McIntire alumni John Griffin and Chris Shumway are well-known investors and Visiting Scholars who have driven important positive change within UVA, the Commerce School—and the lives of students.
In their own way, each has played an important role in helping create a multitude of opportunities for students by sharing the wealth of knowledge they’ve accrued in their remarkable careers in finance. Griffin is the Founder and President of investment firm Blue Ridge Capital; Shumway is the Founder and Managing Partner of Shumway Capital.
The Visiting Scholars are also integral members of the McIntire community whose unwavering dedication to the School has taken many forms. A particularly decisive initiative concerns the development and launch of their own courses as a platform for passing on professional insights. Over the years, the courses—Griffin’s The Analyst’s Edge and Shumway’s Global Macro Investing—have generated a meaningful and enduring impact on the Commerce students who have been taught by the alumni.
We spoke to McIntire alumni who learned directly from these industry leaders. Griffin’s and Shumway’s former students recalled how the courses served as essential foundations that both broadened their perspectives as undergraduates and later served as touchstones that led them to their own professional achievements.
As a student, Josh Paulson (McIntire ’99) of P2 Capital Partners was part of Griffin’s inaugural class, thanks to Professor George Overstreet. The beloved faculty member let Paulson know that “a famous hedge fund manager” had created an investment course and urged him to apply—a choice that he says changed the course of his career.
“It was a defining experience of my time at McIntire,” he says. “Like most things with Professor Overstreet, you laugh at first and later realize he was right all along!”
Similarly, former Dean Carl Zeithaml alerted Christina Polenta (McIntire ’09), now Director at Värde Partners, about the course. She remembers thinking that the subject matter would pull her into uncharted territory, but Polenta, showing initiative and a little bravery, decided that taking the class would be both challenging and fun.
“I grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania and had little to no exposure to the world of finance—let alone investment banking or the hedge fund industry—prior to my time at McIntire,” she explains. “I had accepted an internship at JPMorgan in the M&A group the summer before my fourth year, and I thought this class could help me determine my path post-graduation. Spoiler alert: It did! I will be forever grateful that I applied.”
Enthusiasm for Griffin’s class grew with each passing year it was offered. Ozair Ahmad (McIntire ’18) of Silver Lake heard about the course before he began his third year, first gaining information about the course from older student peers in the student organizations he joined.
At roughly the same time, he was also intrigued by what he discovered about Shumway’s course, which had been created a few years earlier.
“It was exciting to see these students pursuing creative research for their class projects, and equally energizing to hear about the active classroom discussions that complemented the pitches they were building outside of class,” he says.
To which course did he ultimately apply? Both.
In separate instances, Professor Peter Maillet had spoken to Tyler Saitta (McIntire ’14) and Jyotika Chandhoke (McIntire ’19) about Shumway’s class, convincing them that they stood to learn much from Shumway’s experience as an investor and mentor. Following a summer internship in investment banking, Saitta was in the first semester the class was offered.
“At that time, I had many friends in Professor Griffin’s class and knew what a great experience it was, so I eagerly applied to Professor Shumway’s class,” says Saitta. “Given no one really knew about it at the time, I didn’t really try anything special to secure a spot, just a resume, cover letter, and interview. Knowing the students who get accepted today, I fear I would never be accepted nowadays!” he jokes.
Chandhoke wasn’t sure if she was readily equipped with the technical abilities required to succeed in the course, but Maillet’s encouraging feedback and glowing reviews of Shumway served as an impetus for her to apply. “After weighing the potential to learn and hone my skills as I prepared to enter the world of investment banking, I was convinced that the class was an unparalleled learning opportunity.”
By that point, Shumway’s class had also achieved a reputation as one of the most enriching Finance courses McIntire had to offer, says Kelly Pease (McIntire ’16), who notes that it was a destination for any student serious about investing, being challenged, and interested in working with like-minded peers.
“Professor Shumway’s reputation for being incredibly humble and down to earth—despite the incredible career he has had so far—preceded him,” says Pease. “I thought that if there was even a small chance I got accepted into the class, it was more than worth taking a shot to get to learn from him.”
Priceless Executive Expertise
All of the alumni we spoke with underscored the strength of Griffin and Shumway as instructors who are adept at imbuing theoretical concepts with examples taken from their wide-ranging professional experiences.
“Professor Griffin was so effective because he had real-world tangible experience, and his passion for the subject matter, his students, and UVA was evident,” Polenta recalls. “The most enjoyable part of the class was hearing Professor Griffin’s stories, listening to guest speakers, traveling to NYC for our final, and getting an introduction to the field that became my career.”
Recasting the very idea of what made a successful investor, Paulson says that Griffin opened students’ eyes to the fact that they were not learning a trade to act as mere number crunchers but stretching their minds to become inventive and flexible thinkers motivated by intellectual curiosity.
Entering the first session of Shumway’s course, Chandhoke was surprised to learn that the accomplished investor wouldn’t be leading all of the discussions, but providing guiding questions and commentary to promote his students’ intellectual risk taking. She says that the result of his approach fostered active discussions and healthy disagreements among classmates—and with Shumway as well—a strategy that carried over into the students’ own capstone project for the course.
“As we worked through our final pitches, our class time often involved providing constructive peer feedback in a manner that I had rarely experienced in any other class setting. At the end of the semester, our class of seven students was a tight-knit community that had grown together under the guidance and mentorship of Professor Shumway,” says Chandhoke.
Ahmad says that a longstanding benefit of having taken each course involves the intentionality of Griffin and Shumway: Each led detailed examinations of frameworks for evaluating businesses and markets, and provided space during weekly class time to discuss investment ideas in the context of those frameworks. “The professors ensured that we were not narrowly learning from simply one or two investment pitches; rather, they taught us how to consider the merits of multiple frameworks and mental models, evaluate organizations in the context of those frameworks, and then think creatively about how to research those organizations.”
Getting Down to Business
All of the alumni admitted that while the courses were a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience, they were nothing short of extremely challenging. Polenta says that Griffin’s course demanded students read one or two books per week, which required her to pull off some scheduling acrobatics, considering her other time commitments on Grounds.
As Chandhoke and Pease had each come to Shumway’s course with little to no previous investing experience, that manifested in Chandhoke spending late nights in the lab creating financial models early on in the course, before continued weekly development gave her the repetition necessary to hone her skills. She says it was also a lesson in intellectual humility. “I found that I was challenged by every single class and discussion topic, often reaching out and relying on my peers for even the most basic questions and learning technical concepts outside of the classroom.”
While investing was the core focus, Pease grappled with cultivating the necessary fortitude to present her ideas to a room full of investors. “Professor Shumway’s class took me so far out of my comfort zone in the best way possible, and I feel that my confidence in expressing my opinions in my investing job today are a direct result of his course.”
For Saitta, the final project of Shumway’s course, developing an investment idea and pitching it to real life investment managers, “was easily the biggest challenge.”
He says that developing an investment idea was the culmination of everything he learned at McIntire, the sum total of finance, marketing, organization behavior, and strategy. “But then, you take that knowledge and, really for the first time in your academic career, have to make a coherent, directional prediction as to how the world will look years down the road. And to take it one step further, you then fly to New York and deliver that idea to people who do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week! It was a nerve-wracking and exciting experience, but one from which I learned immensely,” he says.
These courses have remained crucial components in the education of those Comm students who were a part of them. For example, adopting the fundamentals of how to analyze a business has been indispensable for Pease. “For anyone who goes on to work in investing, whether it’s in public or private markets, that skill applies to everything you do and continues to evolve over time.”
Saitta says that three important points from Shumway’s course have stayed with him in his professional life.
“First, Professor Shumway really drilled home the fact that you need to be an expert presenter and public speaker. The world has many great geniuses who never had their idea adopted because they couldn’t succinctly present it to others. Second is the notion that if an idea can’t be explained in a couple of sentences, you don’t yet have a full understanding of the idea,” he says quoting his former professor. “‘There are usually only one to two things that really matter in an investment. The trick isn’t just solving those things; the trick is figuring out what those one to two things are.’”
Third? “He instilled upon us the value of a network and mentorship,” Saitta reveals. “No person is an island, and it will take many, many people helping to have a successful career and life. The key is that developing those relationships takes real time and effort. And once you’ve had great mentors, it’s your responsibility to pass it on!”
Regarding Griffin’s course, Paulson repeats a key concept that continues to resonate: “Invest in businesses that get better every day, and invest behind the right management teams,” he says, noting that the semesterlong research project reinforced the importance of gaining as many perspectives as possible.
Polenta says that Griffin’s emphasis on value-added research was critical to her understanding and that his concrete examples, provided before requiring students to embrace such research for their final projects, have informed her overall investing approach to this day.
“Simply put, this class changed my life—essentially shaping my entire career path,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without John Griffin. Prior to the class, I don’t think I knew what a hedge fund was, nor did I have any aspirations of joining the ‘buyside.’ When I decided to leave banking, I didn’t consider any opportunities outside of long/short equity, given my formative experience in John Griffin’s class. It’s over a decade later, and I’m still on the buyside; I have John Griffin—and Dean Z—to thank for that.”
Ahmad, the one alumnus we spoke to who learned with both professors, says the frameworks he internalized in the seminars continue to be enormously helpful to him today. “Many mental models are not only relevant to work in the investment sector, but also in my daily life, with core lessons in focus and communication continuing to be hugely impactful. Professors Griffin and Shumway were extremely generous with their time, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.”