Sean Kay (’97) and Michele Velasco (’91) are two of Christendom’s most successful alumni, working in the field of finance and accounting. Kay, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Velasco, the vice president of finance at Sirius XM Radio, were the featured speakers at this week’s “Life on Tap” networking event, held in St. Kilian’s Café on March 3. Over forty students, faculty, and staff listened and networked with the hugely successful alumni, learning the secrets to their success in the world of finance, and how Christendom’s liberal arts education helped them achieve their success.
Kay, a 1997 graduate of Christendom College who double majored in political science and economics and English language and literature, earned his MBA/MS in accounting from Northeastern University, before taking the prestigious position at PricewaterhouseCoopers. In his position, he is responsible for the endowment funds of Williams and Dartmouth Colleges, and the world’s largest, at $35 billion, at Harvard University.
He began his talk by advising the students to truly appreciate the education they are receiving at Christendom.
“It is difficult to see at first,” Kay said, “because we move on from the college and have other goals. But when you take a step back, you will see that the education you have received here is a great treasure.”
In light of this idea, Kay made reference to the parable of the talents, and exhorted the students to do something with their experience at the college.
“Do not be frightened by the competition. Christendom gives you a real skill-set, including the ability to conduct analysis, and the ability to take a particular viewpoint and defend it.”
He told the students that employers in finance are not looking for quantitative analysis, but an independent perspective, and the ability to share that perspective with others.
“You might be a smart, intelligent individual, but you need to have the ability to connect with an individual. Conversational manners will help you to make more of an impact,” Kay said.
He concluded with three recommendations.
“First, it is very important that you identify your career path, and spell out concrete objectives for the short, intermediate, and long term. This way, you will be less likely to waste time with unnecessary objectives. Second, you need practice. There is not a single board meeting or presentation that I have not practiced. For you, this means building your resume, conducting mock interviews, and having dialogues with people in the industry. You have many people to facilitate in this, including many alumni who will be happy to help. Make the most of the opportunities the career office and the college provide. Third, you should have hunger. You need to have the desire to work hard, even if you don’t know necessarily know where to turn.”
Michele Velasco, a 1991 political science and economics major, earned her position as vice president for finance at Sirius XM by getting in on the ground floor and working hard. Velasco agreed with Kay’s points, particularly the theme of hunger. She expressed to the students that they should not simply go through the motions, and that being ok is not enough. For this reason, she got an internship during her last year at Christendom, and encouraged the students to do the same.
“I started as an intern and worked my way up from the very bottom,” Velasco explained. “Over the years, I assumed more and more responsibilities because I was willing to take them on. You have the skills you need. Don’t be afraid to take it on, and move forward.”
Velasco eventually made the transition to consulting through networking. This move got her resume sent to a Fortune 500 company, and in touch with someone who was looking for someone young to train. For this reason, she told the students to “get in there and talk to people.”
As Velasco gained more and more experience, she began to realize that her Christendom education was more practical than it seems at first.
“In auditing, essentially you are being asked to identify what doesn’t look right. You do a similar thing in literature,” Velasco said.
At another point, she compared her job as manager of a computer network to the skills she used in a philosophy class, or even to writing a thesis. The writing skills she developed at Christendom were also essential to her career path.
“I didn’t think I would go into finance. I had a lot of confidence in my writing, and I expected to make a career out of it. But when I applied for a consulting position, they asked for a writing sample. They couldn’t find any errors, so they decided to hire me.”
Her next tip was to ask questions, and reach an understanding.
“Once you have an understanding, you will form your own opinion, and then you will have your own advice to give,” she said. “You are already developing these skills at Christendom simply by learning from your professors and asking questions.”
Finally, she reiterated the point she made at the beginning of her talk.
“Direct your passion into your work, don’t simply go through the motions. If you do this, results will follow.”
The “Life on Tap” series is a bi-monthly event organized by the college’s career and leadership development office, featuring noted alumni speaking on topics such as journalism, web development, and non-profit business. To find out more, or see videos from past “Life on Tap” events, please visit here.