“It was a steep learning curve, but it was worth it." That's the assessment of Roy Beyrouti of the first year of the two-year Investment Management Program at the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business (OSB). Beyrouti, who will be graduating in June, is one of just six students selected in fall 2017 for the highly competitive program, which is open to students from all AUB faculties. (A second cohort of four students enrolled in fall 2018.) “This program is an extraordinary opportunity for our students—undergraduates and graduates," says Dr. Wassim Dbouk , associate professor of finance at OSB and the program director. “They receive rigorous classroom training, mentorship, a chance to travel to New York City and meet with fund managers, and the opportunity to invest real money in the stock market." Final year student Arman Khederlarian says that the meetings in New York with top people in the industry were “amazing due to the fact that we got to learn from people who have been doing what we want to do for decades."
The program is the brainchild of OSB Dean Steve Harvey. “These types of real-life experiences enrich students' educations enormously," explains Harvey. “Being able to offer this program at OSB also raises the profile of the school. We're especially grateful to AUB International Advisory Council member Hutham Olayan and AUB Trustee Walid Chammah for their generous donations. This program would not exist without them."
The students began to invest money in the stock market in October 2018 which was, as Dbouk notes, when the markets started “to slope down for the first time in about two years." Dbouk doesn't regret the timing though. “After all," he says, “still waters don't make good sailors." Beyrouti admits that it was not easy “accepting a loss"—and even tougher to react “the right way." Graduate student Miriam Jreij agrees.
“We kept reminding ourselves of our long-term goals," she says. Another challenge has been distinguishing between speculation and what business administration-major Kinda Katanji calls “fundamental news." Katanji points out that “there is a lot of news that may affect the share price and create fear among shareholders. One of the things a portfolio manager needs to do is identify whether a particular piece of news will have a fundamental effect on the stock or not."
The students meet regularly and communicate between meetings via WhatsApp to resolve differences and reassess their portfolio. “We didn't agree in the beginning on which stocks to invest in—and whether to invest in ETFs (exchange-traded funds) at all," remembers Ali Shana'a. “It wasn't easy to come to a decision since we had very different views." Beyrouti says he has been surprised at “how much we can disagree on something that one of us is convinced of."
The one thing that students do agree on is the value of the program. Katanji sums it up best: “It's been an eye-opening experience!"