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B-school students best in Va. during CFA Challenge

A team of four University of Richmond senior business students won the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Virginia Investment Research Challenge on Feb. 26 and went on to regional competition in New York City March 17 and 18.

The students were Nick Chew, Gordon O'Brien, Jill Gramolini and Jessica Murray. David North, the university's Center for Active Business Education director and associate professor of finance, selects four students to participate in the challenge each year. Teams from colleges across Virginia compete, and the winner advances to the North American competition in New York.

The competition gave students a real-world experience working with investment industry professionals. Students researched, analyzed and reported on real companies as if they were practicing analysts, according to the CFA Institute Web site. The company for this year's participants was CarMax.

Local CFA Virginia members host the challenges for participating universities. The team members work directly with the company in researching and preparing a company analysis. Presentations are evaluated by panels of business professionals, and local winners move on to the regional competitions in the Americas, Asia and Europe, then the global challenge in Hong Kong. The global winners receive a grant for their school, according to the CFA Web site.

The competition was open to both undergraduate and graduate students. This was the third year that CFA Virginia sponsored a local competition, and Richmond has participated all three years, North said. Richmond has won the competition twice.

The College of William and Mary, Hampden-Sydney College, James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia also participated in the Virginia competition, which was held on Feb. 26 at the Omni Hotel in downtown Richmond.

Each school had a team of three to five students, and each team had a faculty adviser as well as a mentor who was a CFA member. The teams analyzed the same company and wrote an eight to 10 page report, which was scored. The written score counted for 50 percent of the total evaluation and the four finalist schools gave a 10-minute oral presentation, followed by 10 minutes of questions and answers which counted for the other 50 percent, North said.

North served as the team's faculty advisor. Richmond alumnus Christopher Dion served as the team's CFA mentor. Dion is the associate director of investments at Spider Management Company, North said.

North e-mailed all senior finance students and asked for interested people that had taken the required classes, Portfolio Management and Analysis and Cases and Financial Modeling. Students applied in early October and North selected them based on course work, grades and interest, he said.

O'Brien said he had heard about the challenge last year when the team worked with Norfolk Southern. The team had learned a lot and was able to speak about the business articulately.

"I was really impressed by that," he said. "I was motivated by 'It'd be cool on a resume,' but I grew to like the company and that drove us to work hard. I wanted the opportunity to look really in-depth at a company."

Gramolini also hoped to gain practical experience from the competition.

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"I wanted to do this because I hadn't had much real-world experience with finance," she said. "CarMax was unique because it is used car sales but the company itself is a big-box retailer comparable to Best Buy."

The work began with a conference with CarMax senior management on Oct. 14, North said. The team then worked on its report until Jan. 29 and found out it was chosen to move on to the oral presentation on Feb. 26. It then continued on to the North American regional competition in New York City on March 17 and 18.

"The team put in a tremendous amount of time into the research report," North said. "[They were also] very poised in their presentation."

The students worked well as a team and were able to find good information, Gramolini said. One team weakness was the oral presentation because the team members thought they had 15 minutes but only had 10, so they had to cut it down at the last minute.

"It was six months of work and to get it into 10 minutes was really tough, but we were all satisfied," she said.

"This whole procedure is something that cannot be replicated in a classroom environment," North said.

"We had the opportunity to basically walk in the shoes of a research analyst on Wall Street," O'Brien said. "It wasn't like talking to another student, so we could use the entire vocabulary of an analyst. It did a very good job encouraging us to behave the way we would on Wall Street. I think that was the most interesting part of the challenge."

The team has not gotten any feedback from New York yet.

"I was hoping to see what we should have done differently," O'Brien said.

The work helped prepare the students for future jobs, he said, because many investment banks approach analysis the same way the team did.

Contact reporter Ashley Graham at ashley.graham@richmond.edu

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