Five years after walking the Lawn and entering the workforce full time, Class of ’18 alumni Lauren Fogel, Tim Ford, and Greyson Lawrence continue to learn a great deal. They’re building on their knowledge in different ways: Fogel, in New York as a Product Manager at LinkedIn; Ford, who recently left his Growth Equity Associate position with TPG to begin the MBA program at Harvard Business School; and Lawrence, a Vice President on the investment team at San Francisco-based Symphony Technology Group.
Having arrived at this phase of their journey via different paths, these alums have strengthened their skills, kindled interests, and in some cases, made unexpected decisions.
Fogel, for instance, interned in business analytics roles and understandably thought she wanted to become a data scientist. But as she took on a professional position in analytics when she joined Capital One after graduating, she soon realized that her team needed more of a product manager than an analyst. That turned out to be a good thing.
“I found the product role to be a really great mix of strategy, analytics, design, user behavior, and technical logic—all interests I had explored in college,” she says, referencing her strategy and analytics studies in the McIntire School’s Integrated Core curriculum, along with Computer Science classes and behavioral design seminars.
Fogel spent a little less than a year in the product manager role and came to realize she was drawn to be a “PM” instead of rotating to a new team as a business analyst. She re-interviewed at Capital One for the position and has enjoyed the role since. “One of the aspects I’ve enjoyed the most is having the opportunity to work across a variety of products and industries, from learning about the fintech space at Capital One, to the media and ad space at The New York Times, to my current role at LinkedIn, where I’m doubling down on my knowledge of the ad tech space,” says Fogel.
Before Ford worked in growth equity, he worked in New York in investment banking with PJT Partners. It was a learning experience that ramped up his analytical skills and much more. “It also gave me a deep understanding of how the various players in the business ecosystem coalesce to consummate an M&A transaction,” he says, noting that he had the opportunity to lead meetings and saw firsthand “how operators think about the world, how they perceive the value of their business, and what they are hoping to accomplish in a transaction.” When Ford moved into growth equity, he shifted from adviser to investor, drawing on his time at PJT to navigate the change.
Lawrence had a similar trajectory to Ford, also starting out in the Big Apple and in investment banking, but with Guggenheim Securities in their TMT group. He found that working in M&A transactions became helpful in his current job in private equity. The experience, while eye-opening, reinforced his yearning to become an investor and revealed a major mindset difference between the areas. “Investment banking prioritizes crafting a story or argument to support your existing position, whereas investing prioritizes starting from an open mind and developing a position from there,” he says. “Personally, I lean towards the open mind approach and find it almost as satisfying to determine that we shouldn’t do a deal.”
At STG, the Dallas, TX, native works on a private equity fund that deals with backing innovative software and software-enabled tech services, guiding the firm toward several investments. Those deals are the result of how he spends the bulk of his time: sourcing and evaluating new investment opportunities, executing transactions, and supporting the operations of STG’s current portfolio companies.
Overcoming complexities and facing limited information define the most challenging aspects of Lawrence’s work. “The data we receive is often limited, messy, and potentially counterintuitive,” he says, explaining how each investment is different and relies on creativity and adaptability to be successfully completed. But as someone who relishes the idea of learning, he says that the inherent difficulties of software private equity investing appeal to him greatly.
Ford similarly spent his time sourcing new prospective investments, evaluating, and prosecuting deals, while also researching and developing market perspectives and collaborating with portfolio companies after investments are made. He finds that identifying “what really matters” in a potential investment and then communicating that insight clearly and succinctly to a team or investment committee were often most challenging. What he liked most about the work was the people, “building relationships with innovative management teams and collaboratively unlocking growth in their businesses.”
Fogel’s days are often divided among strategizing, collaborating with a disparate set of partners (design, engineering, business analytics, data science), and researching. She says that as a Product Manager, managing her time is the most challenging part of the job: She’s got more responsibilities, tasks, and meetings than are possible to fit into a day.
“Figuring out how to prioritize, delegate, and say no are some of the best things you can learn early in your career,” she says, recalling an analogy she attributes to a manager from earlier in her career: “As a PM, you are constantly juggling a lot of balls in the air. Some are glass and some are rubber. Figure out which is which the second it lands in your hands. Rubber can bounce back.”
Among all of those bouncing balls the Indianapolis, IN native enjoys collaborating with her “incredible and brilliant” colleagues and being able to drive positive change for the organization and others.
“Product managers are given a lot of responsibility, and impact can be driven in many ways, even beyond revenue gains,” says Fogel. “In my first PM role, I worked to resolve a longstanding bug that had been ‘hot-potatoed’ around for over a year. After implementing the fix, an employee on another team reached out to thank the team—her pre-teen daughter had previously been impacted by the bug, and with the fix, she was able to open a bank account and get access to a debit card, allowing her to save money from her first summer job.”
Accomplishments and Advice
Since graduating from UVA and the Comm School, Fogel is most proud of the connections she’s been able to cultivate, a community of personal and professional relationships in New York. She also notes that the years following college became important for taking care of mental well-being, finding healthy ways to manage stress and balance her work with her personal life.
“Figuring out what makes you happy and being able to ask for help when you need it are two really powerful things I’m grateful to have learned along the way,” she says.
Ford remains most proud of his work engaging his past employers TPG and PJT to help local communities. Those initiatives at PJT included organizing a fundraiser for the Sunrise Association, which provides free summer camp for children with cancer and their siblings and, at both TPG and PJT, rallying his colleagues to team up to play in charity soccer tournaments to raise money to make the sport freely accessible to underserved local children. “These experiences and others have shown me the positive impact business can have on a community,” says the Denville, NJ, native.
For Lawrence, he regards closing his first deal at STG as a special achievement that stays with him: “As a newer associate, I was thrown into the metaphorical fire and had to learn, adapt, and grow a lot in a very short amount of time. It felt great to have earned so much responsibility in my first year at the firm and so early in my career. That experience validated the hard work I had put in up to that point and motivated me to keep learning and growing from there.”
He advises McIntire students to reflect thoroughly on what they want to do in their professional life “and to follow that path relentlessly,” he says, stressing the importance of taking the time to consider career goals. “If you’re not mindful and honest with yourself about your career choices particularly early on, you could find yourself on a career path that doesn’t excite or motivate you,” he says. “Focus more on what makes you excited to wake up and go to work, rather than prestige or other superficial considerations.”
Once in a position that you desire, Ford’s advice is relevant for making the most of the situation by remaining open to guidance and finding meaningful, insightful interactions. “Mentorship is immensely valuable, but it’s not always served on a silver platter. Be diligent in seeking out feedback, maintaining relationships, and connecting with interesting new people so you never stop learning,” he says.
Fogel has a different perspective about the perils of boxing oneself in because of what she does and how she now spends her workdays. “It can be very limiting and detrimental to your mental health in the long run,” she says, pointing out that people at the beginning of their careers are particularly susceptible to letting their time in the office shape their sense of self.
“It can be really hard to separate the person you are from the mistakes you make at work or the setbacks you may have. Work is work, and it’s so important to be able to separate who you are from what you do. By defining who you are in terms of your interests, your relationships, your values, where and how you invest time and energy, you’ll begin to have a much better sense of what matters most to you and how you want to live your life,” says Fogel.
She also warns new professionals to be wary about burnout, and to combat it by being proactive about planning vacations and breaks. “Learn to identify when you’re feeling burned out and what simple steps you can take to get back on track,” she says, crediting regular exercise, eating healthy meals, and keeping close contact with friends and family for keeping her grounded. “And most importantly, get off of social media,” she says, stressing perhaps the most important advice of all: “Figure out what works best for you!”