By William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs, Haas Finance Group
It was a format familiar to many, but without any singing or dancing. And with much nicer judges.
On May 9, students in the Haas Investment Fund course -- an experiential learning course in our Innovative Leader curriculum, competed against each other in pitching to judges the investment strategies they'd been developing over the past semester. The purpose was for the teams to benefit from feedback and advice from this panel of high-level investment professionals (who have a Berkeley MBA and two Haas PhD degrees among them), and for the judges to recommend allocation of the fund itself between the two competing teams, based on the market-beating promise of their innovative strategies -- taken together with the degree of perceived risk.
Judges included Minder Cheng, MBA 89, PhD 94, independent director with Investment Technology Group, Inc. Previously, Cheng served as chief investment officer for index equity and capital markets globally at BlackRock and as chief investment officer for the Equity and Capital Markets division of Barclay's Global Investors worldwide.
Students in the course are encouraged to consider their own backgrounds and areas of expertise that would provide their teams with unique insights into the fundamental dynamics of particular industries or macro trends. They use skills learned in the Problem Finding Problem Solving course in "divergent thinking" to brainstorm multiple possible theses, and in "convergent thinking" to narrow and refine the list for further research and analysis. They are introduced to the particular financial instruments that might be used to implement a strategy (most students benefit from concurrently taking the Investments course), and they may then analyze their strategies with factor models and backtest them with historical data. Students received training on financial tools such as Bloomberg, FactSet, and BarraOne -- as well as research tools and databases available from the Haas Library.
Team 1 had developed a "matched pair" strategy of long/short positions within multiple segments of the automotive components industry, with positions selected based on varying degrees of commitment to green technology. Team 2 had developed a screen for promising performance in the apparel retail space based in part on real-time trends in "Likes" of particular brands on Facebook.
Guidance was constructively delivered by the judges and was eye-opening to the students. A member of Team 1 felt the judges "provided extremely insightful feedback regarding our proposed investment strategy, including their suggestion to look more closely at current valuations and their recommendation to reconfigure our portfolio to a long-only one with risk analyzed through a factor model."
A member of Team 2 added "The panelists' questions were candid and thought-provoking. It was reassuring to find that we had already discussed some of them in our team meetings -- while there were others we hadn't considered at all. To be able to present in front of such a distinguished panel was truly a phenomenal experience. The panelists were respectful, kind, and generous with their compliments."
In the end, the judges allocated the fund 60/40 between the two teams. After some adjustments based on the insights and suggestions of the judges, the teams will implement their strategies starting this June and will continue to implement, monitor, and manage their positions until December.
This one-year, three-unit course is cross-listed between the Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA Programs and was led this year by Finance faculty members Christine Parlour and Bill Rindfuss.