BHP Corporate Partner Spotlight: PricewaterhouseCoopers

Named one of Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for in 2013, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) focuses on audit and assurance, tax and consulting services. They have a long relationship with BHP as a corporate partner, and will join us on September 4 to host a coffee chat. David Neff and Erik Ernst will be here to speak with a small group of students. Here is a bit more about their careers and a sneak peek of what they will share in their session. Spots are still open, so register now for the 2-2:45 pm or 2:45-3:30 pm session.

David J. Neff – Management Consulting – Customer Impact Senior Associate
David graduated from UT in 2000 with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Business. He has been with PwC for about a year now. As a strategy consultant, digital marketer, content strategist, digital engagement pro, and online campaigns expert, David has been living in the Fortune 500 and nonprofit world for over thirteen years. He currently works with Fortune 500 brands on the customer impact of digital strategy and digital engagement. He is also the author of the “The Future of Nonprofits: Thrive and Innovate in the Digital Age” (Wiley May of 2011) and author of one of the longest running, and most popular blogs for nonprofit technology and media. He is also the founder and past CEO of Lights. Camera. Help. LCH is the world’s first nonprofit focused on cause driven and nonprofit filmmaking.

One of his favorite projects involved working with a leading airline on creating their three year digital strategy, covering everything from driving revenue through social media to social media training, to improving customer service. He has been able to mentor and lead complex projects and teams, and learn a lot more about what it takes to lead change within large organizations.

When asked what he would say to a new grad about why they should work at PwC, David said, “PwC is a giant map that consists of thousands of brands and government organizations and hundreds of ways we help them. It’s up to you when you join on where you chart your course and drop your anchor.”

Erik Ernst – Tax MLP Senior Associate
Erik graduated in 2009 with a degree in Computer Science. He is currently a Senior Application Analyst at PwC and has been with the company for two years. Working in the Master Limited Partnerships practice at PwC has given him opportunities to learn about new technologies, develop skills in business software development, and has exposed him to partnership taxation. His team is developing and providing support for proprietary tax software. He has been involved in every aspect of the project, including gathering business requirements, technical design, UI design, business engine coding, and quality control. His experience also includes working with the Asset Management practice in PwC to help design and develop new software. He has really enjoyed working at PwC, because he has had the opportunity to work on a number of challenging projects, allowing him to grow his career. “I really like the challenges that I am presented with on a daily basis. Every day is something different. I am never doing the same thing,” he said.

Erik thinks that interning for PwC is a great experience for the future. He said the projects they give to interns are projects that add value to the practice. “We invest time in our interns,” he said. “We assign them a peer buddy, a manager buddy and a partner, so they have support from people in the company at all levels of their careers. We want them to feel they are part of the team.”

Alumni Spotlight: Farah Ahmed – Financial Analyst for Brazil Exploration & Appraisal at BP

Farah Ahmed, BHP ’10, is a Financial Analyst with BP. As a new employee, Farah entered into BP’s Challenge Program, a three-year development program for full-time new-graduate hires from business, engineering and science disciplines. In 2012, Farah was chosen as one of three leads for the Challenge Program to oversee a leadership team of 28 people developing events and programs for all new-hires across the Western Hemisphere. Now, after three years in different positions, Farah has graduated from the Challenge Program and is heading to Harvard to get her MBA this fall.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in energy?

Going to college, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do with my business degree, but I knew that I wanted to devote my life and work to something that made a difference. After my sophomore year, I had an internship with Grameen Bank, a microfinance institution that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for its work in lifting people out of poverty by providing micro-loans to poor women in developing parts of the world. During my internship, I travelled to Bangladesh and went to a village where one of Grameen Bank’s sister companies had installed solar panels and biofuel stoves. This mother came up to me and told me a story about her son, who was now able to study after the sun went down because they had energy. She went on to tell me that her son is now doing better in school and he just got into college. I realized just how much we take energy for granted in our lives. Access to energy is a really important thing, and seeing this first-hand was one of the big reasons why I decided to pursue a career in energy. I knew I could make a difference and improve people’s lives by working at a company that produces energy providing heat, light and fuel to communities all across the world.

Tell me about your career path.

I completed an internship in finance with BP after my junior year, supporting their North America Gas Planning and Strategy team in Houston. I then received a full-time offer for BP’s Challenge Program, which is an early career development program that’s allowed me to rotate to three very different positions over the last three years. In my first full-time rotation, I joined BP’s joint ventures team for our North America Gas organization. My next rotation took me to Amarillo, TX, where I gained operational experience by working out in a field office. I then returned to Houston for my final rotation where I now run economics for BP’s Exploration and Appraisal team in Brazil.

One of the main reasons I joined BP is because of their commitment to alternative energy development. More than a decade ago, BP realized that alternative energy is an important part of our future. While our operations are primarily oil and gas focused, I connected with this perspective of understanding.

What have you learned in your work and travel experiences?

To soak in as much as possible, ask questions and to truly push yourself to understand operations, because this is at the heart of every business, no matter what industry you are in. I took a role in West Texas and relocated to work in the field for 18 months to gain operations experience. This was not a role many other analysts or engineers wanted, and even though it was tough for me to move to a small town, this experience is the reason I am now able to stand out amongst my peers.  My advice to others is to be willing to take difficult roles and assignments, take opportunities that come to you, and be willing to push yourself beyond boundaries you might have set for yourself upon graduation.

What aspects of the BHP have helped you the most in your current role?

The biggest things for me have been financial modelling skills, interpersonal skills and presentation skills. Those are all skills I am using on a daily basis.  The BHP curriculum naturally teaches you these skills through learning experiences that come from a curriculum focused on group activity.  Teamwork is critical for preparing students to communicate effectively with peers and co-workers. My strong presentation skills provided me with the confidence I needed to prepare for opportunities to lead discussions and drive my point across in presentations at work. BHP also taught me how to network, which is also important when you are looking to build and expand your career.

Do you have any advice for students thinking about a career in the energy industry?

Research the industry. Not just oil and gas, but the entire energy industry. The industry is focused on innovation and exists on the cutting edge of science and technology. Employers are looking for new hires that are interested in a career with lifelong learning opportunities. Try to learn as much as you can, and understand what aspects of the business excite you. Don’t feel like you have to choose just one thing. The energy industry is huge and constantly evolving, so you’re not expected to know exactly what you’ll end up wanting to do right out of college. Finally, reach out and network with professionals in the industry, informational interviews are great for learning about other people’s experiences. You never know – that connection may help you land a job!

**Representatives from BP will be hosting a BHP Coffee Chat on September 10 from 3:30-4:15 pm and from 4:15-5 pm. 

Finance Boot Camp: A Day of Finance with Friends

Written by Rachel Solomon

Full disclosure: as I was completing the reading for the Finance 357 Boot Camp on Sunday night, I was slightly less than thrilled that I would be spending five hours learning about the time value of money and other essential accounting concepts the following day. However, the day arrived and I was greeted with a free t-shirt and notebook, lunch, prizes, and best of all, the opportunity to see so many of my BHP classmates that I hadn’t seen all summer. Classmates that had interned for Coca-Cola, PwC, Northern Trust. Classmates that had studied abroad in Hong Kong, Argentina, France. Classmates that were willing to give up one of their last days of summer to get a head start on the semester. And let’s not forget Professor Hadaway and the Finance Boot Camp TA’s who devoted their days to our understanding of the material.

Thanks, BHP, for forcing me out of bed at 8:30am and proving yet again why this program is truly unparalleled in its devotion to the success of its students.

Internship Spotlight: Lisa Kao – BHP Junior

Company: Northern Trust

Position: Hedge Fund Services Intern

When Lisa Kao started her internship with Nothern Trust, she never imagined how drastically work experience would change her career aspirations. Discover how Lisa found a laid-back, friendly community in a large, conservative organization.


What steps did you take to secure your internship?

I found out about this internship at the McCombs Spring 2013 Career Expo. After getting to know the recruiter a little better, I decided to apply for the job through OCR. There were two rounds of interviews. A few weeks after my second interview, I received a phone call notifying me I had secured an internship position with Northern Trust.

What were the responsibilities for this role?

Within the Hedge Fund Services (HFS) division, I worked specifically on the Cash & Collateral Management team. My daily responsibilities included: providing quality control on overnight batches for OTC margin monitors, issuing and responding to clients’ OTC margin calls, and creating productivity tools for increased client coverage and efficiency. I also had the opportunity to help lead college information sessions for underprivileged children in the Chicago area on behalf of Northern Trust.

Describe the culture within the organization.

My experience with Northern Trust might have been a little different from the other interns’. Northern Trust itself has a conservative culture; it is a bank with over 120 years of history. However, the division I worked under, HFS had a relaxed, fun culture. Many employees were only a few years out of college and were very relatable to college interns. The relationship I had with my manager was easy-going and friendly, although still professional. HFS encouraged its employees to get to know each other on a personal level and hosted several networking and social events throughout the summer. Dress code in the HFS division was not quite as strict either; instead of suits on a daily basis, employees could wear jeans and Sperry’s. I truly enjoyed my time as an intern in HFS and am grateful I was placed in that division!

What was the most surprising or unexpected during your experience?

Coming into this internship, I thought most of my learning would be done through the work I was assigned. However, I learned the most about my career interests and about myself as an individual through talking to the people around me. The principles I thought I valued in my future career are no longer the same. It is both exciting and scary to realize that there is no “right” career path for me to follow anymore.

What advice would you offer your peers in the Honors Program about getting the most out of an internship?

I would say the most important thing is to truly get to know the people you work with. Every employee and intern comes from a different background, and you can learn something from each person whether or not you may think so on first impression. Make sure you ask many questions and take advantage of the resources around you. Another important piece of advice is to enter your internship open-minded. You should never go into your internship thinking you MUST like/dislike your experience there. Your internship is your opportunity to grow and discover your interests. It’s okay if the internship does not end up being how you expected it to be, good or bad. In the end, it is always a wonderful learning experience!

How did you find your classes in the Business Honors Program at the university to be applicable during your internship?

Definitely. I personally find it a little exciting whenever I’m given a task at work that requires me to apply skills and knowledge I’ve previously learned in class. Honestly, working helps you learn the concepts you learn in class on a much deeper, more thorough level. A concept you may not have understood in your accounting class can suddenly make sense once you are given a real-life financial statement to analyze.

How did this organization ensure you got the most out of your internship experience?

Northern Trust has a very well developed, well-structured internship program. A highlight of the program is the weekly “Lunch & Learn” session. During these sessions, executives from different divisions throughout the company would come speak to the interns about his/her career background and current responsibilities. Everyone in the company, even high-level executives, were generally very willing to make time to meet with interns and offer advice to those who reached out. In addition, Northern Trust hosted several service and social outings for the intern class.

What are the most valuable lessons you gained from this internship?

Although this was a finance internship, the most valuable lesson I gained from this internship was not finance related at all. Being a student in the business school, I think it can be very difficult to block out all of the artificial expectations society sets for you and to truly ask yourself what you value in a career. This summer, I met so many people who have completely changed their careers to pursue their passions and have become happier people because of their decisions. You will be successful in your career as long as you are doing something you are truly passionate about. I am grateful to realize and understand the importance of this now rather than later.

Alumni Spotlight: Jeff Wilser – Class of ’98

Jeff Wilser, BHP ’98, isn’t a typical BHP grad. He may have started on the path of a typical business grad, but that path veered into something quite different. Jeff is a writer, and has just published his third book. Most of his writing is on the topic of guys’ perspectives on relationships and culture. His website touts that he is, “likely the only person alive to have written for both GQ and The Knot.” He has made a number of TV appearances and frequently contributes to various magazines and newspapers. We sat down with Jeff, who currently lives in New York City, to find out more about his career path and what is on the horizon for him.

You have quite a variety of experience. Take me through your career trajectory.

I started in corporate finance at Intel and I realized early on that it wasn’t what motivated and challenged me. I actually had a spreadsheet with pros and cons of different career options, including being a history professor or a writer. I decided to try one more business before totally switching, so I went to Gap, Inc. in San Francisco as a senior analyst in marketing strategy. I stayed there for about a year and then moved to New York to get my Masters in Fine Arts (MFA), with a concentration in Fiction.

I didn’t really do any writing prior to that. The first short story I wrote was for my MFA application.  There was only one tiny problem with Fiction writing: I wasn’t very creative. But I found that I really enjoyed non-fiction. My first paid job was writing about bars. It paid $12 a review. I lost money every review because my tab was more than my pay. It snowballed into nightlife writing. I got more editorial experience and was doing a lot of freelancing for other publications. I was mainly writing about pop culture, relationships and men’s interests. I was approach by a publishing company about writing a humor book about “man rules.” Also around that time, I was approached about starting a website that would be a resource for men getting married called The publisher liked my voice and wanted me to write it. Then I started writing about that subject for various magazines. I just released my third book and am also doing some marketing strategy and analysis work for a company on the side.

At this point in your life, what do you enjoy doing the most?

Writing-wise, I tend to gravitate towards guys’ thoughts on relationships, but have enjoyed going outside of that this year, like talking about the world’s next super powers, or military history, or how California is exporting more wine to China. Writing gives you constant intellectual nourishment. I am enjoying more exploration of niche topics. I wrote an article about ancient monks this year.

You have made some bold career changes. Did you view those as risks? How did you overcome the fear of learning and doing something new?

I definitely viewed them as risks and it was actually part of the appeal. I am a bit of a risk seeker. I joined the Marine Corps when I was at UT. I liked the idea of testing myself. This was another way of testing myself. Sticking with the chosen path of finance would have been the safe and optimized path as far as money, but I knew it didn’t really jive in my gut with what I wanted to do. I knew at that gut level that the writing path squared with my deeper motivations, so I was able to ignore the risk and move forward. My business background also provided a safety net. I knew I would always be able to find another job in finance or marketing if I wanted to.

Tell me about the books you have written.

The first book I was approached about writing was The Maxims of Manhood: 100 Rules Every Real Man Must Live By. I don’t claim to be an expert. I just try to be entertaining. After I published that book, I was framed as a “man expert.” My second book was The Man Cave. Clearly that’s my Pulitizer-bait. Andrea Syrtash and I wrote a new book about how dating rules are all dumb, titled It’s Okay to Sleep with Him on the First Date: And Every Other Rule of Dating, Debunked.

I wasn’t prepared for people I knew actually reading my books. When my first book came out, people I hadn’t talked to in years were contacting me about it. That book was very personal. I included more than I would have if I had thought through who would be reading it. It was both cool and horrifying that people I knew – and my parents—were reading it and asking me about parts of it. It is very hard to write about relationships while you are in a relationship and I have made mistakes in the past, revealing maybe more than I should. I don’t do that anymore, but it is still awkward to write about my private life in detail. It is a major career hazard.

As someone who has never been married, what prompted you to start, a website for grooms, and why do you think people connect with your advice?

It was important to us to have a mission of brutal candor and be really honest. We felt like the other websites out there for grooms weren’t true to how guys think. The publisher actually really liked the fact that I wasn’t married. I wasn’t biased by my own experience and I wasn’t accountable to a wife and could be really honest. I do a lot of research and do a lot of interviews to try to instill grooms’ perspectives and voices into my articles.

I think people connect with the irreverence. A spoon full of sarcasm helps the wedding planning go down. The tone is different. I think guys can really relate to my voice.

How do you think BHP prepared you for all you have done?

It pushed me to ask questions, challenge myself, and do new things. I love that I have BHP as my background. My favorite class was advanced stats with Dr. Jay Koehler. He talked about how so much of the world is explained by statistics. It has influenced my writing. That business background—I hope—gives my writing more texture. It has been useful to have a business foundation.  Having done business at the beginning of my career, it gave me more confidence to do something very different and really do what I wanted to do.

What is the most valuable thing you have learned in your career so far?

Say yes. It was especially important at the beginning of my writing career. I had a lot of wacky writing offers that didn’t make sense at first. I tended to say yes and that has opened surprising doors. Now I can look back at my career and see a through-line. The hub is guy’s perspectives on relationships and culture. While I was doing it though, it felt really random. I was open to rolling the dice on new projects, and there were a lot of positive ripple effects.

What is next for you?

I am working on a new book of personal essays about the awkwardness of dating as an adult, defined as being of a certain age when most of your friends are married. There is pressure when the rest of your friends are all married and have children. Also, more freelance writing for magazines.

Any words of wisdom for current BHP students?

I don’t know how wise this is, but I don’t think there is a chosen path that anyone has to follow. No matter what you are studying now or what your interests are now, that might change. Don’t be afraid to explore other interests. Even though it might not be the logical next step, it might pay off in the long run.