To the uninitiated, investment management may sound like a numbers-driven industry. But working in this field involves more than understanding the intricacies of financial markets. You also have to navigate the nuances of professional relationships.
“Investment management is very much an industry of networking and connections, both in terms of job opportunities and ideas. It's very human-based,” says May Hnin, a second-year student in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program.
For students interested in pursuing this professional path, the Columbia Student Investment Management Association (CSIMA) — one of Columbia Business School’s largest clubs, with around 380 members — can provide a pathway to some of those coveted connections.
Founded more than 25 years ago, CSIMA is open to all current MBA, Executive MBA, and Master of Science students. Serving as both a career launchpad and student resource center, CSIMA offers a wide range of social and networking events along with access to exclusive vendor software and a vast alumni network. The club also frequently collaborates with CBS entities such as the Heilbrunn Center for Graham & Dodd Investing, which offers students world-class resources in the discipline of value investing.
For second-year MBA student Ian Gorman, becoming a member of CSIMA was one of the first items on his checklist when he arrived on campus. “I wanted to get as immersed in Columbia’s investing ecosystem as possible,” he says. His plan is on track: Today, Gorman and Hnin serve as CSIMA’s co-presidents.
Exchanging Ideas and Business Cards
“CSIMA covers a lot of ground, but if I had to distill our mission into just a sentence or two, it's a place for people interested in the world of investment management to pursue that interest further,” says Gorman. “We give them all of the tools they need.”
Some of those tools come in the form of access to successful professionals already entrenched in the industry. Last fall, the club hosted 11 Career Talk sessions featuring panels of investors discussing possible career paths in investment management as well as the lessons they’ve learned throughout their own journeys. CSIMA also organizes trips, giving students the opportunity to attend investment firm shareholder meetings and recruitment events from Omaha to Asia.
The Annual CSIMA Conference is perhaps the crown jewel of the club’s packed event calendar: The full-day event brings more than 600 investors to campus and facilitates the exchange of ideas, career advice, and business cards.
The group also organizes illuminating social gatherings that bookend the conference. After the 2023 event, CSIMA members gathered at a nearby restaurant to give each other a download of their experiences. “That was a really good opportunity for our members to meet each other in a more casual setting,” says Gorman.
Stock Pitching: Practice Makes Perfect
Each year, CSIMA members have the opportunity to participate in a variety of pitch-focused events. The annual CSIMA Stock Pitch Challenge attracts first-year students from up to a dozen MBA programs around the country. In the competition, three-person teams vie to impress industry professionals with a 15-minute pitch followed by a 15-minute question and answer session. A prize of $6,000 is split among first, second, and third place winners. CSIMA also assembles teams to participate in similar competitions hosted by peer schools throughout the year, typically taking first place in several events, says Gorman.
CSIMA’s four Investment Ideas Club (IIC) events are another avenue for students to pitch their stock ideas, this time to alumni, investment professionals, and fellow students. Benjamin Isaac ’14, chief investment officer at Brizo Capital, has participated as a judge for IIC events at least 30 times. “I just think it's an amazing pedagogical format,” he says, noting that during his own time as a CBS student, he sat on the other side of the judging panel. “As a judge, now I get to hear about people’s passions, their hard work, and the unique way they're thinking about things.”
Sometimes, those initial interactions progress into full-fledged job opportunities. Isaac has hired several students after hearing their pitches or meeting them at IIC events. The characteristics that tend to pique his interest include obvious displays of effort and passion, as well as intellectual honesty. “A lot of it comes down to if I learned something,” he says. “Any time a student walks me through a business that I don’t know well, it’s amazing.”
Isaac notes the skills students picked up during these pitch events often transfer to their later professional lives. “There are so many instances in my career when the relevant commercial insight wasn't about who can model things better but who understands the consumer or the competitive dynamics better,” he says. “And if you’re interested in roles that might potentially culminate in the C-suite, it’s not a bad idea to get some interaction with the investment management world early on.”
The CSIMA Advantage
A key resource available to students through CSIMA is access to vendor platforms, including expert network transcripts, SEC filings, financial databases, and modeling software. Such resources prove helpful not only for CSIMA events but also for class assignments. “Access to expert calls and interviews is a game changer,” Hnin says.
But it’s on the all-important human level that CSIMA really delivers. Beyond the many opportunities to make industry connections, Hnin notes that the student members themselves can be invaluable resources, citing her friendship with co-president Gorman as a prime example. “Being able to call up Ian and say, ‘Hey, can I bounce some ideas off of you?’ That was incredibly helpful. We became friends by chatting through our ideas,” she says.
Building that network pays dividends down the road, since today’s CSIMA members are likely to be future colleagues or perhaps hiring managers. It’s the same networking goal that spurred the creation of CSIMA’s robust mentorship program, which connects students with alumni for advice, job opportunities, and more.
“I’ve cold-emailed a lot of alums,” says Hnin. “We share the connection of being part of CSIMA. It’s a very easy icebreaker; you can reach out to someone who graduated in 2002 and they'll still feel connected to you.”