From Wall Street to Asia
"China," Cheng Li says, "Is the new plastics." He's playing off the famous line from the 1967 movie The Graduate in which Dustin Hoffman's character gets some unsolicited advice on how to make his fortune. Li, the William R. Kenan Professor of Government and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, believes China and its neighbors are the hot new destination for the young and ambitious. Hamilton has always sent plenty of graduates off to careers in finance; it still does. The difference is that an increasing number of students who in the past would have found their way to Wall Street are now looking instead to Shanghai and Beijing, as well as to India, Japan and Korea.
Or, in the case of Sean Navin '07, Hong Kong. Before his senior year was half over, Navin had a job lined up as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs, where he started on the Hong Kong trading desk this summer. On this afternoon in February, he's already paying attention. The Chinese stock market has just dropped 9 percent, driving down the Dow by more than 400 points and providing yet another lesson in the interconnectedness of global economies. "I'm thankful this wasn't my first day," Navin says. Sunlight streams into the atrium in Hamilton's Science Center as he sips a cup of tea. It's a habit he picked up during eight months in China.
Navin went as part of Associated Colleges in China, the study-abroad program administered by Hamilton and directed by Jin. Before he arrived on the Hill, Navin's biggest interest was hockey, a sport he'd been playing all his life. He came to Hamilton to play right defense and get a degree in economics. Along the way he started taking Chinese because he thought it would give him a competitive advantage. He was right. Not only does Navin speak well enough to be interviewed in Mandarin; his experience living and traveling in China has given him a depth that makes him attractive to the big financial firms.
"I had interviews where I talked to the guy for like an hour and a half about current trends in China, bringing in my own experience with his knowledge of the economy," he said. "It was a really good conversation, but if I didn't have that background, I don't know that I would have been as successful or have had that defining characteristic."
Navin's proficiency came at a cost. He had to quit playing hockey to spend time overseas. "Hockey and Chinese came into direct conflict, and Chinese won," he says. "I asked a lot of people, and basically my conclusion was, I'm not going to be a professional hockey player, so if I'm not going to do this as a living, I might as well do something that will give me another opportunity."
The sacrifice will be worth it, he believes; Asia is the place to be. "Every newspaper you pick up has Beijing, Hong Kong this, Shanghai that. Not only economics, but government-wise, science, NGOs," he says. "There's going to be so much business going on in China and work to be done that by giving yourself this special ability to speak and understand Chinese, you kind of give yourself the advantage of always having a job if you want it."
And hockey may find its way back into his life after all. It turns out that one of his superiors at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong was himself the captain of the Harvard hockey team and a former American Hockey League player. What's more, Hong Kong boasts its own hockey rink. "A bunch of guys get together and play every Sunday," Navin says, laughing, "so I think I'll be bringing my bag over."