From Hong Kong to Wall Street, UF’s MSF Program is making big waves

Gainesville, Fla. – Seven years since its inception, the Master of Science in Finance (MSF) degree program is showing a strong return on investment for its students and graduates. The addition of a combined degree program has opened the door to even more students for whom the narrow focus on finance is an attractive alternative to a traditional MBA program.

Thanks to outstanding faculty, as well as practical insights provided through the Finance Professional Speaker Series and additional lecture lunches with adjunct professor Bruce Foerster (a leading practitioner with considerable investment banking experience), MSF students get “the real deal” on everything they need to know. The valuable lessons one group learned took them all the way to China.

The MSF student team Parkonthefly, LLC was one of twelve companies selected from a pool of international graduate student businesses invited to compete in The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 2008 MBA International Business Plan Competition, held April 17 – 19. Sargent White (BABA 2003; MSF 2008) and CTO Bryan Scott (a UF finance senior) represented the Hough Graduate School of Business, as well teammates Aashish Shukla (MSF 2007) and Philip Tiemann (a 2004 UF nuclear engineering grad), who were unable to attend the competition. During their three-day whirlwind in the Asian business capital, White and Scott attended coaching sessions, including an enlightening consultation with Melissa Guzy (BSBA 1986), a managing director for Vantage Point Partners, gave multiple presentations, and manned their trade show display. The pair also talked extensively with HKUST students about their venture, gaining insight into how their product could help the Hong Kong market. Judges scored the team at each juncture, and they placed as semi-finalists.

One of the most gratifying experiences has been the ability to use concepts that we’ve earned during the MSF program, says Sargent White. It’s a very useful and marketable degree program, which I would personally recommend to any entrepreneur or individual looking to master the art of financing and running a business. We’d like to thank Melissa Guzy–as a seasoned venture capitalist, she was able to shed light on many important issues from a purely competitive standpoint. We would also like to reiterate our thanks to the Hough Graduate School of Business for sponsoring our trip—it indeed was one, and a competition, to remember!

According to David Brown, director of the MSF and Hough Programs in Finance, it’s the opportunity for such hands-on experience, combined with the personal involvement of invested alumni, which makes the MSF such an exceptional program.

“Much of our placement success is due to students in previous classes,” say Brown, the William Hough Professor of Finance. “When they get good jobs and perform well, their firms are much more interested in considering UF. Alumni support through the Finance Professional Speakers Series really helps students as well—Melissa Guzy is a perfect example, having also lectured here in 2007. Somebody who attends all of the events has a real leg up.”

The symbiosis is paying dividends: the May 2008 MSF enjoyed strong jobs offers, with 80 percent of the class already placed at graduation. In fact, most of the students accepted offers in fall 2007, and will be starting in analyst programs this summer. Despite the weak economy, Raymond James and Wachovia Securities hired more students than they have historically, and about a dozen grads working for them will be spread out from St. Petersburg to Los Angeles. Brown says six students will also be heading to New York, where they will be joining Citigroup, Miller Buckfire, Merrill Lynch, Bear Sterns, J.P. Morgan, and UBS. This year’s placements, however, were not limited to investment banking. MSF grads will be headed to Atlanta (Duff & Phelps) and Costa Rica (Ernst & Young) to work in consulting, and Brown says he was especially pleased to see students obtain positions in asset management at Intrepid Capital, Morningstar, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, and Hyde Park Capital, a Tampa-based private equity firm.

From Brown’s perspective, the program is now reaping the rewards of a “snowball effect,“ with each student’s achievement and alum’s participation leading to greater levels of success, for him or her, as well as the program itself.

“Our combined degree program has also proven to be a very attractive option—for UF’s best undergrads and to employers. The idea that a person earned a master’s degree in four years, and has the skills to go along with it, is very compelling.”