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Class of ’23: Barrett Wong’s Time Well Spent

We asked Wong about those who have helped define his semesters studying at McIntire and how he hopes to use his Commerce education for improving the common good in the years to come.

Barrett Wong

Barrett Wong, a Finance and IT concentrator from Hong Kong, has clearly made the most of his time at McIntire and UVA.

He was part of the Virginia Consulting Group, the Hong Kong Student Association, and as a first-year, co-founded the Pool and Billiards Club at UVA. At the Commerce School, Wong, who has completed a track in Quantitative Finance, applied his developing expertise to help others as a McIntire Mentor, a Peer Academic Tutor, and a TA for Professor Chris Yung’s Integrated Core Finance course.

Wong understands that how he has spent his time is an important consideration, and that significant theme isn’t lost on the graduating student.

Referencing his experience in Professor David C. Smith’s Corporate Restructuring and Distressed Investing course, he recalls guest speaker Kevin Mahony (McIntire ’10), Managing Director at Centerbridge, who spoke on the topic of distressed investing.

“He ended the lecture tying investing to more general life lessons he had learned from his career,” Wong says. “He said, ‘Time is expensive; invest it wisely.’ This advice was something I took to heart, especially given the context of being in my last semester of college, when my time left at UVA is fleeting. The notion is intuitive: The more time you spend on your hobbies, the better you will get at them; the more time you spend with people you love, the better your relationship will be; most importantly, time you spend in one place cannot be spent elsewhere, reflecting a necessary trade-off analogous to that of an investment decision. I see myself coming back to this advice time and time again after I graduate to help me prioritize who and what I want to invest my time in, whether it be my family, career, or relationships. Though the things you can do are endless, the amount of time you have to do them is not.”

Last summer, Wong interned with the Investments team at private equity firm ShawKwei & Partners, and though he is still seeking employment upon graduation, he’s ready for his next phase. He admits that he has no clear picture about what the next 10 years have in store for him, but the short term holds a great deal of promise, which is highlighted by a welcome return trip home.

“I am looking forward to having Chinese New Year off and spending it with my family in Hong Kong,” Wong confesses. “As much as I enjoyed my four years of boarding school in Connecticut and a subsequent four years of college at UVA, I haven’t been able to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family in eight years, and I can’t wait to take part in the festivities again and make up for lost time,” he says.

We asked Wong more about those who have helped define his semesters studying at McIntire and how he hopes to use his Commerce education for improving the common good in the years to come.

What Comm School professor has made the greatest impact on you?

Let me start off by saying that so many courses and professors have had a tremendous impact on me. I would like to recognize Mike Gallmeyer’s Asset Management in the Global Economy and Jingjing Li’s Topics in Business Analytics. Though they teach very different subjects, one asset allocation strategies and the other predictive modeling using Python, both Professor Gallmeyer and Professor Li share many things in common. Not only are they accomplished individuals and extremely knowledgeable about their respective fields, but they both share an easily recognizable love for teaching. Both Professor Gallmeyer and Professor Li go out of their way to help students succeed in their courses and in life, making themselves readily available to students even if they’re out of town or under the weather. It takes immense commitment and is vastly appreciated by all their students.

If I had to choose one, however, it is Robert Parham’s Intermediate Corporate Finance course where I was challenged the most and simultaneously learned the most. Professor Parham’s course challenged his students to go beyond understanding the math and Excel functions that make up Corporate Finance, but to also learn the history of finance and the reasons why it is still relevant today. I think what was most impactful about this course was how passionate Professor Parham spoke on the subject he teaches—his energy, enthusiasm, and ‘hot takes’ elevate what easily could have been a run-of-the-mill Finance prerequisite into a class I looked forward to attending. Despite being slightly intimidated by him after the first lecture, I quickly realized his straightforward feedback and lack of sugarcoating were his way of preparing you for the harsh reality of the real world, in which he is rooting for you to succeed in. Professor Parham always welcomes conversation and discussion, especially if you have an opposing viewpoint, and is always happy to give career or life advice, or direct you to the right person if he doesn’t have the answers. The Comm School is home to so many wonderful professors, and so, to every professor I’ve had the privilege to have taken a class with, thank you.

What memory from your time at McIntire do you think will stay with you?

If I had to choose one, it would have to be submitting IIP Part 1 the fall semester of my third year. Our group had just stayed up late the night before working on a recommendation for Hilton to increase brand equity coming out of the pandemic, and we decided to meet at 10 a.m. the next morning to finish it up before the submission deadline at 5 p.m. I still remember submitting the deliverable as a group: We were all exhausted, crammed in a first-floor Comm study room, but eager to submit the deliverable on which we had worked so hard to complete. When we finally decided to submit, I remember we all put our fingers on the trackpad and hit the submit button together as a team. After submitting, our group ventured to the Virginian for a late lunch and for the first time in a few days, just sat there and basked in the sun. In my memory, the burger I ordered that day was and still is the best Virg burger I’ve had. The only thing that made it better was the company I had, my then fall ICE group, and now close friends.

Without a doubt, it is the people I’ve met at McIntire that will stay with me after I graduate. I’ve made many lifelong friends at Comm. These are people who inspire me and encourage me to be the best version of myself. Though many of the people I met are in fact quite competitive, everyone is kind, and no one is looking to succeed at the expense of others. If you miss class, people will check in on you and offer you their notes. If you are struggling with studying for an exam, people will offer to study with you and walk you through concepts you didn’t initially understand. I believe it is small gestures like these that will stay with me when I leave McIntire.

In what ways have you already used—or plan to use going forward—your Comm School education to improve life for others?

I joined Virginia Consulting Group, or VCG, the fall of my second year. VCG is a student-run consulting group that provides paid and pro bono consulting services for businesses in the local Charlottesville community and beyond. Through the numerous projects I have been staffed on as an Analyst and the projects I am overseeing now as a Project Director, I have been able to use my Comm School education to indirectly improve life for others by consulting for companies that are directly effecting change. Some companies that seek consulting advice from VCG are early-stage startups that have a great idea but need help to get the ball rolling to realize their vision for their company.

One such company I worked with is a young biotech company that develops engineered microorganisms to turn industrial byproducts (i.e., whey) into low-footprint biopolymer additives (i.e., biodegradable plastics). Their vision was to help catalyze the shift towards biodegradable plastics by making it cheaper and more accessible. There was no direct impact I had from contributing to a deliverable for this client on the life for others, at least none that I knew of. However, as the company now goes through the process of seed funding and potentially grows their company such that it has a material impact on consumers’ usage of biodegradable plastics, I hope to be able to say that I had a part in effecting that change. This goes for every company I have consulted for and will consult for in my future career.

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