My University Experience: 4 Years of Lessons Condensed

I was not born with extraordinary skills, talents, or abilities. Where I have excelled is sheer determination, passion, and drive. My name is Georges Khalife, and I am a recent graduate from the Telfer School of Management.

Year I: In May, after all exams are complete and pencils are banished from their planes of sight, many students will subject their immediate vicinity to a myriad of harangues concerning how their first year of university was tough and filled with arduous, torturous mysteries. Get over it and get to work. I used my first year to boost my CGPA as much as possible. This started with taking advantage of the simpler academic content general business courses offered. While my friends partied, I studied. I envisioned more for myself and understood that I must sacrifice who I am now for who I intended to become in the future. I had my share of fun, but university is not high school and I saw it as a phase in life where I must absorb as much knowledge and experience as possible before stepping foot in the real world.

Yet, I certainly had my share of stresses. Two years prior, I lived in Bahrain (a remote island near Saudi Arabia) studying in a private school. We would write ten exams per week on a multiplicity of topics. Girls were not permitted to sit with boys and the environment was extremely competitive. It did, however, teach me to adopt strict focus and discipline. It was a very rigorous system that eventually set me up for success in university. In addition to this, my dad stayed in Bahrain working. This meant that mom would try to make frequent visits back and forth, but I would live alone most of the year. As you can imagine, having to adapt to the culture was difficult. Luckily, my extroverted personality enabled me to make new friends. I experienced the same worries and problems that you may face now. However, what kept me going through periods of acute frustration was reflecting on my grand purpose. I realized crying and complaining would not help me get closer to my dream. If I was to be an influential businessman I would need to be focused, motivated, and driven.

Attaching purpose to action will give you an edge over others. Every morning when I wake up I look into the man reflected through the mirror and say “if I want to be the best in what I do, I must do what others will not. In order to outwork my competition, I must stay focused. To focus, I must find a purpose. The purpose I believe in is to leave this earth unforgotten. I was not born to be average. I was destined to be GREAT.” I encourage you to reflect deeply on your greater purpose in life. Once you find that out, it will make waking up early an irresistible habit as it draws you towards the august allure of success. It will keep you on track during the toughest times and ignite a beacon of motivation when circumstances seem dire.

I made it a goal to intern in a different company or bank every summer. During the summer of my first year, I had returned to Lebanon, my home country, to see friends and family. I didn’t let that distract me. I used every network I could to leverage summer experience. It took two months to finally land a one-month internship at a retail bank shadowing employees. It wasn’t Goldman-Sachs, but it provided me with the operational foundations of the common bank. Be humble with every opportunity you’re given. Make the best of it. You have the opportunity to create whatever outcome you wish using the skills at your disposal. This comes down to your mindset and how you view your situation.

Year II: An important skill to obtain early on is self-reflection. After first-year, I surveilled what my professional portfolio was missing. Extra-curricular activities were the missing component. Simultaneously, I was looking to strengthen my relationship with the Lebanese community and provide value to my nation’s people. As such, I contacted the Lebanese Cultural Club to serve as their VP of Finance. I was humbled and grateful to take on this position. Through this club, I grew my network, established great friendships, gained much needed experience, and supplemented my acumen’s arsenal (in the form of an admittedly weak CV). After a second year of studiousness and discipline, another summer dawned and, with it, the renewed opportunity for an internship. This time, I desired a more challenging role. Again, I stuck to the fundamentals and used my network to leverage more experience. I contacted my father’s good friend for the opportunity to intern at the Arab Banking Corporation. For this internship, I rotated between various departments. One of which was the HR department. Many students in Finance would have shied away from a non-Finance department, however, the better-rounded you are as a person, the more resourceful you become when vulnerable situations arise. During the HR rotation, I went in with the mindset that I am now exposed to the recruiting arm of a large company. This implied that I could gain insight to improve my resumé, interview skills, and leadership capabilities.

In his book, ‘The Leader Who Had No Title’, Robin Sharma suggests that daily ripples of excellence eventually become a tsunami of success. Nobody sets out to build the greatest monument all at once; you should never start there because you’ll probably never succeed. Instead, you should focus on laying one brick at a time as precisely as you can. Focus your daily efforts on life-enhancing activities that will bring you closer to accomplishing your dreams. Keep in mind, all you have is 24 hours in a day and how you use your time is crucial to the likelihood of you succeeding.

Year III: Going into the third year, I had a couple of goals I wanted to accomplish: join a finance club, increase my network on LinkedIn, and be a part of a finance competition. As the year progressed, I heard about an investment club called T&V Capital Management. At the time, there was no other club that actually invested a pool of money in the stock market. This was formed by a group of ambitious and very intelligent second-year compeers with strong determination and passion. I embraced their culture and mindset, so I decided to interview and join. The club taught me lessons I will never forget. The work ethic that was required to be part of the crew was very intense. Each week, we had to present sector updates and each month resulted in a unique stock pitch. We would grill each other during Q&A’s and this forced us to stay competitive. With this mindset, I set myself at a higher standard and demanded more from myself. This was also the genesis for my passion and love for the stock market. I immediately began enhancing my knowledge by reading countless books, articles, and newspapers. Every day, I would wake up at five o’clock to update myself on the market and read geopolitical articles. I was immersed within the adrenaline that the market provided and the ability to generate constant streams of income. During this year, the financial research and learning lab opened up which provided students with Bloomberg terminals (software that offers the best financial data on public companies). Immediately, I was hooked. I spent the entire waking day, ten hours in total, finishing the Bloomberg courses to grow accustomed to how these terminals work. The lab manager was also looking for assistants to help run the facility.  Although it was unpaid, I used this to advance my understanding of these terminals and imbue finance-related experience on my resumé (as most institutions use these terminals nowadays). Many of the finance courses were integrating these terminals in assignments and projects, so it definitely gave me a competitive edge against others.

Amid third year, Telfer enrolled in the Rotman International Trading Competition. This was an international competition that hosted fifty universities. Each elected its six best finance and accounting students. I wasn’t the smartest in Telfer, but I definitely believed in myself and knew I was deserving of this opportunity if I worked hard enough. I was shortlisted as a candidate for an interview among ten other students. This interview was challenging, asking mathematical and analytical questions. Needless to say, I tried my best, but ended up at ninth-place in the rankings. I was a little disappointed, but knew that every setback is a setup for a comeback. We were scheduled to give a presentation after the Christmas break on one of the financial topics. As the break took its course, most of the applicants did what every average person would do; they took a “break”. I used every second of the holiday to study up on the material and prepare to kill that presentation. After delivering my presentation, we received an email with the official list of successful students. You guessed it: I jumped from ninth to fifth place and made the list! The competition was an amazing experience as I got to meet very intelligent students from all over the world. It was humbling and motivating in equal measure. After getting back, I had to repurpose my focus back on the books to keep my grades stable. For that summer, I actually did not plan on interning anywhere. I had thought of using the time it afforded me to complete courses and learn more about finance-related subjects. However, a random event caught me by surprise. I was sitting in the lab one evening when the lab manager forwarded a job application to General Electric’s (GE) Financial Management Program summer internship. I had nothing to lose, so I applied. Many times, when opportunities present themselves people shy away and never pursue them head on. I applied and eventually got an interview. Upon exhibiting my proficiency during the interviews, I landed the internship and was getting ready to work at GE! I would have never imagined myself working for one of the oldest and largest Fortune 500 companies. The program provided a great learning environment and gave interns the ability to tackle more complicated responsibilities and challenges. My manager was an amazing mentor who provided me with help and guidance throughout the summer. By the end of it, however, I realized that the job entailed more of an accounting background rather than a focus on investment finance. As such, it was mutually beneficial for me to pursue a career that encompassed the capital markets.

Year IV: This was my final year to prepare myself for the next chapter in life: my career. At this stage, my focus was on using the network that I had built over the past three years to – at the very least – secure an interview. Something to get my foot in the door. As the year progressed, I traveled to Dubai in December to visit my sister who is working there currently. Although a bit off topic, I encourage anyone who is able to travel, to do so. Travelling will give you insight on new cultures, languages, and people that will add strength to your arsenal in the business arena. I use the fact that I have traveled to more than twenty-five countries in interviews to highlight that I can speak three languages and am culturally intelligent (which can be seen as an asset in negotiations and business meetings). At this point, there was only one thing I really wanted to do before graduating and that was to conduct research for a white paper (another term for a short paper on a specialized topic). After staying in touch and e-mailing a contact who was the president of an investment management firm, I was fortunate enough to have been offered to help the firm conduct research for a paper they wanted to publish. What allowed me to get through the door and receive that opportunity was the tenacity and determination I exemplified.

It was now March and as my last university year was ending, I knew I had to go all-in to find a job. One of T&V’s first sponsors was the President & CEO of the Canadian Depository for Securities Limited. He was an alumnus of the Telfer School of Management and a leader in the community. He was always committed to helping students achieve the aspirations they were determined to achieve. Remaining in close contact, I eventually applied online to a job posting for an Associate position at TMX/CDS. After two challenging interviews, I headed to Toronto for the final test. This phase consisted of two thirty-minute interviews with senior executives. They had all the candidates waiting in the board room for their turn. After meeting the candidates, I realized I was up against students from other top-tier universities (i.e. Western, Queens, UofT, etc.). To be honest, this motivated me more. I visualized every step of the interview in my head and leaving with a victory. In my mind, it was sort of a battle. I was going to war with myself and the only way to succeed was to unleash the self-confidence I had garnered through each trial and diminish any lingering modicum of self-doubt. The night before the interview, I stayed up preparing for every scenario, every question they could ask me. I didn’t want to come back empty-handed, regretting that I could have done more. When I found out that I got the job, it felt as if though my hand was raised in a boxing title fight. After four years of hard work, I finally became the man I wanted to be, to myself, my parents, and my friends. I don’t want you to think that I let work or school define the person I am. This was done to prove anything is possible if you really desire it and work hard for it. If I can do it, so can you.

Edited by: Conor O’Hara