases.
How has the financial sector changed in the past five years?
It is a different world from 2007. The world is still adjusting to the debt overhang of the last 20 years. In the U.S. housing remains the biggest lag to the economy, unemployment remains persistently high and job creation and innovation are suffering. At the same time, Europe is exposed to a fiscal and monetary crisis not seen since the 1930's. Emerging markets have suffered due to a decrease in demand from western economies, while commodity prices are adversely affecting the poor throughout the world. We are experiencing significant disruption in the global capital markets, which cannot be resolved until Europe sets its course and the U.S. deals with its profound fiscal issues. While the crisis is far from over, we see more clearly the causes and the consequences of the near financial meltdown. Many of the culprits of the financial crisis were unsustainable financial products led by people with misaligned incentive schemes driving bad behavior. We need to learn from these experience and help shape the industry's future. Fuqua and Duke intersect law, business, society, and public policy on many levels. We are at the forefront, and are buoyed by an intellectually curious student body to ask the tough questions.
What do you think are the essential skills needed in today's financial leaders where there is so much uncertainty and change?
There has never been certainty in the world and change is constant. After 25 years of continued growth, many thought we had entered into an age of under-regulated financial bliss. With the recent reset in individual, corporate and societal expectations, it is more important than ever to stay informed about the current markets, the economy and governmental policy. The skills necessary 20 years ago are the same skills needed now, with the exception that knowledge of and interest in emerging markets will be required of all students entering the workforce. Personally, I've benefitted from my long interest in economic history. Understanding past economic cycles, the relation of contingency and uncertainty to historical events and the view that we've seen both cyclical changes brought about by economic growth and secular changes brought about by disruptive events shapes my perspective.
What do you tell students about their career prospects now?
This is a great time to get an advanced degree. I've seen several recessions in my working career. While students may find it more challenging to secure jobs today, in my experience, careers furthered in recessionary periods seem to lead to better long-term careers than those started during bubbles and hiring binges. To our students, my message is hone your basic technical skills, be curious and question, learn how to think critically, and develop good habits while at Fuqua. Concentrate on your strengths and develop your passions. I also urge students to stay abreast of current market conditions, be extraordinarily prepared for interviews, work hard, stretch yourself intellectually by muscling through the more challenging courses and exploit the many of the co-curricular events Fuqua offers. Really contemplate what you want to do with your life and career but also be open to all opportunities. I've interviewed hundreds of students over the years and then have watched them develop and grow. Very few are doing the exact job they originally felt was their life's mission.
What advice would you give to recent MBA graduates who are interested in working in finance?
Finance, accounting, strategy, risk management, marketing and consulting are integral to a functioning economy and it is very difficult to build a successful career without learning how each intersects with the other. Keep yourself open to all the possibilities your education provides. For example, if you are interested in financing health care innovation in emerging markets, you need to understand not only finance, but also healthcare management, strategy, accounting, consulting and global institutions. For those interested in working in financial institutions, keep in mind that all of the global banks are rebalancing their strategies and cost structures after two decades of unsustainable growth. Successful people entering the financial industry today are now required to be much more knowledgeable about the economy, markets, finance and accounting than they did from the 1980's through 2007. Employers will be more selective as there are fewer available positions. Some of the products that fueled the credit bubble no longer exist won't be coming back. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Fortunately, Fuqua has specialist and generalist professors providing the training to pursue not only banking jobs but also aligned fields. I also stress that written and presentation skills make all the difference with employers. Finally, MBAs from Fuqua remain in demand. Just don't assume that you have to work for a global bank in order to have a successful career.
Also be prepared to take advantage of opportunities and seek them out. Wherever you work, volunteer for projects. Get to know people outside of your business unit. Build long lasting relationships. I worked in three lines of business throughout my years in a large bank-- investment banking, commercial banking and asset management and I'm grateful for the opportunities that each new position brought. It seems like a lifetime ago that I asked to volunteer in impact investing at JP Morgan. I had never been in any emerging markets; I didn't really even know where it would go. It ended up leading to great things for me.