Pitching a company to the Student Managed Investment Fund can be a high-pressure experience for business students at Stevens Institute of Technology, who are often challenged by their professor and peers as they make the case for investing in a particular enterprise.
The stakes were a bit higher when Joe Gargana and Jack Bodner pitched video game publisher Take-Two Interactive to the class on a recent Thursday night, with investment guru and publishing icon Steve Forbes in attendance.
If Gargana, a Business & Technology major, and Bodner, a Quantitative Finance student, were feeling nervous, it didn’t show. The students confidently walked the class and Forbes through a highly detailed analysis of Take-Two, including its strong management, attractive share price, the potential of the communications sector and the strength of its portfolio — which includes the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption franchises.
SMIF is a highly competitive class that students must apply to; the fund actively manages more than $400,000 of Stevens’ endowment. So when a pitch is approved, that means real money will be invested in the company.
'I kind of took it as a challenge'
Gargana, a SMIF veteran who’s done a few pitches as an equity analyst, said he had some nerves when he first found out Forbes would attend class, but when he found out he’d be pitching that day, “I kind of took it as a challenge.”
“Most of my confidence came from simply being able to relate to the company,” he said. “I have played many of Take-Two’s video games, and ‘Grand Theft Auto’ is one of my favorites, so that allowed me to really connect with all the information and research we were doing.”
It was Bodner’s first pitch with SMIF; he credited Gargana with keeping pressure to a minimum as the two did their research and prepared their presentation.
“While I was definitely a little nervous to see Mr. Forbes sitting there in the front row, Take-Two is an easy company for us to talk about, and it was a great experience,” Bodner said.
Professor Jonathan Kaufman, who runs the SMIF class and moonlights as a wealth manager, “is always preaching about making sure you are able to thoroughly explain any and all information on the presentation, whoever your audience,” Gargana said.
And it was clear that familiarity with the games was not a requirement to understand the sensibility of the pitch.
“I’ll buy,” Forbes said at the close of the pitch. “I’m always ready for any hot tips.”
Forbes also shared some advice with students in the class from a career in business. He is still editor in chief of the magazine his grandfather created, and he remains outspoken in politics.
“If you end up managing money for others, just remember, they will be just as emotional. Institutions, endowment funds all have pressures to perform … and oftentimes, they leave good money managers precisely at the time they should be doubling down,” Forbes said. “Know it’s not personal when they pull out.”
An able technologist
Forbes has added credibility at a place like the School of Business because he’s an able technologist who understands how tech is creating new job categories and opportunities in industry. That was on full display after the class, during a lecture he delivered at the invitation of the Stevens College Republicans club. His visit was made possible through the Young Americas Foundation's Logan Family Lecture Series.
“Having an authority like Steve Forbes listen to, and interact with, the students giving the pitch is an incredible real-world experience for those interested in finance careers.”
In his talk — an impassioned defense of capitalism and his free-market perspective on trade and tax policy — Forbes noted that tech’s relentless pace has created entirely new categories of employment, in areas like mobile app writing and video game coaching. He touched on topics like artificial intelligence, blockchain and mobile network trends, calling cryptocurrencies “a high-tech cry for help” from investors frustrated by the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policies.
“There’s a moral basis for capitalism,” Forbes said. “In a true free market, you only succeed if you provide something that somebody else wants. It’s based on meeting the needs and wants of other people.”
It’s a point he reiterated in discussing some of his favorite targets, from the IRS and Fed to trade policy, including the president’s thirst for tariffs.
“When we apply tariffs, taxes — yes, China’s hurt, Mexico’s hurt, Canada’s hurt, more than us, but we’re hurt, too,” he said. “If we want to mutually hurt each other, I think we should just leave that to ‘50 Shades of Grey,’ not apply it to the economy.”
In a question-and-answer session after the talk, students and alumni asked Forbes about his experience running for president, the concept of a universal basic income and his insights from studying history. His experience in investing didn’t come up, but definitely left a mark on the SMIF class.
“Having an authority like Steve Forbes listen to, and interact with, the students giving the pitch is an incredible real-world experience for those interested in finance careers, especially in wealth management,” Dr. Kaufman said.