Go fish? — Take heart!

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In Defense of English Majors…—————————————By: Matthew Spahn, ’92Senior Vice PresidentThe TCW Group

In reference to The Villanovan’s 2/6/04 opinion piece entitled, “You’re an English major? Go fish” — take heart! Your choice of a major is more valuable than you might think.

I enrolled in the College of Commerce & Finance and chose economics as my major. After my sophomore year, I felt an academic void filled by poetic and literary analysis and so I pursued a minor in English. Later I added a second minor in history. In retrospect, I came to realize that my studies in English and history have benefited my career significantly.

I’ve worked on Wall Street for ten years, most recently as a portfolio manager for a large investment management firm. I can attest that the ranks of Wall Street are filled with English majors, and with good reason. English majors are taught how to think critically. For example, when a student reads a novel, he or she can enjoy the “good read”. However on a deeper level, that same student can discover an entirely different message through clues revealed by various literary techniques. That very mode of thinking is a valuable skill and highly prized on Wall Street. That said, I anticipate two questions:

Q: How does analyzing literature relate to professional stock-picking and success on Wall Street?A: Basically, you make money in the market by observing various data points, taking the data points and creating a mosaic, which becomes an investment thesis. You then take that qualitative thesis and crunch numbers on Excel to estimate the financial benefit to a company (say, XYZ Corp.) if the thesis turns out to be true. If that benefit translates into greater earnings power for XYZ, then there might be an opportunity for a portfolio manager or trader to buy an undervalued stock. If you believe that the capital markets are reasonably efficient, then the stock price of XYZ should appreciate once the market discovers and acts upon the thesis that you had already discovered and acted upon.

Q: From what you wrote above, it seems that being an English major takes a person halfway to becoming a successful investor, for financial statement analysis is also a crucial part of the research process. Is that true?A: Yes, it is true. But take heart…that’s what the MBA is for (pardon the dangling preposition)…

I now take this forum to publicly thank some of my history and English professors who have been exceptionally influential in expanding my intellectual horizons and developing my critical thinking skills: Dr. Haas, Dr. George Murphy, Dr. Irwin, and Cecilia Ready.

In conclusion, you have four short years to learn broaden your intellectual horizons. Take advantage of this opportunity! Enjoy classes in archeology, art history, theology, anthropology, poetry, astronomy, etc… Enjoy them to fulfill your own academic curiousity and hunger for intellectual enrichment. Ars longa, vita brevis.