An online search will quickly serve up advice from various corners of the internet, promoting the idea that a three-year span stands as a reliable benchmark for achieving a sustainable level of success. There may very well be truth in it.
For a trio of McIntire alumni from the Class of ’19, the three-year timeframe from when they walked the Lawn provides an illuminating viewpoint to reflect on their individual career timelines. In the space following the completion of their Commerce School education, they’ve each exhibited impressive tenacity while remaining curious about potential opportunities in their chosen industries and beyond as they’ve met their personal goals and expanded their professional ones.
Katie Pierce (McIntire ’19), a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company in Atlanta, solves the toughest challenges for clients across different industries and sectors by working in diverse and collaborative teams. Billy Hicks (McIntire ’19, Law ’22) serves as a first-year Law Clerk and, upon procuring his license, will be an incoming Associate at the Washington, DC, office of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. Anant Das (McIntire ’19) works in New York as a Senior Associate in the Deals–Financial Valuation practice at PwC, where he began fresh out of undergrad. But he also launched theater-themed subscription box and merchandising company Broadway Boxed Up in 2020, and simultaneously began producing cabaret, film, and theater experiences, including current off-Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” and Broadway play “The Piano Lesson.”
These very different career paths reveal the abilities and passions of these alums, but they also offer further evidence of how learning at McIntire builds the foundation to unlimited destinations. We spoke with Das, Hicks, and Pierce about what excites them about their roles, what aspects of their Comm School experiences they’ve relied upon most heavily, and what they’ve learned about taking next steps after graduating—insights that could help guide McIntire students thinking about their future.
Primed for Challenges
As a problem-solver, Pierce undertakes activities that vary day to day, based on the needs of her clients. But she says that typically she spends the bulk of her time reshaping institutions and industries by creating solutions with her team, collaborating closely with clients, modeling in Excel, synthesizing insights, and presenting them to senior leaders. Her projects range across different sectors, so she finds herself developing new knowledge and expertise. The responsibility offers an exciting variety to her work.
“It’s the most challenging and most exciting part of my role,” Pierce says. “No two projects are the same.”
How she arrived in her position stems from her choice to concentrate in Accounting and Finance at McIntire, which led to joining the M&A Advisory practice at a Big Four public accounting firm. “In this role, I rotated across different groups, and gained early experience in several areas, including accounting for complicated M&A transactions and integration/separation issues. After my final rotation, I chose to spend time in a management consulting division, sparking my passion for solving interesting problems and preparing me to continue pursuing this passion through my current role at McKinsey,” she says.
Those experiences provided her with what she calls a “differentiated perspective”—one that empowered her to actively contribute to a diverse team with members who had backgrounds in law, engineering, education, and more.
Hicks, who works at his law firm’s Financial Institutions Group, which advises on all aspects of financial regulation for the financial services industry, works with major banks and their holding companies, broker dealers and exchanges, fintechs, swap dealers, and just about any company subject to financial regulation in the U.S. The firm also advises on financial regulatory aspects of otherwise unrelated transactions, Hicks explains, citing the federal concerns regarding the cryptocurrency holdings of a non-financial services merger or IPO, as an example.
“As a first-year, most of my time is spent trying to master the subject matter that will be the focus of my career,” he says, noting the complex and technical nature of the financial regulatory landscape. To support his career advancement, he devotes a significant amount of time on the job learning from leading financial service lawyers about compliance issues that he will ultimately be advising clients about in the future. It’s an ongoing process. “Agencies are constantly issuing new regulations,” Hicks says. “I have to also work independently to stay on top of these changes so that our clients always get the best advice. The mastery of the technical is certainly the most challenging part of the job, since there are numerous federal agencies with different and sometimes conflicting scopes and approaches to regulation. This is also the part I love the most,” he admits.
He likens navigating the web of regulatory schemes to sorting out a puzzle. “Often, it is a puzzle that no one has ever put together before, and you cannot know that there will be a clear picture when you’re finished. That’s when I get to work collaboratively with incredibly experienced attorneys to sort out what everything means, and it is a ton of fun.”
For PwC Senior Associate Das, his interests and responsibilities sprawl in many different directions. While he’s a Co-Executive Producer of a horror film, involved with the new Museum of Broadway, and Co-Producer of “A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical,” opening in Manhattan on Dec. 4, 2022, he’s still firmly enamored with and deeply rooted in the many possibilities he’s found for himself in the financial services and entertainment industries.
“I love how what I do—finance and theater—exercises both the analytical and creative sides of my brain,” Das says. “I am grateful to work with some of the top companies and financial minds in the world at PwC and then work with some of the most creative people in the world through my theater work.”
Working in the two spheres has proven exhilarating and beneficial for him, as he has recognized the opportunities to apply lessons from one industry to the other, resulting in more creative approaches to providing solutions at PwC and offering more analytical recommendations as a producer. “It has also been a lot of fun to apply the skill of valuing businesses and their brands, intellectual property, and customer relationships to valuing musicals, films, and small businesses,” Das says.
Comm School Skills = Professional Success
Each of these three alumni can trace their preparedness and early career accomplishments back to McIntire. Pierce cites the framework of the School’s Integrated Core curriculum for her ability to find solutions in her work.
“The way of cross-functional problem solving I learned at McIntire is what I do on the job every day. In practice, McKinsey frequently solves cross-functional challenges for our clients,” she says, pointing out that, much like she practiced at the Commerce School, teams at McKinsey are responsible for thorough analysis and providing big picture context that relays how the recommendations will drive impact.
“McIntire enabled me to learn core problem solving and technical skills alongside a group of students with diverse backgrounds, passions, and academic interests,” Pierce says. “The focus of working in teams at McIntire prepared me well for working in teams and alongside clients at McKinsey.”
Sharing information with others also lands atop the list of skills Hicks needs to master in his line of work. “I could have the best legal insights in the world, but if I can’t effectively and clearly communicate them to more senior attorneys or to our clients, then I’m not doing anyone any good,” he says, noting the fluency required to convey difficult legal verbiage into straightforward, actionable guidance for clients. He credits Professor Lynn Hamilton’s ICE Communication courses with being “a difference maker” by providing effective communication strategies, and praises McIntire for giving him a head start in the legal field.
For Das, communication has also been paramount. Recalling Professor Marcia Pentz’s course, in which he learned how to present to executives, he draws parallels between stage actors and his own professional roles as a producer and small business owner communicating with his audiences. “The only difference is my audience consists of the actors and crew members I manage, the investors I raise money from, and the theater fans I create merchandise for,” he says.
Das believes that the Comm School’s integrated approach to ensuring students become familiar with every aspect of running a business has been essential, as his work as a producer relies heavily on the skills McIntire instilled in him.
He sees each project he undertakes as its own startup, with producers acting not unlike CEOs raising funds for the film and Broadway productions.
“With every producing role I take, I have the opportunity to put the skills I learned in my McIntire classes to practice, and I am able to add significant value to conversations in the entertainment field with a Commerce point of view,” he says.
When it comes to Broadway Boxed Up, Das also continues to draw from his experience as Commerce Council President.
“I manage a team, design the products, design a marketing plan, and have to maintain a pulse on what is going on in my target community,” he says, equating the tasks to the work of leading the Council, planning and promoting events while staying attuned to the needs and concerns of students, administration, and the greater University community.
An Open Mind, A Limitless Future
While these Class of ’19 alumni represent three different professional experiences, they all share the belief that McIntire graduates can apply their knowledge to a vast span of industries and prospects.
“I would encourage current McIntire students to stay open-minded about potential career paths and seek out mentorship from the broader McIntire community,” Pierce says, calling herself fortunate for having participated in a diverse set of roles early in her career. She also believes students’ willingness to say yes to projects outside of their comfort zone will lead to greater success and discovery about what moves them; it was this approach that led her to discover her passion for problem solving that has become so central to her career. “I am grateful for a strong network of mentors, many of whom are McIntire grads, who have supported me throughout my career to date. Embrace the many opportunities and flexibility that McIntire offers you.”
Hicks suggests that current McIntire students reassure themselves if they don’t feel that a position in consulting or finance is a good fit. “Those are terrific career paths, but they aren’t for everyone, and they weren’t for me,” he says. “I knew that I was applying to law school, but I still felt self-conscious when I didn’t have an internship after my third year. It felt like I was wasting the opportunities that McIntire afforded me, but now I can say with absolute certainty that there are so many ways to use what you learn at the Comm School.”
He says that applicability is especially true of the soft skills students develop while practicing effective communication and teamwork—abilities that are indispensable in any career. And regarding the possibilities, he echoes Pierce’s words: “Keep an open mind about all the ways you can put your talents to use, and definitely don’t be afraid to go to law school,” Hicks advises. “We need more McIntire lawyers!”
Das agrees with the universal relevance of the limitless destinations that Comm students can reach with the skills they learn at McIntire. “There are so many opportunities at the intersection of business and some other field,” he says. “If you asked me as a fourth-year if I thought I would be producing shows on Broadway in my mid-20s, I would have never believed you—let alone if I had thought that job would require business skills. Many fields are ripe for disruption by people with an ethical business mindset.”
He suggests that as students prepare for their own careers, they should learn as much as they can and stay curious early in their careers in order to find wonderful and fulfilling possibilities.