FSB alumni step up to offer advice for current students

Mary Tehrani talks with students via Zoom

Making lemons into lemonade” would be a good way to describe the Farmer School’s “Coffee Chat.” If there was no global pandemic, the Alumni Virtual Coffee Chat wouldn’t have happened, because bringing a dozen highly successful alumni to campus to talk with students within an 11-day span would have been difficult to pull off logistically.

They participated from across the nation to talk about their careers, their time at Miami University and the Farmer School, and the advice that they would give students preparing to step into the real world.

While the alumni often had a short presentation about their careers and how they got to where they are now, much of the time was spent fielding questions from students.


Cameron Cox, junior finance major: “What would you say is the biggest challenge when you were first starting versus one of the big challenges you may experience now?”

Lori Kaiser '85, founder and CEO of Kaiser Consulting: “You kind of have to be able to do a lot of things and wear a lot of hats, because you don't have enough money to pay people to do all the things to really create a business and you do all the functions yourself.”


Will Murray, senior marketing/entrepreneurship major: “Could you talk a little bit about your experience having a work-life balance, especially at some of those companies where maybe you don't have as much freedom as you would in the startup world?”

Trish Lukasik ’92, operating partner at Atlantic Street Capital Advisors: “It’s an important question and I honestly think a generation like yours is helping the rest of us figure out how to manage that, because it is totally and completely doable. Here's what I would tell you. I think that every individual just needs to figure out what's important to them, and then then make time for it, and then make others respect that. That can be difficult and that can be scary, but nine times out of 10, they will.”


Ian Chenkus, senior finance major: “Could you talk a little bit about what made you want to become a CFO and how you navigated becoming one?”

Mark Ridenour ’82, president at DALE Management: “There are some interesting points about being a CFO. Sometimes I call it the CFO curse, in that CFOs are supposed to know a lot or everything about everything. I would tell you that that's probably more prevalent in the last 15 years or so, and now part of the reason of that is that the CFO position has become so important in companies. Whether it's the raising of capital, whether it's dealing with shareholders, strategic planning has become huge, going public, selling companies, divisions. It's not that that wasn't important before, but you know, everything moves faster today, everything's more complicated today. I would highly recommend it. I think it's extremely challenging. I think it can be very, very rewarding. But it's not easy.”


Sam Selent, senior finance/economics major: “How have all your different career opportunities and jobs in different countries and states presented themselves?”

Bob Stall ’87, EY US Central valuation, modeling and economics principal and EY US mining and metals leader: ”You have to position yourself in your job to be the person that they tap on the shoulder first. How do you do that? Well, you'd be the person that has the intellectual curiosity. Your bosses will realize that you did the homework. I'm always raising my hand, trying to take another experience, learn something new. That was my secret. And, quite frankly, working hard.”


Claire Galberg, senior information systems and analytics major: “What would be your pitch for how to get people more interested in industry-specific consulting and what are the values in that compared to generalized consulting?”

Kaiser: “If anybody asked me, I always say there's no way that out of school I could have been a consultant. I feel for me and in accounting, I could not have been a consultant without the knowledge that I gained by working in industry first. You can always go into consulting later, and the more knowledge that you have initially, the greater value you're going to be to a consulting firm.”


Brendan Coburn, junior economics/finance major: “As current students trying to go look for internships and jobs, can you talk about how to be straightforward and ask for what you want, without rubbing people the wrong way?”

Lukasik: You can be 10 different things in a day, but to the person you're talking to, you make their job easier if you are specific to them. You may be a double major in marketing and economics, for example. But when you're talking to the head of brand at Clorox, you are 1,000% a marketer and all you care about is marketing and you want to be the greatest marketer and your whole life and your passion everything you do is tied up and building that brand. Then, when you're talking to the head of the Fed because you're going to get hired as an economist somewhere, all you care about is the economy, and you are the most dedicated person to the economy. But trying to be both of those things to those people makes their job really difficult.

So when you're an interviewer, you’re trying to get to ‘What does this person uniquely bring that is going to be an asset to my team?’ and the more clear you can be with an interviewer about ‘This is what I bring and this is what I’m trying to get’ the easier you make their job at the end of the day. And making their job easier usually pays dividends, because nobody wants to work harder than they have to.”


Solomia Semenyuk, sophomore finance major: “I was doing a little report for my internship about real estate, and among the things that I realized was everyone leaving big cities and how there's prospects in all these other cities becoming more suburban. So I’m just curious to know what your perspective on that is and how whether maybe a New York internship isn't the best decision?”

Ridenour: “I know I would take the internship regardless of where it's at. Because they all matter and, in fact, it might be quite interesting to be in that NYC environment during a post crisis/ pandemic. Keep your eyes and ears open I know many times internships can lead to a job offer, but you don't have to worry about that, right now. But I wouldn't turn down an internship anywhere, anytime.”


Frannie Hillyer, accountancy graduate student: “You’ve worked in a bunch of different industries, so how did you eventually narrow down on an industry and know how soon is too soon to start specializing?”

Stall: “The industry that you're going to be most successful in is the one that you're going to be willing to sit in front of your computer and read an industry magazine on Thursday night, as opposed to turning whatever TV shows on Thursday night. When you find that industry that will compel you enough to not watch TV and read about it, you’ve found the industry that you want to spend your career. Because the things that you're interested in, it shows up in your sleep, when you're talking to people, how passionate you are about it. You can't hide it.

I believe that one of the best ways to sell is to sell through providing trust. What I mean by that is, is that if you're the CFO of a company and I'm coming in because you want to hire me to value your business because you're going through an acquisition or merger. That CFO reports to the CEO and the Board of Directors. What's the worst thing that can happen to them? They make a bad choice at who they choose to do the evaluation work or do the IT systems because it's a reflection on them. So what you want to do is instill the trust of ‘I got this. I can do this. I'm your person. And I'm not going to let you down.’ And the more you know about the industry and the more confident you are about all the things around the industry, the more trust you’re going to convey without ever saying the word ‘trust.’”


Students and alumni both gained from the experience, with the alums gaining an understanding of what was foremost in students’ minds, while students got answers to the questions that were important to them while also building their networks.