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Fridays from the Frontline: How Cornell MBAs Pitched Three Stocks in 13 Hours

Hard quant skills are essential to the careers of any future consultants, analysts, and financial managers, but one aspect of the business school experience that often goes unsung is its role as a concentrated period to help young MBA students develop their intuition as investors.

The annual MBA Stock Pitch Challenge is an excellent platform for outstanding finance students from top MBA programs, including Cornell Johnson, to “prepare and present buy/hold/sell recommendations and vigorously defend them [before] a panel of investment industry experts.”

Current Cornell Johnson MBA students Alex Hess ’21 and Ronald Song ’21 took to the Johnson Business Feed to offer insights into their experience at last fall’s MBA Stock Pitch Challenge.

How Cornell MBAs pitched three stocks in 13 hours

by Alexander Hess and Ronald Song, both Two-Year MBA ’21

Alex Hess, MBA ’21, and Ron Song, MBA ’21, recap their experience last fall at the annual MBA Stock Pitch Challenge in New York City. The event, hosted by Johnson’s Parker Center for Investment Research, challenges MBA students from top programs prepare buy/hold/sell recommendations and vigorously present and defend them to a panel of judges.

Getting down to business

Alex Hess, MBA ’21: At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 5, we received an email from Lakshmi Bhojraj, the Breazzano Family Executive Director of the Parker Center, with the assigned universe of stocks we could pitch. One company was mandatory: Lululemon Athletica, a fast-growing retailer whose stock was becoming a battleground between bulls and bears. Another stock had to come from a list of four fast-growing software-as-a-service companies with high valuations and largely unseasoned business models. The last trade could be either Lyft or Uber Technologies, both of which were highly valued, deeply unprofitable, and had sold off massively since their initial public offerings earlier in the year. We quickly grasped why the event was called the Stock Pitch Challenge: We were being assigned aggressive growth stocks where it was easy to be skeptical of the underlying business, and the judges almost certainly would be!

Ron Song, MBA ’21: We had been sure to listen intently to advice from second-year students and drafted a realistic pitch game-plan ahead of time. We also made sure to arrive early, bring snacks, and book space in the Parker Center ahead of the competition. Once we received the list of stocks, we leaned on each other’s strengths. Our teammate, Sanchita Mehrotra, MBA ’21, felt her classes gave her a strong foundation for understanding retail stocks and bravely volunteered to take on Lululemon. Alex knew a lot about freight and logistics, and so felt he could take on either Uber or Lyft. And I had experience working with big data sets from my pre-MBA work, and so I volunteered to look closely at the software-as-a-service companies that sold improved data processing capabilities.

Alex: Ron gathered information on where data analysts are least efficient and which of his companies had a viable solution to that challenge. Based directly on this research, he determined a company called Alteryx was likely the best-in-class of the software names. I looked at trends in market share and ride-sharing economics, and determined Lyft was an attractive “buy” target. Sanchita already knew she was pitching Lululemon, so she focused on understanding and evaluating what the next phase of the company’s growth might look like and whether that was a credible plan.

Ron: We felt the pressure of the clock throughout the day, but especially in the final hour. However, we also felt an overwhelming sense of excitement and motivation to put our best foot forward! We knew students from other top schools were on a level playing field with us, and this was our opportunity to show what Johnson MBAs are capable of. Once the submission was in, we each gasped a big sigh of relief, and went to celebrate our accomplishments.

Preparing for, and presenting on, the big day

Ron: A few days after the submission date, we arrived in New York City ready to pitch our stocks. We had spent the last few days practicing what the judges might question during the Q&A portions of each pitch. I really enjoyed working with Alex and Sanchita to hone our understanding of our stocks and where we would be tested. Since the MBA life is always busy, we were tight on practice time, so I asked a friend to drive the last 45 minutes into New York so I could practice with my team! Once we arrived at the venue, we got to meet MBAs from all over the world, who shared our passion for investing. We also had the pleasure of hearing from Johnson alums who had forged successful careers in investment management. One alum, Fidelity Investments’ Matt Born, MBA ’97, gave a great keynote speech!

Alex: We had a great time presenting in front of the judges. The questions were every bit as tough as anticipated, but we were ready! In the end, we barely missed out on making the finals. I’m fairly competitive but didn’t feel too let down—I had just spent the last few days having a blast, preparing, and pitching with friends. We received really helpful feedback from the judges and learned even more watching the winning team from Columbia Business School do an amazing job on its pitch in the finals!

Final takeaways and gratitude

Ron: One of the highlights of the challenge was seeing the Johnson community show up in force to support us. The Parker Center’s Lakshmi Bhojraj and Cathy Wetterer, administrative assistant, staged the event to perfection. The second-year leaders of the Investment Management Club also helped run the event and stuck around to celebrate our strong showing. Rob Symington, visiting senior lecturer at Johnson who oversees the Investment Research and Asset Management immersion, was also there to lend support, as was Kerstin Ramstrom from the Career Management Center, who flew in just for the event!

Alex: The Stock Pitch Challenge was a seminal moment in my Johnson MBA journey so far. It pushed me to pitch stocks I might have never thought to otherwise, it exposed me to people from around the world who share my passions, and it supercharged my recruiting process. More importantly, it showcased the strength of Johnson’s investment management offerings and the community we’ve built up around them. I could not have picked better teammates than Sanchita and Ron or a better learning environment for pursuing a career in investment management than Johnson!

Alexander Hess, Two-Year MBA ’21

Alex Hess is a first-year MBA Candidate in the Class of 2021. Prior to coming to Johnson, Alex first worked as a financial journalist at 24/7 Wall St. and Grant’s Interest Rate Observer before starting his own business advising startups on capital raising and budgeting. On campus, Alex is a member of the Investment Management Club (vice president of education), Old Ezra Finance Club, and Johnson Book Club. He also covers healthcare as a first-year sector analyst for the student-managed Cayuga Fund. Alex has a BA religious studies from Hobart College and is a CFA charter holder.

Ronald Song, Two-Year MBA ’21

Ron Song is a first-year MBA Candidate in the Class of 2021. Prior to Johnson, Ron worked in corporate finance and strategy for T. Rowe Price in Baltimore, Maryland. At T. Rowe, he assessed internal opportunities to grow and build out the various business units and product offerings within the firm. He was recently elected co-vice president for the Investment Management Club (Recruiting) and Old Ezra Finance Club (Investment Research & Asset Management). Additionally, Ron is a first-year sector analyst covering financials on the student-led Cayuga Fund. Additional activities he participates in include Johnson FC and Johnson Allies for Women. Upon graduation, Ron aims to pursue a career in investment research.

Posted in: Fridays from the Frontline

Schools: Cornell / Johnson

About the Author

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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