Portfolio Manager Greg Wilson on What Makes the Albers Master of Science in Finance a Smart Investment

Posted by Albers Schools of Business and Economics on Wednesday, June 28, 2023 at 10:00 AM PDT

Greg Wilson Headshot

For Seattle University Master of Science in Finance (MSF)  alum Greg Wilson ‘21, investing in his education and career was an easy decision—one that paid off before he even graduated with his master’s.

After earning his BA in accounting and psychology in California, Greg returned home to Seattle, joining Pugh Capital Management as a financial analyst. Today, he’s a portfolio manager with Pugh—a career growth made possible by earning an MSF  degree at the Albers School of Business.

Five years into his career as an analyst, Greg was ready to take the next step, which required the right toolset and credentials. “I wanted a program that was focused and specific—one that allowed me to focus on hard skills within finance. I was also looking for a collaborative classroom environment.”

Greg knew several Seattle University alums at Pugh, and they spoke highly of the Master of Science in Finance program at Albers. “Albers is highly ranked with a strong Seattle network, and it’s well-respected in the finance industry,” he says. “It seemed like a no-brainer.”

The Full Toolset: Knowledge of Finance, Ethics, and Relationship-Building

Greg may have jumped into the MSF program at Albers with an eye on honing his skills in portfolio management. Yet sometimes, the best education is one that arms you with tools you didn’t know you needed. 

While he knew he would leave Albers with a stronger understanding of corporate finance, Greg couldn’t have predicted the impact his MSF courses would have on his soft skill development. Some of his favorite classes ended up being in emotional intelligence, behavioral finance, business ethics, and negotiations.

“I couldn’t have told you I needed these skills before the program, but they ended up being the areas in which I grew the most,” says Greg.

In his career, skills in building client relationships have been just as important as his financial knowledge. Having been promoted to Portfolio Manager at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Greg saw the importance of relationship-building first-hand. “During tough economic times, especially, your clients need more support, and you need to provide an extra layer of service,” he says. “Trust is super hard to build and really easy to lose—especially in portfolio management.”

How Coursework Prepared Him to Navigate an Ever-Changing Industry

Finance was an ever-evolving industry even before the pandemic, and today’s economy is even more difficult to predict. Business professionals need to be more prepared than ever to identify and leverage shifts in the market. “At Albers, you learn to identify your blind spots and anticipate what might be changing in the industry,” says Greg.

One example is a financial technology (or fintech) course taught by Dr. Cathy Cao, which was brand new when Greg was earning his MSF. “This course was the first of its kind at Seattle University. Albers is continuously evolving the curriculum—not to just keep up with evolving trends, but to stay ahead of them,” he says. “It’s the same thing we need to do as portfolio managers: stay ahead of the curve for the benefit of our clients.”

Greg also appreciated the selection of electives in the program, which allowed him to customize his learning based on his specific career and industry interests. Taking courses in SQL, for example, gave him more exposure to the role of data in his field. “I hadn’t been particularly interested in fintech before Albers, but since taking these courses, it has become increasingly relevant in my career,” says Greg. “Data is utilized in every industry—and there’s a ton of data in finance. The more comfortable you are with data, the more likely you are to get ahead.”

He had hands-on experience putting this data into action, too. His Applied Econometrics course, taught by Department of Economics Chair Dr. Bridgett Heidemann, focused on housing data. “Our instructors always connected our coursework to real-world business practices, giving us practical tools to take into our profession,” says Greg.

Using real examples and real data, the students worked to find statistical significance in bank lending amongst different characteristics, such as race and gender. They found significant differences in banking and housing practices in predominantly Black communities, for example. 

Greg further developed his data and research skills by stepping up as a graduate assistant for Bonnie Buchanan, the George Albers Professor of Finance at Albers. “She was working on an environmental sustainability governance (ESG) project, and I was able to help collect data on how companies measured on the ESG scale,” he says. “It was extremely valuable seeing what it’s like to work on the front lines and use our business skills to tackle ethical issues.”

While working with data did not come naturally to Greg at the beginning of the program, he was able to stretch and hone his skills—then see the importance they can have in business practices.

Education Beyond the Classroom

The full Albers experience goes beyond coursework. Greg found many learning opportunities beyond the classroom and encourages Albers students to take full advantage of them. Some of these included the mentorship part of the program, guest speakers, a program retreat, and opportunities for hands-on investment experience.

Learning from a Robust Network of Business Leaders

The strong Albers network within finance and business proved to be a clear advantage during the mentorship portion of Greg’s program. He was matched with two veteran finance experts whose offices just happened to be across the street from his at Zevenbergen Capital Investments: Lisa Foley, Managing Director, and Herb Albin, Chief Fixed Income Officer, and Client Portfolio Manager.

“These relationships have provided me with valuable insights into my career and the industry as a whole,” says Greg, crediting his mentors with asking the tough questions, sharing their unbiased opinions, and providing realistic feedback. To this day, they still hold an open-door policy for him, proving that the relationships you build at Albers have a lasting impact on your professional network.

Beyond direct mentorship, Albers connects students to many additional industry experts throughout the program. One of the events that stood out to Greg was Ethics Week, an event that brought dozens of guest speakers to Albers classes for an intensive, week-long examination of ethical issues in business. “I was able to learn from experts such as the CEO of Microsoft and the CEO of F5,” says Greg. “Albers brought in world-class business leaders who discussed today’s most relevant issues, and we had the opportunity to interact with them more closely than we would otherwise.”

Getting Hands-On Investment Experience with the Redhawk Fund

One of the biggest highlights of Greg’s MSF at Seattle University was his work with the student-run Redhawk Fund, an optional learning avenue for Albers students to participate in equity research, portfolio management, and professional presentations. Since its founding in 2009, the fund has grown from $250,000 to over $1.1 million.

“This was a phenomenal opportunity to join an equity management team with real money and real trades,” says Greg, who covered telecom equities during his time working with the fund. “At Pugh, I worked primarily with fixed income and bonds, so this was a great way for me to stretch myself.”

While he came to Albers with five years of finance experience under his belt, several in his cohort were new to the field. Greg touts the Redhawk Fund as being ideal for students of all experience levels: “It’s the best proxy for what a work environment and workload looks like. Each person has their own sector, and they report to the rest of the team. We used a decision-making framework: we did a trade, found out how it performed, then did it again. You don’t get that in a classroom.”

This teamwork also provides insight into the collaborative nature of portfolio management. “When you do well, everyone does well. When you do poorly, everyone does. You’re incentivized to step up your game-, but also to help one other,” says Greg. “At the end of the day, we all sink or swim together.”

Considering a career in finance? Discover your “Why”

Programs at Albers focus on educating the whole person. It’s not enough to pick a career in finance out of a hat; your education at Albers asks you to examine why you are here, what impact you want to have, and what skills you need to reach your goals. Passing on advice he was given by his mentors at Albers, Greg asks anyone considering an MSF: “What is your why?”

“We often hold assumptions about what a career is like before we’ve stepped foot in it,” notes Greg. ‘Many people say they want to be in finance, but what does that mean to you? What area of finance are you interested in? What are your assumptions about this area?”

For Greg, the tools, hands-on experience, and mentorship he acquired at Albers affirmed that he was paving the right path forward. His why? Teamwork, opportunities to learn, and a clear impact.

Having played basketball and football throughout high school and college, one draw of portfolio management for Greg was the team-based nature of the field. “You have your chief investment officer, a group of portfolio managers, and credit analysts. In order to be successful, all of you need to be on the same page-–and root for each other’s interests,” he says.

In an ever-evolving, knowledge-based industry, portfolio management also allows room to continually learn and grow. “I love that every day is different. We are always doing research and keeping up with the news flow. Then, we make decisions based on what we know.”

Those decisions have clear results, too. “There’s a real report card with objective results: Did we perform the benchmark? How does each decision impact the portfolio, and what will we adjust based on what we’ve learned?” Greg emphasizes the impact returns can have: “Returns you make often go to scholarships and projects that make a difference. I love being able to see that the returns we’ve helped a client make resulted in 1,000 scholarships.”