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By: Sally Ann Flecker
The trading floor at Citigroup is already buzzing with life at 7:30 am. The summer intern weaves her way across the voluminous room filled with rows and rows of undersized desks, each dwarfed by multiple monitors strategically placed throughout. Television screens, showing how the stock market is doing, hang from the ceiling. Amy Kao navigates her way to where Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Trading and Securitization takes place. There, she is elbow-to-elbow with that group’s managing directors and analysts, ready to soak in another frenzied day-in-the-life.
It’s not Kao’s first lesson outside her Pittsburgh classrooms. The Tepper business administration major, with a concentration in general management, studied abroad for a semester at Oxford University. In fact, it was a finance seminar she took there that got her hooked on the kinetic energy of securities. Back at Carnegie Mellon, she made sure not to miss presentations from financial institutions. She listened to the way the speakers described their work environments—dynamic, challenging, exciting, intellectually stimulating. Wall Street, she decided, was where to spend the summer after her junior year.
It certainly hasn’t been a summer vacation. Work days, she has discovered, morph into work nights. Calling it quits at 9 pm is the norm rather than the exception. During the 14-hour daily routine, she barely has time for lunch, usually gobbling up a sandwich at her desk. And for dinner, her securities team often orders take-out together so they can keep working while they eat.
Still hooked on a life in finance?
“Absolutely,” says Kao. “It is incredibly exciting being able to work alongside the best and brightest and most accomplished people who are pretty much transforming the financial landscape. At [Carnegie Mellon], we know what’s going on by always reading The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, but to actually be a part of finalizing deals that I read about two weeks ago is an indescribable, priceless experience.”
But the bottom line for her is more than numbers in financial statements, which explains why she’s drawn to a new division at Citigroup that combines finance with community outreach. “The group’s primary focus,” she says, “is to make strategic capital investments and lending transactions that meet the Community Reinvestment Act standard. So, for instance, transactions include the launching of proprietary loan funds to support small businesses across the country, investments in private equity funds that will finance charter school facilities, and the launch of a partnership to purchase and preserve affordable housing properties in New York City.”
It’s no wonder that she almost sounds like a walking brochure for the division. Her long-term goal is to be a social entrepreneur—to create innovative business ventures as a way to champion practical social change. For example, she says, she wants to someday enable developmentally disabled youth to live independent and meaningful lives.
Kao is no stranger to benevolence, a singular focus, and long hours. In fact, the combination may be pivotal to her many successes.
As soon as her fingers had the dexterity to push down the keys of a piano, her mother, a Juilliard-trained pianist, began teaching her to play. By the age of 5, when most of her peers were only expected to maintain their focus on a task for 20 or 30 minutes, she was accomplished enough to perform a 25-page piece of music for a benefit concert. When she was 8, she could check “playing Carnegie Hall” off her bucket list. She performed there as part of a winners recital after a New Jersey-wide piano competition. She played Doll’s Dream by German composer Theodore Oesten, a popular recital choice for young girls that begins at a slow dream-like pace and quickens to a light-hearted dance tempo to show off nimble fingers. “It was a little bit intimidating at first going on stage and playing the piano at such a young age,” she remembers. “Afterwards, I realized that this ability to focus under pressure has really helped me even within the academic environment.”(Continued …)