The third event in this semester’s Pung Executive Speaker Series featured Kevin Smith (B.A. Finance ’07), a project leader with Boston Consulting Group.
“Let’s keep this interactive,” Smith said at the start of his lecture. “Let’s keep this loose.” Maintaining this attitude during his talk, he encouraged attendees to ask questions or interrupt with comments throughout. “If this doesn’t interest you or it’s boring, let me know and we can change course.”
Smith’s lecture focused on several points, including networking and taking risks, but at the core of his presentation was his advocacy for having a scrappy Spartan mindset.
Determined to secure the best possible internships and jobs he could after graduating from MSU, Smith was tenacious in his efforts to make connections. He explained how, with the help of Helen Dashney, finance faculty and Pung Series organizer, he developed creative strategies for getting on companies’ radars.
“There’s always going to be roadblocks to things you want, but you need to be creative and find a way to remove them,” Smith said. He gave examples of how he embraced the Spartan mindset by setting up informational interviews and coffee chats with alumni and by dedicating countless hours to recruiting, networking and interview prep.
This “whatever it takes” mindset is how Smith landed internships at General Motors and Piper Jaffray (now part of Piper Sandler Companies), a respected Minneapolis-based investment banking firm, as well as full-time employment at Lehman Brothers in its private equity group. “I was determined to get a job at one of the best investment banks on Wall Street, but I knew that was not going to come easy. I needed to build my resume with internships, and I needed support from the connections I had made,” he said.
After several years in the private equity industry, including working through the 2008 financial crisis that resulted in the demise of Lehman Brothers and helping transition the merchant banking group at Lehman into a standalone firm, Smith decided it was time for a change. For years, he and several friends had workshopped entrepreneurial ideas; eventually they developed an innovative automatic shifting transmission for bicycles and founded the aptly named AutoBike.
“People asked me why I would want to leave such a highly coveted job to build a start-up,” he said. “I asked myself a lot of tough questions before I decided to do this, like, ‘What do I want my life story to be?’ and ‘How many times will I have this opportunity?’ I also solicited advice and guidance from my mentors — many of the same ones that helped me break into finance. Ultimately, after weighing the pros and cons and clearly understanding the trade-offs, the decision became clear.”
While AutoBike did not turn out the way he had hoped, Smith used it as a learning experience and touched on the concept of risk-taking. “Failure is not bad, but be smart. Do everything you can to de-risk inherently risky things. Develop hypotheses, and ruthlessly try to prove or disprove them through research, data and advice from others. Know exactly what you are getting into.”
Smith went on to earn an MBA at the University of Chicago. Upon graduation, Smith took on a role with Boston Consulting Group, where he currently serves as a project leader. He explained that while his job is time intensive and often requires being away from home, he very much enjoys it, especially the teamwork involved in helping companies find solutions to difficult challenges.
At the end of his presentation, Smith touched on a key point that he wanted students to take away: mentorship.
“Think about who the mentors are in your life,” he said, making a point to thank Dashney for all the guidance she provided him throughout his career. Smith also urged students to invest in all kinds of relationships, including family, friends, alumni and peers.
“When you find those mentors that will change the course of your life, latch on, because it can be a wild ride,” he said.