April 17, 2017

WANG | Wall Street and Walmart

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Sometimes, the best view isn’t the one you’re seeing.

The last marketing class of the week brought us a guest speaker, which I was happy about; marketing class was the one class that Dyson business freshman were constantly taking notes in. Not that the notes were needlessly drawn out — they were more or less a copied version of the ones found in our textbook. But it was a long textbook, and it was a short semester.

The guest speaker was John Fogarty, who had been a student at Dyson before it became Dyson. Back in the pre-Dyson days, the Applied Economics and Management major was called “agricultural economics”, which was like poison to the ears to the parents of those who wanted to send their children to schools that would prepare them for business. But after the turn of the millennium, it was “applied” instead of “agricultural,” which somehow meant it was a richer education process. You might scoff, but the marketing pivot was genius. As one applicant’s parents explained in April after getting the college decisions, there daughter was choosing between Brown and Cornell, looking for something that would get a good job in finance. But the allure of “Applied Economics of Management” overshadowed any gap in prestige. The word choice paid off: the student was now one of my classmates.

Mr. Fogarty was carved a different era, born from a different mindset. He wore his “blue collar” mentality proudly. “I got an offer from Goldman Sachs, and I turned them down.” He repeated it, with a shrug. He went to work for Wal-Mart’s business team because that’s what his heart wanted. It was a nice sentiment, but it was heresy to the students he was talking to.

The unspoken assumption about Dyson is that a significant portion of the students want a career in finance. And not just a career in finance — on Wall Street, too. Banks! Big, bloody banks. There isn’t anything more intriguing and sexy than working on Wall Street for most students here. The most popular concentration is finance. The most popular clubs are financing and investment. The panels where banks come to meet students at Cornell are easily the most attended. I went to an entrepreneurship panel today — seven people showed up.

Not to say Dyson is a Wharton wannabe. Wharton can be cold and menacing, angry and distant. One of the glowing rarities of AEM is the intimate setting it provides students. Each class of freshman is only about  100 students, allowing students to make stronger, friendlier connections. There’s something disarmingly charmful in how casual Dyson is. In comparison, Wharton is flooded with 600 freshmen each year, each one cockier than the one before. Waste a moment gasping for air, and you just might drown.

But there are moments when I realize schools don’t define students. Their careers goals do.

One night, while working in a group on a marketing assignment, we talk about the careers we want to embark on, and more implicitly, our career salaries. Actually — it was pretty damn explicit.

One girl prattles on about her dream career. She looks through the career profile of a young banker, who’s working at a big bank with a name that rolls naturally off the tongue and into a pool of cash.

“Hey, how much do you think first year associates at Goldman Sach’s get paid?”

We shrug. Some ungodly number, perhaps.

The conversation swings to me.

I think about where I want to work.

“You know, I might want to work at Frankfurt. I heard they do good international trade there.”

I thought Frankfurt sounded like a romantic place to work.

The Goldman girl smirks. “Why would you ever want to go there? There’s nothing there.”

True, it wasn’t Wall Street. But should that matter?


By the way, Mr. Fogarty isn’t done yet. Near the end of his talk about his career and why he chose it, he looks up at us, and takes aim at the zeitgeist.

“How many of you are interested in a career on Wall Street?”

Something interesting happens. In my head, I imagine at least a third of the class raising their hands. No — maybe half. Every year, Dyson sends scores of students to the banks on Wall Street: JP Morgan, Barclays, Deutsche and Goldman Sachs. And this isn’t to mention the inevitable horde of students who apply to Wall Street and rejected. In my mind, I see hands flying. We all look around.

But not a single person raises their hand.


William Wang is a freshman in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]Willpower runs every other Monday this semester.