Author: Brooke Van Groningen

avatar

About Brooke Van Groningen

Brooke Van Groningen has been a part of the WashU community since 2016 and is apart of the Olin Marketing and Communications team as an Assistant Brand Manager. She is constantly inspired by the alumni in the Olin community and all that they do to impact the business world. When she is not working, you can find her walking her labradoodle in Tower Grove Park with her husband, exploring new restaurants in the city, or taking a yoga class.


Part of a series of Q&As with Olin BSBA alumni. Today we hear from Laira Torres-Ruiz, BSBA ’17. Laira works for Guggenheim Partners in New York City as an investment banking analyst.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I’m an investment banker at Guggenheim Partners, mainly working on Retail M&A transactions. Olin gave me access to the most inquisitive and inspiring people – from distinguished professors to fellow peers – whose perspective, mentorship and encouragement helped me find the intersection of my passions and abilities in financial services. Finance is broader and more applicable than I could’ve ever imagined. I owe my interest in the field (and success in recruiting into it) to those that took the time to share their perspective and give me much needed advice.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

Staci Thomas – without a doubt (so much that the BSBA 2017 class gave her the teaching award at Commencement). We spend so much of our undergraduate years focusing on aggregating skills that we lose perspective on how these form part of a greater story – be it a week-long project, a client relationship, a personal brand or a career. Staci’s Management Communication helps students gain invaluable managerial perspectives, transforming us from experts in skills to well-rounded business strategists (that also have hard skills as part of their toolkit). She also does this in the most engaging of ways too. I still remember one of the projects was pitching a product I really disliked and receiving peer feedback on it. Those skills – thinking quickly on my feet, adapting to an audience, articulating a message concisely, speaking confidently – are the ones that have really made a difference in my career.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I’m thankful that I’ve kept in touch with those that made WashU so special. Olin does community very well, and that does not end after graduation. Alumni keep the spirit of collaboration alive, engaging with both the network and the University itself. I know I can call on any of my fellow alumni for advice or a referral. For example, fellow alumni guided me through the private equity recruiting process, which helped me succeed in securing my next position at Thomas H. Lee Partners in Boston. We also have a commitment to giving back to the school, which I live out by donating to scholarships and prioritizing campus recruiting for Guggenheim.

Why is business education important?

Someone once told me that “business is the art of getting things done”. While that’s too simple to capture the true relevance and importance of an undergraduate business education, I like what it’s conveying. Business education provides a framework to organize, tackle and solve problems. It’s more than financial modeling and marketing plans: it’s also communication skills, leading efficient meetings and a basic professional skillset. Some of my classmates went to less traditional fields like teaching and non-profit; they’re building thriving careers, part of which they to their business foundation. Many of my peers from other academic divisions regret not having been more exposed to business, but none of my Olin classmates has regretted being fully immersed in the experience.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

WashU is a safe place, so take more risks. Sign up for classes that will actually teach you something new (they’re often harder and not required). Go for that internship with notoriously challenging interviews (the worst thing they can say is no). Pick up a minor just because it’s interesting. Study abroad. Run for a position. Not everything has to have a “resume purpose”, so don’t get caught up with what others tell you you’re supposed to be doing. It’s often the most well-rounded and open-minded people that get ahead. Pass-fail is always an option, but going back in time isn’t.




Part of a series of Q&As with Olin Alumni. Today we hear from Justin Wexler, BSBA ’15. Justin is combining his finance and marketing skills in his role as the Director of Corporate Development at AnchorFree.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I’ve spent the last 4 years in venture capital (first at Technology Crossover Ventures then at WndrCo). I am now the Director of Corporate Development at AnchorFree (WndrCo’s largest portfolio company). In my career, both finance and marketing skills have been critically important. Finance is important for analyzing deals and marketing is just as important as I’m often promoting my firm to entrepreneurs (in order to get them excited about receiving investment from us). Olin Business School’s 4 year undergrad program allowed me to major in finance and marketing; the fact that I was a business school student from the first day of freshman year led to me being well-prepared for working in business by the time I graduated from Wash U.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

I remember a course on branding that I still think about all the time. In most cases, branding is really what differentiates a product or service from being a commodity. It’s why you spend so much on sneakers or pick a particular pair of earphones. Ever since that course, I’ve made it a point to develop my own personal brand and reputation. Without that, I don’t think I would have been recruited for my first, second, or third roles out of college. Olin taught me the importance of making a lasting impact on anyone I meet because you never know when you’ll run into that person again.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

There are lots of great alumni events in San Francisco! It’s an awesome way to stay connected with the Olin community while being on the West Coast.

Why is business education important?

I really believe that a business education is relevant for really anything in life. Even if you plan on grad school or something outside of traditional “business,” understanding the principles of accounting, finance, and marketing are all important skills that really every adult should possess.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

Get very involved in student groups on campus. When I was a sophomore, I started a public speaking club on campus. It was just me when it started out… but eventually grew to over 300 students. That experience really helped hone my leadership skills and my passion for entrepreneurship. Student groups are a great way to “practice” because in a few years, the stakes will be much higher in the “real world.”




Part of a series of Q&As with Olin BSBA alumni. Today we hear from Elizabeth Liechti, BSBA ’18. After graduating, Elizabeth joined Bloomingdale’s in New York City where she now works as an assistant buyer for dresses.

What Olin course, “defining moment” or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

I have a lot of great memories from my time in Olin. I loved being at WashU and also having a smaller community within the business school to call home. However, one of my fondest memories was during the summer between my sophomore and junior year.

I was interning at a company in St. Louis and at the end of the internship, had a huge presentation to give to the company. Because I was in St. Louis, I invited a couple of my advisers (Yoon Groves and Konnie Henning) to come along to the presentation. I’d worked with them both closely the year prior through the Olin Peer Ambassadors Program, so I felt they might also enjoy getting to see students in action (there were other Olin students in the internship program as well).

Not only did they come to my presentation, they took me out for a meal afterwards. I was so grateful for the time they took out of their days to support me as a student and spend time with me away from the academic setting, and it gave me reassurance that the staff truly cares about their students.

When I was choosing colleges, that was a factor that I looked for, and that day solidified my confidence that I’d chosen the right school.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

So many of my friends also came to New York after college, which makes it so easy to stay in touch with and hang out with some of my closest friends from school. There’s several Olin alum at Bloomingdale’s as well, so I always feel like there’s a friendly face within and outside of work. For those friends who aren’t in New York, I try to keep in touch as much as possible in the obvious ways (social media, phone calls/texts, etc.).

Why is business education important?

I think business education is important because it places a huge emphasis on teaching tangible skills that have numerous applications. At Olin, I learned a ton about teamwork, time management, and communication.

Among all of my classes at WashU, it was my classes at Olin that valued these skills the most. I find that those lessons have allowed me to be both a better employee at my job and person in general.

Additionally, I felt confident from day one as a freshman that I would be ready to navigate the world of recruiting because I had so many people and resources at my fingertips to help me. Having seen so many graduating classes before me leave with such high job placement rates gave me a welcome sense of security and confidence.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

I would encourage any student to expand beyond their bubble, no matter what that bubble may be. Explore beyond the WashU campus, join clubs outside of Olin, and consider other career paths than what is most popular. You’ll never know until you try something else.

Additionally, try to meet new people across all schools at WashU. In turn, you’ll find new experiences and opportunities that you maybe would have never imagined, but they will become some of the best memories.




Marc Bernstein

Part of a series of Q&As with Olin BSBA alumni. Today we hear from Marc Bernstein, BSBA ’15.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career? 

I launched a tech startup in January 2017 called Balto Software. Institutions like Olin have sown the seeds for a booming St. Louis tech scene that supports startups like Balto.

Perhaps, more importantly, though, Olin teaches you to do super high-quality work in pretty much every area of business, and that’s critical as a startup. I left Olin with strong foundations in operations, finance, marketing and even accounting (big shout out to Olin’s accounting department; I never could have anticipated how useful basic accounting skills would be in the startup world).

It also doesn’t hurt that my majors were marketing and entrepreneurship, which I apply in some form every single day.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

I can’t say I had a specific defining moment at Olin, really. Over the course of my four years at Olin, I tried to sponge up all of the information my professors had to offer. I operated a lifestyle business while I was in school called DoorStep Fitness, which was a direct-to-home personal training company in Washington, DC.

I would split my notebooks for every class into two sections, leaving the left side of the page for class notes and the right side for applications to my company. Then, class would let out, and I’d immediately go implement what I was learning. Doing that for all four years made my academics so much more meaningful.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I’ve done a few speaking events at Olin (it’s always fun to go back to your alma mater as a speaker), and I also volunteer as a mentor and judge for Olin’s Hatchery class. I think Olin’s Hatchery is the best way to test drive an entrepreneurial idea aside from actually jumping into it.

I love hearing students’ ideas and offering them the real-world perspective of someone who’s on the ground floor of a tech startup.

Why is business education important?

I’m a general believer in the power of specialization, meaning if you practice doing one thing super well, then you can quickly rise to become an expert in your field. I think business education gives you an important jump start on finding your area of specialization.

At Olin, you’re able to try out a number of different business fields and practice making smart business decisions in each one. You’ll naturally find yourself gravitating toward what you love.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

I’ll get a little humanist for a second. Every semester, every day, every class, you’re battling the forgetting curve. Forgetting information is hard-wired into our psychology; there’s no way around it.

If you can retain your Olin education after you graduate, your knowledge will put you in the top 1% of the population in easily half a dozen critical skill sets. So do everything you can to apply your business knowledge while you’re in school (internships and side-hustles are awesome ways to do this) and search for relevance in every subject.

If you dedicate yourself to staying curious, you’ll leave Olin feeling like you just got a PhD, and you’ll find yourself applying knowledge years later that you assumed you’d forgotten.




Part of a series of Q&As with Olin alumni. Today we hear from Sara Miller, BSBA ’17. Sara is putting her healthcare management studies to use in her role as process improvement analyst at Mount Sinai Health System. Additionally, she continues her work with Student Organ Donation Advocates, an organization she founded while a student at WashU.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

As a process improvement analyst at Mount Sinai Health System, I am part of a team that collaborates with both inpatient units and outpatient practices to improve their operations through both a data-focused and interpersonal approach.

Studying healthcare management at WashU provided me with a foundation to work in the healthcare sector and I often find myself referencing finance, operations and economic concepts learned through classroom discussions.

As a first-semester freshman at WashU, I founded an organization called SODA: Student Organ Donation Advocates. Since graduating in December 2017, I have been working with a team of passionate leaders to expand SODA to 13 campuses across the country.

In this volunteer role, I have the opportunity to build partnerships, support student leaders across the country and encourage more organ donation education and registrations. Our organization has already educated more than 1,500 students and there are 75 chapter leaders across the country.

I can’t wait to see the impact these students will continue to make during the coming years. You can learn more about SODA by visiting sodanational.org.

What Olin course, “defining moment” or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

During an elective called, “Women in Leadership,” I learned negotiation and conflict management skills and I developed close connections with other classmates and the professor. I loved learning about common challenges and opportunities within the workplace through case studies, discussions and self-reflective writing assignments. If you are a student at WashU now, I highly recommend that you take the course.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I am grateful for the many friends I made through my time at Olin and my favorite way to stay in touch with classmates is to visit them—which is what I’m actually doing this weekend. I’m also looking forward to attending our class reunion this spring and reconnecting with my classmates and brothers from my business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi.

Why is business education important?

I value business education because of the ability to learn a diverse set of technical, problem-solving and communication skills. For me, these skills were helpful in preparing for my work at Mount Sinai and in founding and leading the nonprofit, SODA: Student Organ Donation Advocates.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

I recommend writing handwritten thank-you notes. These notes can be especially meaningful when thanking an adviser who has given you a valuable piece of advice, a professor who went above and beyond to make her class engaging or a mentor who shared a job opportunity that steered you in a new direction.

In today’s technological age, people might no longer expect a thank-you note, but it’s an effective way to communicate your appreciation for how someone contributed to your life and it leaves a memorable and positive impression.




Part of a series of Q&As with Olin alumni. Today we hear from Teddy Freedman, BSBA ’17.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career? 

I am working in investment banking at Guggenheim Partners in NYC. Some of the courses I took at Olin were fundamental in helping me develop a strong foundation in finance. Given the technical nature of investment banking interviews, having relevant coursework was incredibly helpful.

Also, relative to some of my peers on Wall Street, it is evident that our education at Olin did a fantastic job preparing us for work in the real world as our coursework translates well into what I do on a day-to-day basis.

What Olin course, “defining moment” or faculty influenced your life most, and why? 

I was fortunate to have Steven Malter as my academic adviser given his proximity to what was going on with Olin as the dean of the business school. He showed a genuine interest in keeping up with what I was involved in on campus and my thoughts on the various programs and events at Olin. It was great to know that someone making decisions on behalf of the business program was actually listening to feedback from students.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

Having a strong network of friends and colleagues from Olin is a fantastic way to stay plugged in with what is happening in the markets and across industries.  Almost anywhere you travel in the country or world you can find an Olin alum doing something interesting. Making sure to grab a drink or catch up with your peers when you travel is a great way to stay engaged.

Why is business education important?

Regardless of what industry you work in, understanding why businesses make the decisions they do is educational. Asking why a new product or service exists and how it is different from existing offerings provides insight into what business leaders are focused on in the markets. Understanding these business decisions can help you stay in front of trends that may be relevant to your work product. 

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students? 

Meet and stay in touch with as many of your classmates as you can. In a few years, when everyone graduates and takes prestigious jobs around the world, that network will become very valuable.