Headshot of alumnus Thurgood Powell.

Powell attended the Forbes Under 30 Conference held in April 2017 in Israel.

Major: Economics
Profession: Financial Advisor, PIMCO, Newport Beach, Calif.
Hometown: Harrisburg, Pa.

What are you doing now?

As a senior associate in the Investment Solutions Group at PIMCO, I help advise some of the largest corporations, financial institutions and government agencies in China, Australia, Singapore, South Korea and Indonesia on investment portfolio construction and asset allocation decisions. The challenge of my role is tailoring investment advice that meets the unique balance sheet and regulatory constraints of these clients. I have been an integral member of teams that have advised on over $200 billion of asset allocation decisions for clients. In addition to my responsibilities for the Asia ex-Japan strategic advising team, I am also the group’s expert regarding investments pertaining to United States infrastructure (municipal bonds).

How did you get there?

After graduating from Pomona, I was fortunate to land an investment banking gig for the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC Capital Markets) as an analyst in their municipal finance group. While there, I was part of teams that structured and executed over $3 billion of tax-exempt infrastructure deals, including the largest senior-managed municipal bond underwriting in the firm’s history - a $1.8 billion debt restructuring for the State of California. I was offered a role at PIMCO during my second year at the bank and could not pass up the opportunity to work for the largest bond manager in the world.

How did Pomona prepare you?

Thurgood Powell, an alumnus, stands with is bike in Jerusalem.

Powell in Jerusalem for the Forbes Under 30 Conference.

There are two areas and one on-campus activity which were vital in my development.

1) Pomona really helped develop my critical thinking skills. Most people that work in investment management know the same formulas, use similar computer programs, and have access to similar research material, but what differentiates an average investment professional and a high performer is the ability to analyze similar material and reach more accurate conclusions about what will happen in the future. The economics classes I had at Pomona were rooted in professors emphasizing the “why?” or the “why not?” instead of  just an event’s “conclusion.” Four years of this type of classroom experience at Pomona equipped me with a skill-set that helps me think of the many possibilities for an outcome instead of relying on the general consensus for guidance.

2) Helping to articulate ideas verbally and visually. In my line of work, if you cannot articulate your thoughts in a clear and concise manner it does not matter how accurate your conclusions are: clients will be hesitant to implement your advice. Before attending Pomona I struggled with this, but the many classroom discussions where  I was pushed to improve in this area, turned a previous weakness into one of my strongest traits as a professional.

3) Being an active member of Pomona’s student-run investment fund—Sagehen Capital Management. The fund introduced me to the nuances of financial markets and gave me a platform to implement the knowledge I learned in the classroom to make investment decisions with real monetary consequences (whether positive or negative).

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I plan to manage an investment fund focused on United States infrastructure investments (airports, toll roads, solar farms, water and sewer systems, etc.). It is well known the United States lags behind most developed nations in infrastructure investments. Usually municipal agencies at the city and state level finance infrastructure projects; however, with government balance sheets across the country stressed from the effects of the recent great recession, there is a great need for responsibly managed private capital to provide the monetary resources needed to complete infrastructure upgrades across the United States. I hope to be a leader in providing infrastructure financing solutions that are a win for both investors and the public.   

Any advice for prospective or current students?

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania and not having any family members that invested on their own, Wall Street and the field of finance were new to me before I attended Pomona.

A significant part of my development as a student trying to position myself as an attractive job candidate for investment banks, and now as an experienced professional, was and still is leaning on mentors I’ve met over the years that have already successfully navigated the finance world. These mentors have helped me avoid potential pitfalls that a young professional might experience without guidance.

I strongly suggest that students seek out and stay and in touch with mentors that genuinely care about you and will challenge you to maximize your potential. It is important to keep in mind these mentors could be anyone from current Pomona professors or deans (many would gladly love to be one of your mentors!) to someone retired that has experience in the field you seek to work in. The more knowledge you gain from mentors the quicker you will achieve your goals.