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January 28, 2005

Uncommon Interview - Greg Wendt

As we reported in the January 21 issue of the Maroon, Greg Wendt, A.B. '83, made a personal donation of $100,000 to the University's Blue Chips student investment club in order for the club members to manage their own real portfolio. A former Alpha Delt, Wendt has gone on to become a portfolio manager and investment analyst for Capital Research Company, one of the country's largest mutual fund management companies. The Maroon caught up with Wendt to ask him a few questions.

Chicago Maroon: Other than your involvement with Blue Chips, what has your relationship been like with the University since you graduated?

Greg Wendt: I suspect that I am pretty typical of alumni from my era. When I left campus in 1983, I started to drift away from the University. But, at a point about 10 years ago, I really began to appreciate the impact that Chicago had on me and I began to get involved in supporting the school. At first, I was purely just a donor. But then I was asked to join the College Visiting Committee, and began to return to campus on a fairly regular basis. The more time an alum spends at the University of Chicago, the clearer it becomes that Chicago is a special place and that preservation of its unique qualities is best achieved through active support by alumni. So, little by little, I have gotten more deeply involved and have really enjoyed doing so. I now co-chair the College portion of the Chicago Initiative. I suppose how I got to this point is through a realization that my MBA, which I received elsewhere, certainly opened doors but those open doors would have been meaningless without my Chicago education, which opened my mind.

On a less cerebral note, I probably should also say that I remain a strong supporter of my old fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi. All of my best friends from my undergraduate years were Alpha Delts, so I can seldom resist swinging by 5747 South University Avenue when I am on campus. In fact, my last beer as a single guy was one quick Bud Light that I had at Alpha Delt on the way to my wedding at Rockefeller Chapel in 2000.

CM: What kind of extracurricular outlet existed for students interested in investing and/or banking when you were a student? Was there any kind of student group that would be considered analogous to Blue Chips?

GW: Not that I can recall. I also only remember one Wall Street firm recruiting on campus the year that I graduated.

CM: How well do you feel the rigorous liberal arts education provided at the University prepares students for the real world of banking/business in general?

GW: I am a mutual fund manager, not a banker. But, in general, there is nothing so complex about the finance industry that it cannot be learned later in life. Still, any liberal arts major needs to be financially literate. I feel strongly that the topic of financial literacy is relevant to everybody regardless of their career aspirations. Be you a baker, banker, poet, or surgeon, you should understand saving and investing. Frankly, I graduated Chicago with an embarrassingly low level of financial literacy.

CM: What was your reasoning for donating $100,000 directly to the students involved in Blue Chips, as opposed to giving the money to CAPS or the Graduate School of Business, for example, and having them allocate the funds for student use?

GW: Trust me, until the dollars are real dollars, investing is an abstract concept. Managing an imaginary portfolio feels very different than managing real money. I wanted any student who met the requirements to be able to understand what it feels like to invest real dollars. I never had the money to own real stocks until later in life. Knowledge about this aspect of financial literacy should not be limited to those with more substantial means who could invest on their own.

CM: How do you think your donation allowing Blue Chips to manage its own portfolio with real money will specifically impact the club and its members? Do you think it will aid in giving the club a more serious reputation? Do you think it will cause increased student interest in the club?

GW: Some of the most impressive folks I know in the investment world got interested in the business through student-managed portfolios. The University of Wisconsin program is particularly renowned. If everything goes well over the next couple of years, I hope Blue Chips becomes a bigger deal that people take seriously and want to get involved in. Importantly, I hope that this does not become focused on being a quasi-pre-professional program. I really hope that Blue Chips casts a broad net and get students involved who just want to learn about investing because they know that it is an important tool in life.

CM: Any final comments you'd like to make?

GW: For what it is worth, as somebody who attended the last Lascivious Costume Ball—I think it was in 1982—you all need to bring that back to campus.