The Columns

Interns at Work: Gordon McAlister ’17 Sands Capital Management, Washington, D.C.

— by on September 16th, 2016

Gordon McAlister '17

“Being a philosophy and business double major allowed me to point specifically to my academic curriculum and experience as evidence of certain capabilities Sands looks for, such as the ability to clearly and concisely express complex theses, the willingness to openly discuss and defend an opinion, and an aptitude for outside-the-box thinking.”

What attracted you to this internship?

During my job search, Arthur Olsen, W&L class of 2016 and a current employee at Sands Capital Management, recommended I consider Sands. I was immediately attracted to the opportunity because it was different than most that are available for undergraduates, which tend to be on the sell-side of finance, and because of the outstanding recommendations that Sands received. Sands focuses on an intuitive, bottom-up, long-term investment philosophy that resonated with me at the time that I was considering applying.

Sands Capital hired me as a tech team intern, so I think that being in the WLU Venture Club and my subsequent experience consulting with small tech startups, naturally gave me a bit more background on that industry group. I also think that being a philosophy and business double major allowed me to point specifically to my academic curriculum and experience as evidence of certain capabilities Sands looks for, such as the ability to clearly and concisely express complex theses, the willingness to openly discuss and defend an opinion, and an aptitude for outside-the-box thinking, coupled with a clear interest in how businesses work. It’s also no surprise that Sands often looks for W&L students and graduates, given that two of their top core values are integrity and trust.

Describe your daily duties.

Day-to-day work was entirely focused on two major projects that I worked on during the course of the summer. The larger of the two involved looking at a mid-cap software company. First I created a company-specific overview, after which I made a first pass at evaluating the viability of the company as an investment. Having decided that the company was interesting enough to warrant a deeper dive, I created a list of key questions that needed to be answered in order to fully develop a ‘buy, wait, or pass’ recommendation. From there I reached out to eight industry/company experts in order to address some of the questions surrounding the business I was looking at. During this time period I also continued to conduct my own research, leveraging a variety of resources available at the firm. Finally, I created a written investment thesis, and conducted a one-hour vetting session where everyone could openly discuss and challenge my investment case. The daily work ranged from hours of expert calls to financial modeling and forecasting, all alongside the challenges that I encounter in creating any thesis, such as constantly reassessing my own biases, playing devil’s advocate to myself, and properly synthesizing all of the research inflow from any given day with what I have already learned. Any given day started from 8:00-8:30 and ended between 5:30-7:30. No clocking in and out — I simply tried to manage my hours based on my efficiency and progress.

Have any courses and/or professors helped you prepare for this internship? Which ones?

Professor Hoover’s managerial finance class was especially helpful in giving me a base from which I was able to create and understand financial models of companies. Much of what we did in that class directly translated into what I did at Sands.

What was your favorite part or perk of the internship?

My favorite perk was the Washington Nationals tickets that the firm would pass out, which were right behind home base. My favorite in office perk, without a doubt, was the top deck of the building, often utilized for happy hour on Friday, and overlooking the Potomac and all of Washington D.C.

What did you learn from living in the city where the internship was located?

Living in Arlington, about a mile from D.C., was a great experience. I learned a lot about our nation’s history, not to mention a lot about using public transportation.

What key takeaways/skills will you bring back to W&L?

My key take away from this job has been that nobody expects you to be an expert right away. All anyone expects is a genuine curiosity and willingness to learn. I think that’s the beauty of W&L and a liberal arts education — that while you gain a solid foundation of knowledge, what you really walk away with that makes you valuable is an ability and willingness to continually learn.

What advice would you give to students interested in a position like this?

If you’re looking at a position like this, then you need to develop some basic knowledge. Take an accounting class or two, even if it’s not a major requirement for you. It’s also important to demonstrate interest, whether that’s through extracurricular activities or outside reading or messing around with a trading account. Being able to point to these types of experiences is crucial. Outside of these basics, focus on developing your own opinion. Whether it’s on current events, macro subjects, or individual companies, investment firms are looking for people who have thought through issues and developed their own point of view. Nobody expects you to be Warren Buffet from day one; they just want to see your potential to add your own voice and value to their team.

Has this experience influenced your career aspirations? How so?

Working at Sands has definitely had a profound impact on the way I view investing, so there’s no doubt that it will impact which jobs I will consider in the future. Given that I thoroughly believe in investing in select growth companies over the long term, the philosophy that Sands is founded on, you’re not likely to find me trading options or shorting stocks any time soon.

Describe your experience in a single word.

Eye-opening.