The weekly meeting of UCLA Anderson’s Student Investment Fund (SIF) begins with a few quick agenda items, including a recap of the group’s interview visits with various investment firms. The 12 student portfolio managers — aka Fellows — sit in a U-shaped formation around three advisors: Professor Bill Cockrum; Anderson Board of Advisors member Shelby Notkin, retired chairman of Capital Group Private Client Services; and Shawn Patt ’00, M.B.A. ’07, an Anderson lecturer, longtime wealth manager and currently principal/CEO of Atala Financial. SIF alumnus Keith Webster M.B.A. ’91, managing director at First Republic Investment Management, participates via Zoom.
A lively discussion of an energy investment follows, with the Fellows debating whether to hold on to the security. Talk surrounds market dynamics, supply and demand, and energy inventories in Asia and Europe. After the student presentation, Cockrum asks the advisors for input. Notkin has mixed emotions, while Patt wonders if the current supply and demand conditions will persist, adding some historical perspective from his experience. The Fellows decide to keep the investment, at least for now.
Next, the group debates the merits of a few investments in the travel industry. An airline dependent on Japanese travel might have limited growth potential, as the Asian nation still has pandemic-induced travel restrictions, while another firm that leases aircraft appears promising. Notkin wonders if the group has pondered the implications of fuel prices. They have: The airline is more vulnerable than the leasing company. Webster approves of swapping the investments and seems impressed. The Fellows have clearly done their homework.
Then Cockrum raises a final but essential issue: He asks the group to raise their hands if they’ve got a job lined up.
Seven of the 12 raise their hands. One — in the Executive M.B.A. program — isn’t looking. For the remaining four, Cockrum demands a status update, insisting they reach out to him and the other advisors. He wants to know for which students he needs to make calls. Jobs matters to him: Over the last three years, every SIF Fellow has secured a position in the investment management industry before graduation.
The roots of the SIF date back to the mid-1980s, when Bernard “Bun” Johnson ’48, co-founder of Provident Investment Counsel, and his partner, Robert Kommerstad, saw real-world investment experience as indispensable in preparation for careers in investment management. Johnson communicated this concept to Anderson’s dean, J. Clayburn La Force, Jr. M.A. ’58, Ph.D. ’62, who liked what he heard. La Force asked Cockrum to bring the plan to the UCLA Foundation, which gave its approval about a year later.
Cockrum, often described as tough and demanding, is also loyal, caring and selfless. His relationship with Anderson began when he recruited its M.B.A.s as a senior officer at Becker Paribas Inc. (formerly A.G. Becker & Co.). An Anderson alumna-turned-Becker-employee, Robin Grace Warren M.B.A. ’82, introduced Cockrum to Professor Al Osborne (now a senior associate dean), who brought the executive on board to teach a course in entrepreneurship. The course drew rave reviews, earning Cockrum his first teaching award. He went on to teach several classes, including an investing course that evolved into the SIF.
In 1987, Provident pledged $50,000 per year over five years to start the fund. Its contribution was matched by a $250,000 grant from Kayne Anderson, the investment firm founded by Anderson alumnus Richard Kayne M.B.A. ‘68 and alumnus/namesake John E. Anderson ’40. In 1993, the Friends of the Student Investment Fund program was launched to support the fund. To date, total fund contributions have exceeded $2.5 million.
The Fund’s portfolio currently features a variety of investments, including equities, fixed income, international emerging markets, alternatives, master limited partnerships (MLPs) and real estate investment trusts (REITs). The portfolio is allocated across 11 industry sectors: financials, information technology, consumer discretionary, materials, communication services, utilities, consumer staples, energy, health care and real estate.
At press time, the fund is valued at $4.2 million. Nearly 300 Anderson Fellows have participated in the program, and the fund has distributed $2.2 million in financial aid to Anderson students.
“If you think about all the giving back they’ve done — both to Anderson and to other charitable causes — it’s a massive pay-it-forward.”
— David Carpenter, SIF advisor
Competition to become an SIF Fellow is fierce, with dozens of applicants vying for up to 12 spots. Students from the full-time, fully employed and executive MBA programs are eligible, and the experience fulfills the capstone requirement for graduation.
The application includes a stock write-up on an assigned company and a personal essay detailing relevant experience and recent market events. An in-depth presentation on a company of the applicant’s choice is followed by a final panel interview.
“It’s more like a behavioral interview to assess your fit and your passion,” says former Fellow Caroline Ward M.B.A. ’21, now a research analyst with Artisan Partners. She notes, “Many students have prior experience, but a lot are coming in fresh.”
Once selected, the incoming cohort of SIF Fellows spends months researching companies in preparation for the fund’s annual transition from the graduating class. Ward says, “We worked as a group to figure out what we wanted the portfolio to look like, so we were ready for a smooth handoff to the incoming class.” To mitigate the constantly changing cast of portfolio managers, the Fellows look for investments with long-term potential. In 2021, the student managers introduced a new long-term portfolio sleeve to ensure consistency over time.
Like Ward, Ed Jean-Louis M.B.A. ’16, a co-founder and managing director of Tale Venture Partners, cites the SIF as one of the reasons he chose Anderson. “One of the first things I learned was that investing is just part of the job,” Jean-Louis says. “Relationship management is another part. But you have to have great back office and reporting functions as well. That was one of the elements of SIF — teaching us how to run an organization, as opposed to just how to invest.”
The Fellows meet bi-weekly throughout the summer and every Monday the rest of the year. The real time is put in after hours, when they meet in teams to analyze and strategize. They then bring their research to class to present to the advisors. With real dollars and real stakes, it’s no time to be fragile.
SIF advisor David Carpenter M.B.A. ’98, who spent two decades after management school as a portfolio manager and investment analyst with Capital Research and Management before pivoting to the wine industry in Central California, still appreciates Cockrum’s demanding approach and how the SIF experience prepares Fellows for careers in investment management. “A ‘donkey BBQ’ is when you’ve not done what’s expected or what’s required, or if the job you’ve done isn’t up to snuff. It’s a public grilling in front of the group.”
“The SIF fellows [today] are really bright, far more advanced than we were 30 years ago as far as their prior experience and ability to gather market information,” says Webster. “I’m constantly learning from them. Whether it’s digital currencies or geopolitical events like China cracking down on their tech entrepreneurs — I’m learning weekly.”
Long-term investments require long-term plans. And while the SIF’s story is very much intertwined with its faculty leader, Cockrum has already begun planning for when he’s no longer involved. “We have a time-tested program and terrific advisors in place,” he says. “I am sure the students will continue to be successful in managing the fund for decades to come.”
Indeed, the impact of both Cockrum and the SIF has been profound, both through the careers launched and the dollars donated.
“Bill’s amazingly generous story is that he spent half his working life giving back — including his salary — teaching great classes and developing great M.B.A. students. The SIF is just the icing on the cake,” Carpenter says. “The SIF alumni have gone on to terrific success. If you think about all the giving back they’ve done — both to Anderson and to other charitable causes — it’s a massive pay-it-forward.”
Read more from UCLA Magazine's January 2022 issue.