By Nathan Freeman
In recent years School of Business & Management majors have taken field trips to better understand the connections between classroom readings and corporate practices. In 2013, Professors Mehdi Mohaghegh and Alex Chung coordinated with Board of Fellows member Robert Bleimeister on a visit to the New York Federal Reserve Bank. In 2014, students visited the global clothing company LaCoste in Montreal, where alum Donna Lisk described how she improved inventory management by applying textbook practices.
But this year brought a change in the routine, when seniors Jeremy Guavin ’16 and Ben Kindregan ’16 took the initiative to arrange corporate visits in the Boston financial and business sectors for their peers.
Guavin made the connection for a deep-dive in finance at Pioneer Investments through his father Robert Guavin, who serves as senior vice president of U.S. trading. Meanwile, Kindregan scheduled a manufacturing facility floor tour with a quick phone call to his father, John F. Kindregan, CEO and president of Neptune Garment Company.
By sharing their unique access to these learning opportunities for the benefit of their peers, both students exemplified the qualities of leadership and service embedded in the SBM’s academic mission.
At Pioneer Investments, students experienced an intensive workshop in a conference room setting with an agenda that covered eight financial and portfolio practice areas. The group was welcomed by Pioneer’s chief investment officer, Kenneth Taubes. Top executives shared detailed information on portfolio management, quantitative analytics, operational risk, as well as legal and compliance issues. Right from the start, the level of student engagement drove the workshop beyond the scheduled agenda. Their enthusiasm was met with positive response from Pioneer Investment executives who obliged the students with even deeper levels of knowledge and expertise.
Amy Larson, senior manager in operational risk management, inspired rigorous dialogue and planted a seed among faculty for the possibility of a new course in this subject area. Theory merged with practice in a discussion with Vice President and Portfolio Manager Howard Weiss on the subject of equal vs. value-weighted portfolios—two different ways to manage an index fund.
“I was surprised he talked about this,” Jeremy Guavin said. “We were just learning about weighted portfolios in class.”
When asked what other coursework came to mind while visiting Pioneer, Guavin cited Princeton economist Burton Malkiel’s book, “A Random Walk Down Wall Street.”
“In Finance 412, we talk about concepts like firm foundations, castles-in-the-air theory, and the madness of crowds–how prices are valued in different ways and what methods are used to apply trading theory.”
Guavin also mused on the opportunity to meet a real-life human being who creates trading algorithms. “There was this ‘whoa!’ moment when we listened to Ace Salva, Pioneer’s quantitative analytics portfolio manager.” Salva has designed over 50 quantitative analytical models used in several Pioneer funds. “You always hear about quantitative analytics, but you never seem to meet the person who’s behind it. So here’s this guy who stands up and says, ‘My models are helping manage funds.’ It was really cool.”
The next stop brought students from the corner of State and Congress to Boston’s SoWa (south of Washington) district in the South End, where the Neptune Garment Company has manufactured uniforms since the early 1900s. The floor tour featured a success story involving capital risk and entrepreneurship, coupled with a deep sense of personal and professional integrity. John F. Kindregan rescued the languishing company in 1992, taking out an $180,000 loan at 16.9% interest with a commitment to restore trust with the company’s customers, suppliers, and employees.
“It would have been easier to start a new company,” Kindregan said. “The company was losing money. It had only 15 employees, and the business was falling apart. Operations management was brutal. Bills weren’t being paid and orders weren’t being delivered on time. Managers were there just to collect a paycheck. The company’s reputation was so bad, it had been blackballed by longstanding clients: the US Army, the Navy, the military schools.”
So how did Kindregan turn around the fortunes of the country’s oldest garment company?
His son Ben points to the curriculum as if it was written by his father. “All of the things we learn throughout this program apply to my father’s experience. Operations management, marketing, accounting, entrepreneurship, leadership—all of it is relevant to Neptune Garment Company.”
John’s telling of the story is gritty, humble, and completely down-to-earth.
“It was hard. Old customers would hang up on me when I called. The textile mills required 50 percent payment up front,” Kindregan said. “It helped that I had served in the Navy. I went to the Navy and they gave me an order. But I had to restore trust. I had to deliver a high quality product. I had to put the business on firm financial footing. I had to lead by example, working twice as hard as my employees to show them what we needed to accomplish.”
By 1996, Kindregan transformed Neptune Garment from a languishing company of 15 employees losing $400,000 per year to a reputable service provider staffing 147 and generating $1.7 million in profit.
Kindregan left the students with a three-part message: “Be honest. Work hard. Find a niche.” He values his son’s education at Norwich. “I learned from the school of hard knocks. I want Ben to take everything he’s learned from my experience and apply that with the education he’s getting now. He doesn’t have to become a cut-throat businessman. He can be successful and happy.”
Back in Dewey Hall, home of the School of Business & Management, Associate Director Stephen Pomeroy reflected on the value of the visit to Pioneer Investments and Neptune Garment Company. “Real-world experience reinforces what students learn in class, and this is especially important in finance, economics, and business management.”
SBM Director Najiba Benebess reflects on the trip to Boston more broadly, in context to the university’s connections and academic leadership. “This is the type of experiential and theory-to-practice education learning we like to emphasize,” she said. “The School of Business & Management welcomes and encourages our alumni, our friends, and our extended families to help students become successful by sharing their knowledge and expertise.”