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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

“The Middlebury Mafia”: Do alumni and students dominate the corporate world?

With every new academic year comes a new class of seniors making LinkedIn posts about their post-graduation plans. These announcements range from “I’d like to thank my parents and teachers…” to “I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for Middlebury…”. One field that is always well represented at the college is finance. 

A November 2023 article in The Messenger titled “Move Aside Harvard and Wharton. The ‘Middlebury Mafia’ Is Taking Over Wall Street” covered the large number of Middlebury alumni in leadership positions on Wall Street, including Morgan Stanley CEO Ted Pick and Goldman Sachs President and COO John Waldron.

 “Not only was Middlebury playing host to a few future Wall Streeters, it was a veritable farm team of financial executive talent between 1989 and 1992,” wrote Messenger finance reporter Thornton McEnery, who went on to cite several other high-level financiers at various firms in the article. 

Middlebury does not offer degrees in business or finance, and professes a commitment to the liberal arts and sciences, so such a phenomenon is somewhat curious. It is the most common career field for alumni, with 19% of Middlebury graduates pursuing financial services, according to the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI).

Alec Sherman ’24, an International Politics and Economics Major joining Morgan Stanley as an analyst after graduation, cited the well-roundedness of a liberal arts education as a benefit in preparation for a career in finance. 

“Middlebury prepares students to be extremely well-rounded with a diverse set of interests, rather than aiming to train students in different financial models or interview techniques,” Sherman said. “Ultimately, everything you need for these jobs can be learned on the desk.” 

Erick Gong, an associate professor of economics who also worked at Morgan Stanley prior to joining academia, said he believes that financial institutions are looking for fast-learners and critical thinkers, regardless of subject area.

 “Across all the departments, Middlebury does a very good job of developing students that have all of these skills,” Gong said. 

While The Messenger found correlations between Middlebury graduates and success in finance, there was not much pointing to causation. Contrary to its title, the article indicated that many of the Middlebury alumni in executive positions did in fact attend MBA and graduate programs. Because of this, Gong suggested that there is a confounding problem when looking at Middlebury’s presence on Wall Street: it is impossible to determine whether it is Middlebury alone or other institutions that account for someone’s success in the financial industry. Regardless, he is optimistic that Middlebury students are well-prepared for the fast-paced, self-driven and problem-solving environment that finance often demands of its employees.

A quick look at the mission statements of Middlebury and some of the leading financial institutions shows that they purport similar values: Middlebury “[fosters] the inquiry, equity, and agency necessary for [students] to practice ethical citizenship.” Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, all include “integrity” in their core values. 

Gong also spoke about the importance of ethical education in preparation for the competitive environments — and potentially high-stakes situations — seen in corporate finance. He believes that Middlebury provides students with a strong ethical foundation through policies such as the honor code. 

“I think it’s the daily decisions we make, in our courses, and how we treat other people… [the economics department] has thought a lot about the honor code… I think it encourages people to make ethical decisions,” Gong said. 

Both Gong and Sherman emphasized that it is not direct academic study of financial subjects and services that allows Middlebury students to stand out, but rather the plentitude of wide-ranging opportunities that students take advantage of here. 

Katya Juarez ’24 plans to work in finance after graduation, said that it is often the fact that students take a language or have a major or minor in an entirely different subject that allows them to stand out in the job application process. 

“I think Midd grads have experienced so much success on Wall Street because more often than not, they come into their jobs already trained to think creatively and to speak up when they have ideas,” a recent graduate who is working as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs said. 

A common misconception — especially around campus — is that the economics major is a direct ticket to employment in the financial industry. Tanya Byker, an associate professor of economics who briefly worked in investment banking, told The Campus that she wants the economics major and a career in finance to be decoupled in peoples’ minds.

“I really want to emphasize that economics is not primarily a pathway to finance. Our major is a pathway to many things. And, meanwhile, the path to finance could go through many other majors,” Byker said. 

Besides a well-rounded academic culture, Middlebury’s small size and tight-knit alumni network are often celebrated in the financial world. Sherman said that members of the alumni community are always available to speak with prospective candidates and mentor them through the application and internship processes. 

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Juarez, who is also a Peer Career Advisor with the CCI, stated that conversations on campus about career paths in finance also help younger students become more familiar with the process of entering the industry. 

“A lot of times with finance, the earlier you are able to get your foot in the door, the easier it is to stay at the same firm or move to the next,” Juarez said. 

Ultimately, a career in finance is a choice that is independent of college or major. The ‘Middlebury Mafia’ outlined in The Messenger may or may not be a coincidence, but for those people who are interested in Wall Street, Middlebury creates graduates who are well equipped to learn on the job quickly and make informed decisions to solve problems thrown at them. Students are also given a myriad of connections to tap into Middlebury’s expansive alumni network. The mafia is always there to help.


Tejas Srinivasan

Tejas Srinivasan '24 (he/him) is an Editor at Large.

Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Tejas previously served as an opinion editor. He spent his junior year in London at King’s College. Outside of The Campus, he also hosts a podcast called Cultural Mixtapes which he started in the summer of 2022. Tejas is an English Major, on the literature track, with a music minor.


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