Fairfield Finance, Women in Business and Women in Finance hosted Financial Industry Insights: Alumni Panel on Thursday, Oct. 26. The alumni panel consisted of Adrienne Johnson ‘91, the Head of Internal Audit and SOX reporting at Apollo Global Management Inc., Kelley O’Connor ‘12, the current general manager of strategy operations at Via and James Schmidlein ‘13, an Associate at Apollo Global Management Inc. 

Fairfield Finance leadership opened the event by asking the alumni to reflect on their time at Fairfield. After some icebreakers, the alumni began telling their stories and started with how they found their way into the finance industry. 

Schmidlein explained that he never intended to be in the finance industry. He studied history at Fairfield with hopes of becoming a lawyer. It wasn’t until a study abroad opportunity allowed Schmidlein to study in London and eventually Paris, where he worked for the first time in corporate finance. 

Johnson explained that she studied finance but graduated when the market was poor, so she struggled to find a job. She worked in retail until she landed a job at Lehman Brothers. O’Connor studied finance and worked with Johnson after graduating. She eventually moved on to several investment banking jobs before getting a job at Via. 

The alumni were asked what the biggest lesson they learned from experiences in the finance industry. Schmidlein said that his advice is to keep an open mind and spend your time with people who will raise you up. He continued to explain that he would have never gotten into the finance industry if he didn’t have an open mind, nor would he have ever studied abroad and gotten a job that gave him some marketable skills. 

Johnson explained that she has learned a lot in her time as a leader at Apollo. She learned to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on her team and not dehumanize the workplace. O’Connor shared that her time working for airlines during COVID-19 was the most difficult time in her career and she learned more from the tough times than any other experience. She continued to say that the key to success in finance and in general is to have something that sets you apart from everyone else.

The panel was asked if what they learned while at Fairfield has helped them in their careers. O’Connor opened by saying that at Fairfield she developed a sense of thinking about who you’re working with and remembering that everyone has a different story, even in a professional setting. 

Schmidlein explained he learned that hard-working people get lucky. Through his own hard work, regardless of his major, he had opportunities available to him in college and beyond. 

Johnson added that it’s important to lift people up with you instead of being competitive. She explained that finance is a stressful career, but surrounding yourself with people you care about and enjoy working with makes it worth the struggle. 

Schmidlein’s story resonated with Fairfield senior Isabella Carrano. “It was interesting to hear how [Schmidlein] graduated with a completely different degree than what he ended up doing,” said Carrano, “I can relate to that because I’m still trying to find what I want to do as a career too. It was also great advice to stay open and say yes to different opportunities.” 

The event concluded with some Q&A from the panelists to the audience. The panelists quizzed the audience on business and finance terminology and tested their knowledge of different marketing strategies. Every audience member that answered a question correctly was rewarded with a Dolan School of Business hat.

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