Pitch Perfect: Women Learn a Wealth of Valuable Skills at Annual Stock Pitch Competition

The statistics regarding women and wealth in America may surprise you.

“Women now own more than half of the nation’s personal wealth and that number is predicted to rise,” says Caroline Cooley ’83, partner and CIO of hedge fund strategies at Crestline Investors, Inc. in Texas. “Women need to be independent and know how to manage their finances.”

That is one of the reasons why Cooley thinks William & Mary’s annual Women’s Stock Pitch competition at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business — set for March 23-24 at Miller Hall — is so valuable. She believes that as more women are exposed to the finance industry, they will see that some of their preconceived notions may be off.

“There are many ways to have an impact in this field that are intellectually and financially rewarding. The stock pitch encourages women to see themselves in a finance role and communicate their ideas,” said Cooley, who will help judge this year’s competition along with second-time judge Elizabeth Cabell Jennings ’85.

“I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I appreciate the challenges women face, but many of the negative perceptions are not true,” said Jennings, director of institutional investments at SunTrust Bank.

Tackling these misperceptions was part of the goal for Women’s Stock Pitch co-founder Julie Agnew ’91.

“The challenge demystifies the stock pitch process in a supportive and constructive way,” said Agnew, Richard C. Kraemer and Class of 2018 Professor of Finance and Economics at the Mason School. “Regardless of whether you choose a career in finance or not, understanding financial assets is an important part of any woman’s life. It’s a great way to learn for anyone who is hesitant to get involved and many find that they love it.”

That was certainly the case for junior Emma Smullen. As president of the Smart Woman Securities W&M chapter, Smullen is helping to coordinate this year’s March 23-24 event. A non-profit organization focused on investment education for undergraduate women, the SWS club will coordinate the 16 teams that are competing this year.

“Not only is the stock pitch great for a resume, it provides professional development and builds skills in networking, communication, presentation and a wealth of soft skills,” Smullen said. “Participants meet so many other women with similar interests from around the country and the world.”

Started in 2016 with generous support from alumni Todd Boehly ’96 and Katie Boehly ’95, Alice Davison P ’16 and more than a dozen sponsors, the competition has grown to include nearly 100 students from William & Mary and other top universities from across the country and as far away as Australia.

Co-director of the Boehly Center for Excellence in Finance James Haltiner teaches the stock pitch process in several of his classes and points out that even though the stats show that women are underrepresented in finance, they are really good at pitching stocks. In addition to building knowledge and confidence, Haltiner outlines three characteristics that make participating in a stock pitch a useful and rewarding experience.

“Number one, it is a great exercise in focused research,” Haltiner said. “Students must sift through a seemingly endless amount of information to understand both a company and the context behind it. Second, the students must pull the information into a cohesive story by examining all aspects of the business and integrating information from other classes beyond finance. They may focus on growth versus value in their thesis, remembering a good company isn’t always a good stock purchase and vice-versa.”

Finally, there is the pitch itself.

“The pitch must be concise and convincing, using credible information,” Haltiner said. “The presenters need to show passion and conviction for the story. They must acknowledge the risks and think fast on their feet. It is good practice for selling your ideas, in business and elsewhere.”

With more than 50 professional women attending the event, a good pitch can also be great exposure.

“A potential employer would see that these women are not only qualified for a future career, but they have the excitement, energy and interest that goes beyond,” Cooley said. “Their experience of presenting before a crowd and supporting their ideas also makes them more interesting to an employer.”

Jennings agrees, “It is a great way for women in the field to interact with a great pool of young professionals. The stock pitch teaches the importance of critical analytic thinking and disciplined, methodical and objective decision making. You won’t beat the market if you make the same decisions as everyone else. You must take a position that is a variant and stand up for it – have courage in your convictions. Not only is this useful in investments but it builds good mental practices.”        

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