Alumni Spotlight- Matt Priest
Matt Priest (TXST 2004) was a member of the inaugural class of Terry Scholars at Texas State University in 2004. He currently works as a Senior Associate for the Sterling Group and previously worked as an Investment Banking Associate for Goldman Sachs. Matt explains why he pushed himself to his limits on Wall Street before examining his priorities and adjusting his path. He discusses his time as a Terry Scholar, his life post-graduation, and his advice for Scholars as they pursue their chosen fields.
The Terry Years
Early on, when we started the Texas State group, I’m pretty sure Mr. and Mrs. Terry came out for most events. I got to see them a lot; I got to hear him talk about his upbringing and what led him to start the Foundation and the opportunities he was given to go to UT. I come from a similar kind of background, where the scholarship created opportunity. Hearing those stories told– secondhand too as they got up in age–it’s fantastic the amount of access the Terrys allowed people to have to them and to discuss things. They’d sit down at the picnic and were one of the crew. They wanted to know what was happening in the lives of the students and the universities. I think they took a lot of pride and joy in seeing us do what we did on a university level.
Click the tabs to learn about Matt’s life post-graduation.
Graduating in a Recession
So I graduated in the fall of 2008, and it was a horrible time to graduate with a finance degree-right at the peak of the recession. There was a small company in Austin that was developing some buildings. I did a summer project with them, and literally by the time September came around, it was over. They weren’t going to make it. Then of course it was October, and things fell. The whole world just changed, so I ended up going to work for a small regional bank in Houston that did a lot of commercial real estate deals. I was still kind of pursuing that as an avenue, so I thought, “Why not go to a bank that has a big department?” I thought maybe things would rebound and look better. As luck would have it, the bank I went to work for was being bought out, so we got laid off a year into it. I’d been out of school for a year; I got laid off. This is good. This is how the real world works.
In February of 2010, I joined one of my undergrad mentors his consulting firm, and it was my first foray into understanding real world business problems. They did any number of things: setting the initial strategy; helping people find the right ideas, develop them, and set pricing and attract customers. It was great. It was fantastic. I was knee-deep trying to figure things out. Everyday was something new, something challenging. I was working very closely with clients, becoming the number one adviser on certain subjects. I loved it and had a great time. Toward the end of it, I thought getting an MBA might be the next step.
Consulting has this weird cloud focus to it. You say, “here’s the answer,” and your client has to go figure it out. There is no finite kind of end or measurable change, so I wanted to do something that had a finite beginning and end. I liked being in client services. I thought, What could I do, so that I’m still an advisor and dealing with more hard numbers? So investment banking and private equity became the two big things that I pushed toward. I thought that I would go get an MBA from a top-tier institution and get myself to a top-tier firm. I was going to go to Wall Street. A podunk kid from East Texas needs to go show them that he’s got it!
Working on Wall Street
I applied to a handful of MBA programs and got into the University of Virginia. Then, I went to Goldman Sachs and worked for a year on Wall Street. It was fantastically terrible- both the best thing I ever did and the worst thing I ever did. From a life choice standpoint, it taught me more than I ever could have learned. You’re working with the best and brightest of the whole country; it’s cream of the crop.
Ultimately, I worked from 9 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the next morning. I always thought getting home the same day that I started was a good day. If I got home before midnight, that was a good day. My wife was a school teacher in the city while we were there, and there was more than one occasion where I came home at 4 or 5 in the morning, and she was getting up to go out to school. We’re high-fiving in the hallway, and I thought, “I’m going to go take a nap. I’ll see you when I see you.” I’d get two or three hours of sleep and roll back into the office. I just hammered through it. There’s a definitive amount of time that a person can work, and it’s different for everybody. However, after two or three days of that you’re burnt out. You get some caffeine, and you get it done. That’s the name of the game. The client won’t make a decision until you react, and you never know when the reaction is needed. You’re just on pins and needles waiting for the next big phone call to come in.
It’s a young man’s game, and it was tearing me apart. That’s the New York mentality though- you just go, go, go. I checked the box and had a good time, but that’s why I came back down to Houston. I did the same type of work, but I did it for smaller companies. It was fun to see, and I’m glad I did it. It gave me some perspective, and a year working for Goldman in New York is equivalent to three years working in Houston in the same capacity.
MY Advice to Terry Scholars
If investment banking is something that interests you, figure out why it interests you. I did it for- probably- some of the wrong reasons. It was a “prove to myself that I could do it” type of thing. I wanted to see how far I could go. While I was interested in what we were doing, I was never fulfilled by it. To this day, I still think about “what might have been” if I had chosen a different path. If you’re a current student still debating if you want to be an engineer or an investment banker or a doctor or a hedge fund guy, you have to really think about why you want to do those things. If you’re doing it for the nice job, the nice paycheck, the nice car, and recognition from society, you have got to decide what it is about that occupation that gives you fulfillment. If you want to save lives, then do it. Why do you want to do deals if you’re an investment banker guy? Is it the thrill of doing the transaction and negotiating? I can tell you that you will very rarely be there; it’s not as cool as it looks in the movies. There are things I love about it, and there are things I could never do again and be perfectly okay. People have to find what they view as valuable and fulfilling in their lives. Find a career that gets you that. If you’re more fulfilled by leaving work at 6 o’clock, being a good parent, and being involved with your family, then you have got to find a job that lets you do that- not all of them will. Think more long term than short term, and really understand what you’re striving for.