Michael Ivie: Building a Panther Beachhead in the Big Apple

As far as most Robinson College of Business students are concerned, Michael Ivie is living the dream — living and working in New York City, enjoying the fast-paced business environment of the world’s financial capital.

By his own admission, though, Ivie wasn’t even dreaming the dream when he started pursuing his MBA at Georgia State in 2009. “That developed over time,” he says. “Actually, the Panthers on Wall Street program was my first time ever going to New York. I think that opens a lot of people’s eyes to it.”

Participating in Panthers on Wall Street did more than open Ivie’s eyes to the idea of a career in New York. It helped him decide what skills he needed to develop and make connections with people who could help him get his foot in the door. Landing a dream job at Accenture, though, hasn’t left Ivie content to sit back and bask in his own success. He’s continued to support PWS, both with his dollars and with his time — hosting subsequent PWS visits and coaching students on what they need to do to achieve their own New York dreams.

A Detour That Turned Into a Fast Track

Ivie has never been one to just sit and daydream about his goals. Before he’d even earned his bachelor’s degree from Clayton State, he was working as a financial adviser. When that business took a hit with the financial meltdown of 2008, he adapted to the changing landscape and took advantage of the heightened interest in risk management. “I started a consulting company, and it was doing so well I got out of the financial advising business and kicked up full-time on the consulting,” he says.

At the same time, he was coming to Georgia State in the evenings and working toward an MBA. After a year, he was nearly finished, but he stuck around to get a little more training in quantitative risk analysis. Taking his time proved to be a smart decision, because it gave him the opportunity to join the Panthers on Wall Street trip in fall 2010.

Even the application process for PWS — “the interviewing and the social experience that comes from it, the networking skills that you’re able to develop” — proved valuable, Ivie remembers. But seeing New York for the first time, and getting firsthand exposure to the sheer breadth of opportunity there, energized him enough to set his sights on the Big Apple.

“If you meet someone who says they are a credit executive in Atlanta, you can count on one hand the places they could potentially work — the Federal Reserve, the Federal Home Loan Bank, SunTrust, Regions,” he says. “The other major banks have a presence in Atlanta, but it’s really their customer-facing operations like call centers or IT support; Atlanta has less of the actual business functions. But coming to New York shows you the scale of the financial services industry and the opportunity that really exists. If you’re really passionate about doing financial services — whether it’s research, risk management, modeling, technology enablement, accounting — you’re going to find more opportunities in New York. I think we all know that before we ever look at doing Panthers on Wall Street, but when you see it firsthand, it really starts to sink in and excite you.”

Dreams Achieved and Lessons Learned

Less than a week after finishing a second master’s in finance at Robinson, Ivie accepted a job at the Federal Home Loan Bank in New York. The process of landing that job, he says, was actually easier than he expected, but success didn’t come from just sitting around and waiting for an opportunity to fall into his lap. “You really have to work your network — people always want to help others, but you’ve got to help yourself to some extent,” he says.

It also didn’t come from crossing his fingers and hoping good grades and a pair of master’s degrees would set him apart. Being able to combine classwork and on-the-job experience — and being surrounded by professors and classmates alike who were doing the same — made the difference. “Especially being so young at the time and being relatively new to the risk field, having access to the Robinson faculty was great,” Ivie says. “And I found it was almost uncanny how the issues I faced on the job would just happen to come up in the courses I was taking. On multiple occasions I had problems to solve at work and lo and behold, there it would be in the curriculum in class that week.

“In this economy, work experience is valued so much more by employers. You can have an Ivy League degree and be brilliant, but if you don’t have any experience, challenges in the job market will be much greater than it would be for somebody who does have experience or internships.”

Ivie acknowledges that compiling that experience can be tough, particularly for undergrads. So you’ve got to do your homework — and not just the kind assigned by a professor.

“I think if I had to do it all over again, and I had no experience, I would say go look at jobs, look at the lists of things they’re looking for and identify the skill sets. Yeah, they want a bachelor’s, maybe a master’s; maybe there are certifications I can get more quickly that would not only give me knowledge but also give me a credential. But I’d also identify the actual things I need to know that will make me a better candidate for a job.

“Once you develop a certain set of skills, I think it’s the same as with buying homes: You have buyers’ markets and sellers’ markets. Right now there’s a significant shortage of skilled professionals when it comes to finance, risk, and technology. So if you display even a couple years of demonstrated ability or knowledge, that’s important. Most of the time, when people are hiring in NYC, it’s not just to have somebody sit at a desk doing a job — we need someone who has some perspective that they can bring to the table.”

Opening Doors for the Next Generation

Those are the types of lessons Ivie shares with new Panthers on Wall Street contingents when they visit him at the Accenture offices on the Avenue of the Americas, just a few blocks south of Central Park. Go-getter that he is, though, he doesn’t wait for them to come to him — every summer, he comes down to Atlanta on his own dime to prep that year’s PWS class on what they needed to know to make good impressions with New York’s movers and shakers.

“I spend about eight hours with them on a Saturday, and maybe 60 percent of that is spent talking about actual operations, products, and services that are critical for banks and how the fundamental business activities of modern financial institutions translate into jobs,” Ivie says. “I want to give them something they can put their hands on and find out, ‘What would I be producing if I became a credit analyst or quantitative modeler?’”

With Georgia State’s representation in New York increasing each year, Ivie says he’s been pleased to see how many Panthers on Wall Street participants have joined him in realizing their dreams. And as those PWS alumni form an increasingly close-knit community, he’s also been energized by their enthusiasm for “paying it forward,” supporting the program to the extent that it’s now financially self-sustaining. Ivie and other PWS alums are working with Jason Aldrich and Sharry Conroy, executive director and associate director of the Robinson College’s Career Management Center, to keep it that way — and ensure that future Georgia State business students get the same opportunities he did.

“When you’re done with the program, you’re not really done with the program,” Ivie says. “We have a good network up here, and we have recently started a Panthers on Wall Street alumni advisory board. We have two branches of it — a New York branch and an Atlanta branch — and we are striving to raise the bar for the program and increase the value to the students and the employers that recruit from the program. Plus, I think that makes it more real, when it’s program alums doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and I think over time we’re going to build a pretty significant talent pool.”