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Students score big in prelims of Global Research Challenge

By Greg Russell

“Team spirit, dedicated preparation, good mentoring and coaching all played an important role,” said a University of Memphis coach exuberant about his team’s recent win. And no, we’re not talking words from Tiger coach Josh Pastner — try “coach” P.K. Jain instead.

A student team from the Fogelman College of Business & Economics scored a slam-dunk of its own with a first place finish in the Mid-South preliminary round of the CFA Institute’s Global Investment Research Challenge (Global IRC). The team, which bested six other universities including the University of Arkansas and Texas A&M Corpus Christi, advances to national competition in Omaha, Neb., April 6-7. From there, it has the opportunity to move to the global finale April 8.

A U of M student team coached by Fogelman College finance, insurance and real estate professor Dr. P.K. Jain placed first in the regionals of the Mid-South round of the CFA Institute’s Global Investment Research Challenge to advance to regional competition April 6-7 in Omaha, Neb. The CFA Institute is a highly respected association of investment professionals. Pictured are (left to right) Prof. P.K. Jain and team members Sonal Kukreja, John-Michael Clowers, Tyler Stafford and Bradley Heil.

Each university sent a team of three to five students to participate in the challenge, which is hosted by the CFA Institute, a highly respected global association for investment professionals.

"I am extremely pleased with our students for winning this competition as it is a hard-nosed competition that requires deep cognitive skills,” said Fogelman Dean Rajiv Grover. “The team’s coach, Dr. P.K. Jain, needs as much praise as the students.”

According to Jain, an associate professor of finance, insurance and real estate, the win is big on several fronts.

“The accomplishment reflects our relative standing in attracting talented students and then nurturing them for analytical careers and leadership roles in business,” said Jain. “Also, at the nationals, the students on our team will get a chance to expose their talent in front of top-notch finance professionals and recruiters from the entire world.”

Jain said the competition is closely followed by the CFA Institute's 102,000 members as well as 135 affiliated professional societies in 58 countries and territories. 

In the preliminary competition, student teams analyzed a publicly traded company for three months before presenting research findings to a high-profile panel of industry professionals. The findings included investment analysis and buy/sell/hold recommendations on the business. Judges reviewed each of the teams’ findings with the highest presentation score winning the competition. The U of M team, which consisted of Fogelman College business students Sonal Kukreja, Bradley Heil, Tyler Stafford and John-Michael Clowers, researched autoparts giant AutoZone.

“The competition just clarified that all our hard work was not a class project with one correct answer, but a business world application to a question with no correct answer,” said Clowers. “You had to step out with confidence, prove who you were, know what you came to do and convince the judges you were right. By the grace of God, we did those things and came out with a trip to Nebraska.”

Added Heil, “We practiced our presentation multiple times a day the whole week prior to the competition. By the time we were in front of the judges, it was second nature.”

Clowers said the U of M team had an almost perfect chemistry.

“Tyler was a genius with his valuation knowledge, Brad was a formatting guru, Sonal was a light to keep us organized and I brought a lot of editing. We all helped each other, and logically, we all learned from each other. The best part was putting in all the work together, using our specific knowledge and coming out victorious.”

CFA Institute spokesman Robert Trimm said the competition is designed to “promote best practices in equity research among the next generation of analysts through hands-on mentoring and intensive training in company analysis and presentation skills.

“The Global IRC offers students the unique opportunity to learn from leading industry experts and their peers from the world’s top business schools,” he said.

This year, more than 100 CFA Institute member societies are hosting local competitions with 2,500 students from more than 500 universities worldwide participating.

At the regional competition, the U of M will match wits and presentation and research skills with teams from Canada, South America and other U.S. universities.

The winners of the four regional challenges (Americas, New York, Europe and Asia Pacific) will advance to compete in the global finale.

Heil said the team would be even more prepared heading into Omaha.

“We are putting in more work to add another valuation method to set us apart from the other schools,” he said. “Hopefully we can bring a title back to Memphis.”

Kukreja said that while all the teams at the Mid-South competition focused on one business, the next round is different.

“We all have different companies to evaluate and that will make the competition even harder,” she said.

Clowers said the win is a feeling that won’t go away soon.

“The whole experience is something that I will remember about college. I probably won't remember late nights, making the A and putting in four years of hard work. But I will remember the day God was gracious, we came prepared and we walked away with a (Mid-South victory) in the Global CFA Challenge.”

Jain credited finance, insurance and real estate professor Nap Overton for his mentoring skills. “He has many years of experience in the finance industry.”

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