Alumni Profiles is a series of posts featuring Haas alumni. It aims to provide the blog’s readers insight into work experiences in various industries and life after Haas.
Kathryn Cicoletti graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the Haas School of Business in 1999. She started her career as a Hedge Fund Research Analyst at Meritus Research in New York, and later took on a Senior position at Bank Julius Baer. She was Director of Institutional Sales at GAM, a global asset management firm in Los Angeles for seven years before pursuing her own startup. Cicoletti is currently Writer and Founder of MakinSenseBabe.com – “The Money Site For Non-Finance People. Finance People Are Annoying.” Kathryn has 13 years of experience working on Wall Street prior to launching the website.
You graduated from the Haas School of Business in 1999. What was your first job post-graduation and how did your foot in the door?
My first job was at a hedge fund research company. It was a dot-com, and we went out of business one and a half years later, so don’t get too excited about my first job! I met the founder of the business through a friend. When we met I had no idea what a hedge fund was (not kidding). I don’t even think I understood what the business was. We met a few times and it became clear to me that I wanted to work for this woman. My role was very undefined, meaning, I accepted the job to basically “do anything”. The founder was very impressive and someone who I knew I could learn a lot from. I wasn’t at all focused on what my specific role was, I was more focused on learning everything I could about hedge funds and I always asked to take on more projects. I think she liked that.
What got you interested in the finance industry in the first place?
Well, I would be lying if I said that I had an epiphany one day and said, “I LOVE FINANCE!” That didn’t happen. I wanted to go abroad my junior year at Berkeley and I knew you had to declare a major to go abroad. I had several conversations with my parents and since I didn’t have any pull towards any other specific major, I thought “business” was a safe route. After getting accepted to Haas, getting a job in finance seemed like the next step. Once I started working in the finance industry for a few years, I realized how it is such a great place to learn so much about business. Finance is such a broad term. I worked for a start-up out of college, but it was focused on “finance.” But you can get “finance” experience pretty much anywhere you work. I realized pretty early on that understanding finance would be something I could take anywhere with me, even if it means making fun of finance like I do now!
Your work experience appears straightforward. You started as a Hedge Fund Research Sales Associate at Meritus Research, moved on to becoming Senior Hedge Fund Analyst at Bank Julius Baer, to serving as Director of Institutional Sales at GAM. How has your Bachelor’s degree from Haas been helpful in your career?
I am convinced I got my job at Julius Baer because 1) I went to Berkeley and 2) I went to Haas. The CEO who interviewed me went to Berkeley and we talked about CAL for basically the entire interview. Beyond that… having Haas on your resume gives you instant credibility with anyone you’re talking to. While my career has taken me in a different direction since I quit my job in asset management, having gone to Haas opens the door for conversations with people who might not want to talk to you otherwise. When you quit your job and take a leap of faith, you need all help you can get!
You were at one point the youngest Senior Hedge Fund Research Analyst at Bank Julius’ Baer’s senior team. What do you think contributed to the quick promotion? How did you make yourself stand out?
I always just wanted to learn as much as I could. I asked a lot of questions. I was the nerd. I stayed late. I raised my hand in meetings when I didn’t understand something. Most people in the room didn’t understand either, but they were too afraid to ask. I think those qualities made me stand out.
What made you walk away from your very secure and stable job in finance to pursue MakinSense Babe?
I got to a point in my career that I knew I wanted to do something that I really really enjoyed. I had a great career in finance but I just knew I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I like doing, and figured out a way to marry what I like doing with the skills I built over the last 13 years. It was a gradual process for me, it wasn’t like I just woke up one day and said, “I’m quitting! I hate all you people!” It wasn’t like that at all. I realized what I wanted to do and made a plan as to when the best time to quit would be. “Plan” being, lining up my finances, giving myself a timeline for my new career, etc.
What is MakinSense Babe? What is your vision for the website?
MakinSense Babe is a financial news site for non-finance people. You can sign up for the weekly MSB Roundup, http://makinsensebabe.com/stay-in-touch/, and get the most important money and finance news for that week. I cut out all the crap and just tell you what you need to know and what you don’t need to know. I also create weekly video episodes where I talk about something in the news that everyone is talking about, and often point out a key thing that people are missing in a comedic way. The concept is similar to what The Daily Show does, but just focused on money and finance for now. My vision for the site is to grow viewers as much as possible. I would love to be the destination that people know they can come to for no BS commentary on money and finance news.
You only recently launched MakinSense Babe. Do you have any general tips so far for others who are interested in entrepreneurship/founding startups?
Meet with as many people as you can. Networking is huge. But make sure you are spending your “networking time” wisely. You need to make sure you are making it clear what you need from somebody when you schedule a meeting or a coffee date. If you ask someone to meet with you who you think can help you, make it clear from the beginning why you want to meet them so they can come prepared to help.
And be prepared for hard days. Taking a leap of faith isn’t easy. The uncertainty of “how everything is going to work out” can make you go crazy. So for sure, know that the biggest challenge is managing the uncertainty in your head.
Do you have any last advice you would give current students about life after Haas? (Anything you wish you knew earlier when you were still an undergraduate student?)
I would try to focus as little as possible on what other people are doing. Meaning, I know when you graduate everyone is talking about who got what job and what person got this job or that job. I can’t stress this enough, the jobs that everyone want out of Haas right now aren’t usually the same jobs that everyone wants in 10 years. It’s hard to see this when you graduate though. All I’m saying is try to take some pressure off of yourself because I know it can feel very competitive. Focus on getting a job that is good for you, and just work hard and I guarantee you will get where you want to be. This is a long-winded way of saying, your first job out of Haas isn’t what determines your whole career AT ALL, but it feels like it when you’re graduating.
Which Haas Defining Principle do you identify most with? How did your identification with this principle(s) help you in your personal and professional development?
Haas definitely taught me to question the status quo. If you can always make sure that you’re not just buying in to whatever everyone is doing, you will do very well in your career. There will be many, many, many times that you will need to stick your neck out and give an opposite opinion or question even whether what your boss says is right. It is okay to do this and you should do it (in the right way), and I guarantee you it will move you farther in your career than if you just go along with the pack.
Finally, if a Cal undergrad is interested in interning for MakinSense Babe, where should they go to apply?
They can email me at Kathryn@makinsensebabe.com!
Class of 2014