Next in a series of Olin Blog features on recent alumni.
As a member of JetBlue’s financial planning and analysis team, Robert Berke, BSBA 2017, has helped the company weather some tough times during the course of the pandemic. And he’s also set up to make visits around the country as he connects with Olin friends—and keeps that fantasy football league going. Here’s an update since graduating—and an overview of the value he found in WashU Olin’s coursework.
What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?
I work at JetBlue Airways in New York. I’m on the financial planning and analysis team and manage a staff that supports the near- and long-term planning, reporting and modeling of JetBlue’s cost structure. While JetBlue doesn’t have an airline presence in St. Louis (it has always been on my wish list when talking to the team that decides where we fly!), my education at Olin has certainly had a positive impact on my career.
The core business curriculum in the BSBA program, paired with my majors in finance and accounting, allowed me to have a strong foundation for working in a fast-paced environment, while also having a deep understanding of financial modeling and scenario planning. The Weston Career Center also played a major role in my career development as I was able to easily connect with alums working in the industry.
What Olin course, “defining moment” or faculty influenced your life most, and why?
While there was no one course that influenced my life the most, as so many courses at Olin were impactful, I would say that Durai Sundaramoorthi’s Managerial Statistics class and Mark Soczek’s Financial Statement Analysis class were extremely influential.
First, in Managerial Statistics, I not only learned the basics of descriptive statistics and probability distributions, but I also learned the business application of statistics. Dr. Durai seamlessly showed the class how meaningful data analysis is and encouraged students to leverage analytical tools to make informed business decisions.
As a finance and accounting major, I found Professor Soczek’s FSA class particularly fascinating. He brought real-world examples to class, which allowed us to learn how to process and evaluate financial statement information to identify profitability or possible risks a company may face. This has been helpful in my current role at JetBlue, a public company, as my team lends support during our quarterly financial reporting process. I think back to Professor Soczek’s class and appreciate how external players look to these statements to identify potential investments.
How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?
I love staying engaged with WashU and Olin. I stay in contact with a few Olin professors and always appreciate their openness to reconnect. I’m also involved in WashU’s Alumni and Parents Admissions Program, which has allowed me to stay up to speed with the incredible developments at the university, interview prospective students and engage with other alums.
What’s great about my friends from Olin is that they’re living in different parts of the country. I love traveling to visit them and we, of course, have kept our fantasy football league going.
Why is business education important?
Studying business is key. A business education sets students up for success to tackle issues in today’s dynamic world. What’s special about studying business is the opportunity to use real-life examples through case studies. In a collaborative environment that promotes participation, students are able to work through these tricky problems and learn fundamental practices from experts in the field. A business education also provides important communication skills that are useful beyond a professional career.
What advice would you give current Olin students?
I would encourage students to pursue their passion and leverage the Olin community to do so. Whether it’s through taking courses outside of your comfort zone or chatting with a professor you haven’t met, the Olin community is there for your support. I’d also encourage students to study abroad. Today’s business world is extremely global and Olin’s abroad programs allow undergraduate students to experience this firsthand.
How has the pandemic influenced your thinking about doing business locally or globally—or your career?
So many businesses and industries were disrupted by the pandemic and the airline industry was no exception. Demand for air travel disappeared, which posed a very unique experience for me and my team as we needed to look after the financial health of JetBlue.
As a company, we also had to address public health concerns in countries around the world to ensure customers felt safe once they were ready to return to the skies. I believe continuously addressing these concerns is something that businesses, both locally and globally, will need to consider going forward.