Faculty Spotlight: Leigh McAlister – Principles of Marketing

Leigh McAlister – Marketing

Written by Maddy Rock, BHP Sophomore

Professor Leigh McAlister teaches Principles of Marketing (MKT 337H) for the Business Honors Program. She attended the University of Oklahoma before pursuing her M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. Now, Professor McAlister is a highly-recognized researcher in her field, and brings her passion for her work to the classroom each day.

Professor McAlister lights up talking about her extensive research experience. Initially, she worked on variety seeking at the University of Washington for three years. Then, she moved to MIT, gaining access to state-of-the-art technology that she used to further advance her research and publish Grocery Revolution, a book Professor McAlister co-authored with Professor Barbara Kahn of Wharton. This is when she developed a relationship with H-E-B, which in her eyes, is “the coolest grocery store in the world.” Upon entering her office, students will notice a letter written by Charles Butt, Chairman and CEO of the company, hanging beside Grocery Revolution. Professor McAlister continued to study consumer behavior, regularly working with teams of students to conduct world-renowned research.

Professor McAlister aims to share her enthusiasm for marketing with her students in the classroom. She explains that her favorite aspect of teaching BHP students is their determination to succeed at the highest levels. She speaks highly of their ability to create academic goals and work their hardest to meet these aspirations. Professor McAlister strives to create a very interactive course, emphasizing the importance of each student speaking up and communicating their ideas. Additionally, she is thrilled to have “differentiated and fabulous” reading material for her classes.

Professor McAlister beams about her work, admitting that she spends an awful lot of time on it because it brings her so much joy. “I work a lot because it’s fun to me,” she says. “It’s discovery; it’s a puzzle.” She also loves to mentor doctoral students because it gives her the unique and rewarding opportunity to “shape the minds that shapes the minds”. When she is not on campus, however, Professor McAlister and her husband enjoy listening to local musical performances. In addition to regularly attending shows from a guitar concert series which brings in the world’s greatest musicians, Professor McAlister is a big fan of Conspirare, a Grammy award-winning choral ensemble based in Austin. She speaks about the concerts with great admiration, describing them as warm and soothing, “like it’s a cold night and I’ve gone to a campfire.”

Professor McAlister encourages her students to stop by her office hours on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30-2:30 pm in CBA 7.228. She loves discussing her students’ big ideas and plans for the future as well as Austin’s unique music scene.

Alumni Spotlight: Chirag Agrawal – Optiver

Chirag Agrawal

Featured: Derivatives Trading, Quantitative Finance, NBA Analytics

Chirag Agrawal graduated with four degrees in 2016. He somehow managed to quadruple major in Business Honors, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering and Economics – a feat not generally recommended by BHP advisors! Needless to say, we all wondered where our resident genius would choose to go after graduation, and how he would tie these majors together. Chirag interned at Optiver in Chicago, and loved it so much he decided to return after graduation. He has indeed been able to use all the skills he gained from these majors in his position trading options at Optiver.

How would you describe what Optiver does?

Optiver is primarily an options market-making firm. This means we are always showing prices at which we are willing to buy or sell options. It’s analogous to a grocery store; when somebody wants to buy food, they go to a grocery store because it will always have food in stock, the food will be of a safe quality, and the prices will be fair. Optiver plays the same role as a grocery store, except it is willing to take both sides (buying and selling). Optiver makes markets in options on almost anything (e.g. S&P Index, Oil, Corn). Options are a type of financial derivative, and the work that goes into their pricing is typically fairly quantitative.

What is it about derivatives trading that hooked you and made you want to pursue it as a career?

In college, my three main interests were statistics, finance, and programming. Derivatives trading offers a perfect combination of the three. Optiver makes hundreds of thousands of trades a day, and on each trade we make a prediction for the amount of money we’ll make and the amount of risk we take. Statistics is used to try quantifying exactly how much money and how much risk comes with each trade. Finance is used to interpret news in the market and incorporate the information into our prices. And programming is used to automate part of our trading and make more precise decisions. Not every trader uses all the skills on a daily basis, but I came in with both an academic background and an interest in each field. So I get to use all three almost equally every day.

What is a typical day like for you as a trader?

My day starts at around 7:30 am, and I spend the first hour communicating with other traders on my desk about what we want to do with our position, what our main risks are, and what we expect during the day. I trade S&P options, so the main trading hours are from 8:30 am to 3:15 pm. During these trading hours, I make trades and adjust prices based on news that comes out and activity in the market. Two years ago, this process was significantly more manual. With an increased emphasis on automation, less trading labor is needed during the day to manage the position. So I get to spend some of the time working on projects whenever the market is slow. An example of my most involved project was projecting moves and volatility around the US Presidential Election. After 3:15, I continue project work, and I recap the trading day with my teammates on my desk.

Why do you think most BHP students don’t either know about, or choose to purse derivatives trading very often?

I think both sides are relatively unfamiliar with each other. As a student in BHP, I didn’t know any alumni in the industry, and I never heard of older students recruiting for trading jobs the same way I heard of students recruiting for investment banking or management consulting. On the other side, most trading firms primarily recruit from schools like MIT, Cal-Tech, Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. The industry is quite small, so they haven’t quite explored all the potential candidates yet.

However, I think the industry is shifting. When I first interned at Optiver, I felt as prepared (if not more) for the internship as the other students from top schools around the country. Since then, Optiver has hired three other UT students for the full-time Trading role, and we’re now one of the most represented schools on Optiver’s trading floor. I think many BHP students are interested in quantitative finance, so I hope to see more BHP students explore derivatives trading over the next few years.

You had four majors in college. Are you using skills you gained from all of them in this role?

I get the opportunity to use skills from each major on the job, particularly from my Math and BHP majors. In Math, I took several probability and linear algebra courses which taught me skills I can use when making trading decisions. In BHP, I took finance courses which taught me the basics of financial markets and relationships between different macroeconomic products. One course in particular that stood out was Professor Kumar’s Optimization Methods in Finance which blended financial concepts with programming.

Along with the classroom, my extracurricular activities and work experience were particularly helpful. I was very active in the Undergraduate Computational Finance Group, and the projects done in that org were excellent practice for projects done here at Optiver. I also worked part-time at Integra during the school year, and this gave me experience doing project work, but in a more professional setting.

As a new(ish) grad, what has been the biggest challenge to for you in moving on from college life?

The biggest challenge by far is dealing with the cold weather. As expected, Houston and Austin did not prepare me well for winter in Chicago. After that, meeting people in a new city has been a bit of a challenge. Going from college where you’re surrounded by all your friends to a new city is quite a transition. Fortunately, Chicago is a friendly city, and there are a lot of social activities available.

Within work, the biggest change is everything is done in a team-setting. BHP classes did a great job of emphasizing teamwork or having group assignments which resemble work done in the real world, but the rest of my classes didn’t. Communication and teamwork skills that were underappreciated in college are now proving to be very important.

Anything else you would like to add, or advice you would like to share with current students?

My main advice is to pursue side interests or hobbies outside the classroom. For example, I enjoyed working with basketball statistics in college, and I actually developed useful statistical and programming skills through this hobby. I even started writing for an NBA analytics blog recently. Side interests don’t have to become a primary source of income to be useful. They keep you entertained, improve your skills, and could potentially become a career.

BHP Students Take 2nd Place at National Stock Pitch Competition

This weekend, a team of four BHP University Securities Investment Team (USIT) students traveled to the University of Michigan Ross School of Business to compete in one of the oldest undergraduate stock pitch competitions, hosted by the Michigan Interactive Investments Team . USIT has historically done very well at this competition (3rd in 2016, 1st in 2014), and this year the team was thrilled to clench 2nd place!

The team, comprised of Karna Venkatraj (BHP Junior, USIT Industrials Portfolio Manager), Ryan Spencer (BHP Junior, USIT Energy Fund Analyst), Catherine Cheng (BHP Sophomore, USIT Senior Analyst), and Ananya Rajesh (BHP Sophomore, USIT Senior Analyst), beat out 25 teams from other top business schools.

Stock pitch competitions allow teams of students to formulate a variant view revolving aroung a particular security, conducting intrinsic and relative valuation to arrive at an implied valuation for the company. Students then present their findings to the competition judges in a preliminary and final round. This year, the team chose to pitch Hawaiian Airlines.

The four students on the team are leaders within the University Securities Investment Team (USIT), an investing team that seeks to provide financial education through active securities investing. USIT is the only UT finance organization to send teams to national competitions. The organization also boasts and all-female executive board, including two BHP students serving in the roles of President (Phoebe Lin) and Director of Investment (Megan Tran-Olmsted).

Faculty Spotlight: Rayan Bagchi – Operations Management

Written by Nandita Daga

Professor Bagchi may have made a circuitous path to the business industry, but he is no stranger in the field. He’s been teaching Operations Management for the last 39 years, with the last 36 years at UT. At McCombs, he teaches OM335H: Operations Management, OM337: Total Quality Management, and OM367: Strategic Supply Chain Management. Bagchi actually began his career as a Chemistry student; he received his B.Sc and M.Sc in Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur), his M.S. in Chemistry at Washington State University, and a Ph.D in Operations Management from Pennsylvania State University.

He attributes this switch to Operations as a realization that “[I was] not happy at the prospect of spending the rest of my career life in a chemistry lab; hours are exceedingly long, you don’t see people, and spend a lot of time with only chemicals. I wanted something different and I wasn’t sure what. Business is an area you can come into from any other area, so I joined business school without knowing what I was getting into – so much for strategic planning.”

When asked why he chose operations, Bagchi stated, “Operations lends itself to mathematical analysis, which attracted me. I liked the flavor of operations, which is problem-solving. I’m not attracted to money. Not too keen about satisfying customers; marketing was interesting, but not particularly appealing. Operations is neutral; it’s about making things cheaper, faster, better.” He incorporates this flavor of operations into his research; most of his published work revolves around planning and scheduling models. His research interests look at how to make businesses more process oriented; getting good results consistently requires developing good processes. He is also interested in knowledge management, which looks at knowledge not easily captured in documents or archival – essentially, implicit knowledge. “Most of us have knowledge not readily available to others, but often times, that knowledge goes unused. I like to study how to put knowledge that already exists to use,” he smiles and says.

Professor Bagchi enjoys teaching OM335H the most; it’s the first course in operations for students, so “they have a clean slate,” he explains. BHP students are “alive” in class. He notes that attendance and engagement in classes are higher, and that students have a wider range of interests. “BBA students are more narrow in their focus; BHP students are more open to other things. Their minds are nimble and active.”

Professor Bagchi is always eager to hear from his students during office hours (MW 12-1 at CBA 4.304A); he says that “Anything the student finds interesting is likely something that would interest me,” and would love to engage in deeper conversation about likes, dislikes, regrets, etc. If you’re looking for conversation starters, consider asking him about:

1) the book he’s currently reading! Professor Bagchi enjoys reading 19th and early 20th century books, and has recently began Teddy Roosevelt’s biography.

2) his favorite movies! (He particularly enjoys a French director, Éric Rohmer, whose moral tales are “absolutely wonderful.”)

3) traveling: his favorite destination spots are London and Paris.

4) food: he enjoys Italian and French cuisines.

Faculty Spotlight: JJ Riekenberg – Business Communications

Written by Nandita Daga

JJ Riekenberg

“It’s a class.”

Every BA324H class, Professor Janet J Riekenberg, or JJ as students affectionately call her, leans against her desk, gives a smile, and utters this iconic phrase. JJ teaches honors and non-honors sections of BA324, a Business Communication course all McCombs students are required to take. She is a non-tenure lecturer within the Management Department and describes her focus as “creating teaching situations to facilitate learning.”

After graduating UT as a RTF major, JJ started her career in corporate communications and worked in public television as a Floor and Operations Manager for ten years. From there she co-owned and managed a film and video production company before coming back to UT for graduate school. Here, she received her Master’s degree in Educational Psychology, focusing on higher education counseling. She also received her Doctorate degree from UT in Educational Psychology, with a concentration in Learning, Cognition, Motivation, & Instruction. She utilizes all three of her degrees as a professor.

JJ’s favorite thing about teaching BHP is undoubtedly the students. “The BHP culture emphasizes learning. You come out of college a learner. Students in BHP own their education; they are invested in making the most of their experience and taking as much knowledge as they can,” she said. She actually wanted me to interview her students instead of her – as an accurate reflection of who she is as a teacher.

According to Nicholas Kuehl, a BHP sophomore, “JJ has an incredible sense of humor and makes bland content funny.’” Another sophomore, Rebecca Ortiz, says that JJ structures her classes really well and incorporates lots of “quirky, haha” moments.

“She’ll take a look at your paper, and tell you five things you did wrong in a glance, and is always honest and helpful. JJ also takes in interest in students’ lives; if you’re dressed up professionally, she’ll always ask what you are up to. She’ll pause presentations and physically fix your posture if it needs work. She’ll pull people up to the front of the classroom and do in-class examples.”

JJ’s always very engaging in class, but students really get to know her through her office hours (MW 10-11, T 1:30-2:30 in CBA 4.202). The best piece of wisdom upperclassmen pass down is simply that: go to office hours. She will clarify minute details of the assignment, find resources to verify doubts, give helpful suggestions, and share her own experiences. But don’t just visit for assignment help! “[I wish] students came to ask how to learn more effectively,” JJ says. To make the most of office hours and JJ’s broad depth of knowledge, try asking her about some of her hobbies and interests. If you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas:

  • How did you get into photography, and what subject matter is your favorite to capture?
  • What’s the most valuable skill you learned from managing your own business?
  • What interests you about ornithology, and what is your favorite bird?
  • What is your favorite story about miscommunication?
  • Where have you traveled recently, and where would you like to go?