Giving Back: Interning with School of Business AlumniGiving Back: Interning with School of Business Alumni
John Olson '76, senior VP of investments at Merrill Lynch, sponsors an internship for IC School of Business students and finds excellent prospects.

In 1976 John Olson was an Ithaca College accounting graduate worried about finding a job at a time when the country was just coming out of a severe recession. Fortunately for him, Ithaca had a strong reputation for accounting, and what were then the “big eight” accounting firms all came to campus on recruiting trips. John had a few interviews and was offered a job as an auditor with PriceWaterhouse.

Today John’s a senior vice president of investments at Merrill Lynch, working as a wealth management adviser. But he hasn’t forgotten the excellent start Ithaca gave him. So last summer he decided to return the favor and help give a current IC student some valuable experience and, hopefully, a leg up in an extremely competitive job market.

John contacted the business school to say that he’d like to sponsor an internship at Merrill Lynch. After reviewing resumes, he narrowed the candidates down to a handful and conducted interviews while on a trip to Ithaca with his daughter, who was thinking about applying to the Park School. “I’d love for her to go to Ithaca,” he said. “It would be a great match for her. The campus has never looked better, and I’ve been tracking the College’s reputation and know that the average SAT scores are rising. I’m proud to be an alumnus.”

While visiting Ithaca, John also taught a class on wealth management in the trading room. “I couldn’t believe how impressive the students were, how smart and personable. They asked great questions.”

The only problem with the internship interviews, John said, is that there were too many excellent prospects. He decided the internship would be more valuable for a rising senior, but which one? “Rob Crawford and Brent Byrne were both so strong that I couldn’t choose. So I took both of them.”

The two students spent the summer in New York City conducting research, creating spreadsheets to analyze and track money managers’ performance, and searching for stocks to include in John’s discretionary portfolio. “There was no getting coffee or anything,” John said. “I wanted them involved in projects where they could use their knowledge.”

When Rob and Brent found a stock that looked promising, they made a PowerPoint presentation to John and his team that was fairly convincing. “I haven’t included it in my portfolio yet, but I have it on my watch list and I will use it at the right time,” John said.

“The experience was amazing,” Rob said. “Everybody welcomed Brent and me with open arms. Throughout the course of the internship, I gained much more knowledge and skill than when I first came into it. I’m very passionate about the financial markets and their importance. The internship just solidified my reasons to be in this industry.”

“I felt very content at Merrill Lynch,” Brent said. “It’s where I feel like I belong. I’m a competitive individual motivated by the rush of the city.”

John agreed that there was some strong competition. “It was a competition every single morning to see who could get into the office first. Brent beat me in most days,” he said, adding that he’s usually in the office by 6:30 a.m. and had asked the students to make it in before the daily 7:15 a.m. research call.

In fact, the experience was so positive that John said he’s already talking to the business school about hosting more IC interns next summer. “Ithaca was very important in getting me started in business,” he said. “If I can help students through internships and making introductions to people in the industry, I will.”


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