Fourth-year Anna Venetianer knows how important it is to take risks.
Her success as part of back-to-back winning teams of undergraduates who took the Darden @ Virginia Investing Challenge by storm and bested graduate-level teams from schools across the country prompted McIntire Finance Professor David C. Smith to call Venetianer “an investing rock star.”
Yet despite that unprecedented achievement, she says that the first year she competed, she felt undeserving of having a role on the only undergraduate team in the otherwise M.B.A.-student event.
“I had no confidence in my own abilities,” Venetianer remembers. “The finance industry, in general, has more than a healthy dose of smart, confident people, and it was daunting to compete against individuals with more years of experience than I had.”
But she knew that without taking a chance, there would be no victory. She dug in, grew her self-confidence, and trusted her abilities as an analyst and public speaker.
“More importantly, it’s what showed me that I was indeed good at investing and that it truly was my passion,” she says.
We sat down with Venetianer to find out what her participation in such a high-level competition taught her, what being a woman at McIntire meant for her experience, and how she’s using the skills she’s learned at McIntire to prepare for her bright future.
Now that you’ve had some time to process the outcome of the Darden @ Virginia Investing Challenge, what continues to stand out for you about it?
I spent 10 days prepping in the library from early morning until well past midnight, yet I truly loved every second. From peeling back the layers of a company to learning to read between the lines of what industry experts were saying, to building a flowing, working valuation, and actually being confident in it, I loved every second of my time both preparing for and presenting at the competition.
Moreover, I learned that going above and beyond pays off. Knowing we were at a disadvantage as undergrads, my teammates and I put what we hoped would be 10 times as much effort into the competition. We blew past the bare minimum guidelines of the competition and did hours of value-at-risk estimating and cold calling and emailing more than 50 industry professionals, not because the competition required it, but because we wanted to understand the industry inside out so that no question would be above us. We practiced our presentation for about 10 hours, asking every friend and teacher we could to look over it and bombard us with questions, so that we’d be prepared for everything the day of the competition. And it paid off, because much of the feedback we received from judges was how eloquently and professionally we were able to answer all their questions.
Despite winning my first year, the second time around, I stressed to my team that we now had the odds stacked against us and would have to work even harder and give a flawless pitch in order to win. This relentless pursuit, not of perfection per se, but of truly wanting to excel and do our best in every possible circumstance is what stood out most to me about the entire process.
What courses have been most influential during your time at McIntire, and how do you imagine they might help you going forward?
I can truly say that every class I’ve taken has been extremely worthwhile, from ICE teaching me my foundations and the importance of teamwork to higher-level courses in which I took a deep dive into the subjects that interested me most. One class that really stood out to me was Professor Lucien Bass’s “Negotiating for Value” class. Being a woman in a mostly male-dominated field, I think the skills I learned in his class on negotiating effectively in any scenario will be invaluable.
In my “Entrepreneurship” class, Professor Eric Martin drilled into us that success requires you to dive in—even if you don’t have your idea 100% ironed out. After all, taking your product to market is the best way to learn and move forward, as so many entrepreneurs get stuck on perfection, endlessly testing and researching their idea instead of taking a product to the customer and letting the item speak for itself.
At a broader level, this is a lesson I’ve taken to heart and applied to everything I do. Even if I don’t think I’m prepared for something, sometimes it’s necessary to just dive in and learn through your mistakes. I think this is the most important lesson I’ve learned, from McIntire to my internships: It’s okay to make mistakes, so long as you learn from them and don’t make the same mistake twice.
What about your daily McIntire experience have you found the most surprising?
One of the greatest surprises has been the breadth and depth of students and professors I met throughout my McIntire experience on a daily basis. I assumed that, coming to McIntire, everyone would be like-minded and equally finance driven. However, my classmates come from every walk of life, with a vast array of skills and interests far beyond my scope of knowledge. I had friends excitedly recapping their internships ranging from government defense consulting to financial consulting for casinos in Vegas to working on saving bankrupt companies.
McIntire went beyond being just a learning institution where we crammed for tests and handed in papers. The conversations carried beyond the four walls of the classroom, to dinners and nights out with friends where we’d excitedly discuss current events or interesting stocks.
I was also surprised by the everyday collaborative environment of McIntire. Coming in, I expected it to be cut-throat competition as every student scrambled to the top in pursuit of their own self-interests. What I found instead was the complete opposite. Anyone I talked to was eager to share their own knowledge or learn something new from me. I had classmates teach me how to write code, how to use Bloomberg, what tools to consult to help mine investment ideas. These daily conversations I had and connections I forged through McIntire with like-minded people are ones that I will carry with me through life.
How has being a woman figured into your time at the Commerce School?
It’s no secret that the finance industry is still mainly male dominated. However, I consider myself to have been extremely lucky thus far in my career in that that’s never hindered me from achieving anything. McIntire, especially, fosters an extremely diverse environment. Although it’s been over two years since I applied to McIntire, the one question I still vividly remember from the application is how I would contribute to McIntire’s diversity. This question struck me because not only does McIntire support promoting diversity, it also truly does a good job of fostering a naturally inclusive environment.
While I was one of eight girls in my intern class of 35 last summer, my McIntire classes were split almost equally between men and women. I never once felt like a minority due to my gender. Moreover, McIntire has several women’s clubs and works with firms recruiting on Grounds to host a variety of women’s nights and networking events to give us equal opportunities. For example, my first full-time offer (though I didn’t end up accepting it) came from a firm at a women’s dinner. Moreover, the reason I participated in the Darden competition my first time around was because a woman was required to be on every team, thus giving me the opportunity to compete.
What specific skills do you credit with your success over the last few years? Anything that potential McIntire students might not expect to hear?
I think one of the most important skills McIntire taught was teamwork. Everyone brings something new to the table, and being able to delegate and capitalize on each team member’s strengths is a skill that I’m glad I learned early on through various McIntire group projects. Another thing that surprises many people about McIntire is the breadth of education you get. They don’t realize the endless possibilities commerce has to offer. McIntire exposes you to a broad array of topics, so you can truly go down the path that interests you the most.
Having initially been pre-med, I came into the Comm School not knowing anything about finance and ended up leaving with a wide range of experiences, from consulting internships to venture capital externships to asset management. These opportunities to pursue my passion in classes spanning topics from entrepreneurship to coding in Excel to investing allowed me to explore a variety of career paths and eventually settle on a job I loved.
I also think people will be surprised by how much their classes, even seemingly unrelated ones, integrate all four semesters. Everything I learned built on each other. I think McIntire helped me hone my ability to critically analyze and apply hundreds of business case studies to weaving textbook material together with real-life projects and current event applications for a holistic learning approach.
More importantly, McIntire preps you with the skills you need to excel in the real world. I learned to juggle my heavy class load, tennis practice, a range of extracurricular activities, and networking events. I learned how to express myself succinctly and eloquently, and I gained tremendous confidence in public speaking, which have been invaluable skills that served me well from interviews to excelling at my internships. More than just what we learned from case studies or textbooks, I attribute much of my success to the soft skills McIntire has taught me.
What about after Final Exercises? Any exciting summer plans and decisions about employment?
After graduation, I’ll be working at the hedge fund I interned at last summer, Point72. Starting out, I’ll actually be a part of its exciting Academy Program, a rigorous 10-month training program that teaches us everything from coding to statistics and data analytics to idea generation, in order to train us to become fully equipped research analysts.
Luckily, I have a bit of a break after graduation, as I won’t start working until October. I’m hoping to travel as much as I can until then. I’m currently ironing out the logistics of a month-long backpacking trip across Southeast Asia with my friends, as well as a three-week trip exploring Peru.