Episode #52: Today, we chat with Jake Wamala, full-time MBA class of 2019, Certified USCF Chess Expert, and Public Equities Global Research Analyst at Aristotle Capital.
He shared with us why he’s drawn to public markets, his ideas for diversity and inclusion in organizations, and his love of chess. He also talks about his passion for giving back not just to Haas and fellow alumni but also to the community at large.
On self-confidence – “I think it’s immensely important for children of color to believe that they can do and achieve anything.”
About putting in the proverbial 10,000 hours – “They say that’s a myth but I think there’s truth to it in some ways. Practice makes perfect.”
On self-teaching – “It helps if you just put in a little bit of discipline and a lot in believing in yourself.”
SEAN: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni podcast. Today, I’m joined by Jake Wamala, full-time MBA class of 2019, recent grad. Actually it’s been a year. Huh?
[00:00:22] JAKE: Exactly. We have one class underneath.
[00:00:24] SEAN: That’s so funny. How’s it going, Jake?
[00:00:26] JAKE: These are going well, lots going on in the world but super fortunate. I’m healthy. So, don’t take those things for granted as much anymore.
[00:00:34] SEAN: Can you first, just since our guests can’t see this video, tell us what your shirt says.
[00:00:39] JAKE: Yeah, my shirt says Menos Hate Mas Perrero. And it’s a little bit of Spanish and the hate is obviously in English but it means less hate and more dancing. It’s like dirty dancing and this referencing reggae tone. So, I like the message so I wear it.
[00:00:56] SEAN: I’ll tell our listeners how I know you. Jake was the president of the investment management club and that fall when you were president, I was organizing the LA. I was doing investment banking going down that track, organizing the LA investment banking trek.
[00:01:12] And so we had our connections through the finance club, really. But aside from that, I’ve been slowly learning about you, but really love to hear your origin story as I like to call it.
[00:01:23] JAKE: Yeah, absolutely. I can share a little bit more about myself and then also a little bit what led me to Haas and be passionate about what I would describe as my two most important passions are investing, specifically, learn about businesses, and then the second one is giving back. I think that’s extremely important.
[00:01:42] But I’m from the Boston area. I grew up in Massachusetts, an old industrial town on the East coast and they are actually, my mother was an artist and my father was an engineer. So, I always had two sides of the household in terms of the more math and science, but then some of the liberal arts and the curved lines, so to speak.
[00:01:58] What’s also interesting is one of my first exposures to finance is when I had an unfortunate event that happened where my father lost all our family’s money in the stock market during early 2000, during a semiconductor cycle. That’s what he studied, got in trouble with some leverage, and went overboard.
[00:02:18] In that sense, I would describe him almost as a Robinhood trader 1.0.
[00:02:25] But we haven’t where we are today. I think that was a defining experience for me because I was wondering how such a smart person could lose money so quickly or get into some trouble. So, I’ve always been interested in businesses.
[00:02:38] So I followed down that path. I was fortunate enough to get into MIT for undergrad where I studied mechanical engineering and economics. And then took my career towards Wall Street in New York where I was at Morgan Stanley. After a couple of other steps and places like, for example, private equity or growth equity, some venture capital, and even independent consulting working with hedge funds, investment firms in the Bay area, I got to a really good understanding of finance and investing and how capital markets operate. But I really want to get back to investing especially in the public markets which are something I’ve always wanted to do but I wanted to build up a skill set of business acumen. A really reliable toolset now, not only be able to invest and understand companies but also understand the risks associated with it.
[00:03:27] So I applied to business school and that led me to Haas. It was one of the schools I researched and the more I researched, the more I fell in love with the school, the four defining principles. If I had a quiz and you asked me what they are, it’s a Question of the Status quo, one of my favorites, Confidence Without Attitude, Student Always, and Beyond Yourself.
[00:03:50] SEAN: There you go.
[00:03:52] JAKE: Exactly right? Oh, okay. I’m only one year out. And from here on out, it’s going to get rusty from here on forward. Those kind of tell you a lot about not only the culture of the school but the students that it attracts – the faculty, the professors, and the fact that they’re such data-driven in the sense of making decisions based on what you see but then also not being so entrenched in.
[00:04:14] We’re going to do this because we’ve always done it this way and being a little bit more intellectually honest. At business school, like you mentioned, was getting involved in a lot of the finance activities, whether that was investment club, pitch competitions, doing internships, et cetera, even doing peer advising and helping other classmates who wanted to do investing or running a speaker series to bring people in the investment community in the Bay Area, into class or on campus. So those are some of the things that I definitely enjoyed. So, I think that gives you a good sense of a little bit of the background, especially from a career standpoint, to get me to where I am today.
[00:04:46] And right now, I’m working at Aristotle capital management down here in Los Angele where, of course, the weather’s beautiful, but I’m also working at a great company that really, I think values me, bring my whole self to work, and then is also really astute investors and have had a fantastic track record the way they can do business and think about businesses. And then I get to add value on the research team. Mostly right now covering what I describe as communication services. Think of social media, traditional media advertisements, PR firms, and entertainment.
[00:05:22] SEAN: I’m personally curious, based on your exposure between private and public markets, what does it draw public markets to you? Cause typically, post-MBA, everyone’s trying to go over to private, right?
[00:05:32] JAKE: That’s a great question. And that’s when you’ll get it, especially if you’re in interviews in the space, like, why do you want to do this? Because it seems to attract people who are really passionate about it. And those people tend to have the longest careers in the public investing space where the scoreboard isn’t always so clear and you think it’s more of a meritocracy than it is. But it’s very hard to find out if you’re a good investor until 20 years down the road to be honest. But having an insatiable curiosity definitely helps. But for me, I really loved the liquidity. I think that’s a piece that’s a big part of it.
[00:06:05] So because of that, you have the ability to think about businesses. Hold them accountable also, in the public markets, because you have a stock price that trades on a more regular basis, private equity, which has this appeal. And I do enjoy that aspect of the businesses. And almost would describe a lot of our strategy here at Aristotle isn’t playing the quarters, right? I’m not trying to guess if EPS is going to get beat by a penny or something like that, which would be a very and more stressful job than the one I had today. But the reality is you get to keep companies accountable and make decisions based on publicly available information, think long-term strategy and value creation.
[00:06:44] And these are the biggest businesses in the world that eventually have the biggest impact. So, I find that to be extremely attractive. To talk a little bit more about Aristotle, we invest in some of the biggest businesses, not just in the US globally. Think globally is one of our big tenants, which I also appreciate.
[00:07:01] I think the Haas experience cultivated that as well since I got to travel to a plethora of new countries.
[00:07:06] SEAN: Let’s talk a little bit about something that you brought up before, Equity Fluent Leadership. What does that mean? And did I even get that right?
[00:07:15] JAKE: You nailed it actually. And that’s a term I first heard at Berkeley Haas and a fantastic professor, Kellie McElhaney. I believe she coined the phrase. If not, it should be attributed to her because I haven’t heard it widely used and probably should be used in all business school landscapes. And that’s what we really should strive to, to create right equity fluent leaders.
[00:07:35] And I think given the kind of sociopolitical landscape today, given black lives matter, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, et cetera, the names, and the list goes on and on related to police brutality and institutional racism that’s been around in the US but being cognizant of the differences, as opposed to pretending they don’t exist is I think where we’re going to as not just the society, but businesses as well, where previously, I think it may be even generations ago, people looked at institutions and businesses as very separate, almost like church and state, where they baseless names that don’t have as much influence on the world. And your moral compass only impacts you personally.
[00:08:23] And the day to day interactions like, so at least great person, right? So, there are no issues there. He’s doing a great job but where he works is just a job or what school he attends, it’s just the school. It doesn’t have a real impact on people in society and where we go. But yeah, I think people are more and more aware, yeah, of the institutional impact.
[00:08:40] And which is unique about Berkeley is they’re the largest mobilizer for economic social class movement in California. And what that means is people who move from, okay, the bottom quartile of earnings to upper quartile. So, which obviously in the US, we’re fortunate to have that type of American dream or build than in certain other countries where you might be born, like Brazil, slums, or maybe India or something where it’s going to be much more difficult to have that kind of socio-economical mobility. Again, Berkeley public institution, very much big on that and I think MIT is actually very similar East Coast as well, which I think also again, why I was attracted to some of those schools where they just really empower you to think differently and just go for it kind of circling back to your question in terms of equity fluent leadership and what that means is it’s being more aware of the differences and accepting those as positive because I think a lot of the times.
[00:09:46] You’ll see it all the time, right? Especially in investment banking. They’re like, if you want to be a good fit, you’re going to have this cookie-cutter mold where a certain suit and tie, you’re gonna have to have this certain haircut and carry yourself a certain way. And then it’s just a cog through the machine.
[00:09:59] But the reality is for you to be great or have a great institution or a team you need, not only just a diversity of ideas, which I think is sometimes used as a crutch to have mask homogeneity. But if you really think about it, you can have a difference of ideas and thoughts. Only people have different lived experiences.
[00:10:16] So if someone’s a different race, someone is a different gender, right? As long as the different age, some of the different you name it. So, I think those things that are much more appreciated and I gained even greater appreciation learning about that and being able to speak about it.
[00:10:34] SEAN: You just made me realize something. I mean, that is the systemic issue, right? Is that the homogeneity of let’s say investment banking is that way because they’re like, Oh, well our clients are also homogenous. And so, this is why we got to conform to fit the mold of our clientele. But I think as we’re thinking about how to tackle some of these problems, if the clientele, you know, the leadership of the companies that the investment banks represent is becoming more diverse then they have to also be more diverse. I mean, they should be diverse to start with either way but then they can’t crutch. As you were saying, like on that excuse, that we’re trying to fit a mold of what our clients expect us to be when there is no diversity in the leadership structure of your clientele even.
[00:11:25] And then to take that one step further, I see now why like for you, the appeal of public markets is how can you help in one way, shape, or form influence the public corporations out there, hold them accountable to be more diverse, to have more diverse leadership. And then in its effect, have a ripple effect, not only within the organization but outside of the organization.
[00:11:47] JAKE: I think that’s where it’s got to start. I mean, empathy has gotta be where you come from the first line. A lot of these, I would say charged issues or charge problems because you’re going to be uncovering people’s blind spots and it’s, everyone’s going to have a different reaction to things they didn’t know.
[00:12:02] And then some people are not fond of changing their opinion or viewpoint after presented new information. So definitely recommend go, just go for it. Right. And I think you’re hitting on a great point is that these institutions or leaders, et cetera, are becoming more diverse. I think there’s been a little bit more of a societal pressure but the reality is their customers have always been diverse.
[00:12:23] If you want to understand what your customers’ wants and needs, you’re going to need their voices. You learn this first thing in entrepreneurship, right? AB test is the best feedback that you can get is not from your investor or a friend. It’s the customer. Right? If the customer says I want 140 characters on Twitter or I want less or I want more.
[00:12:43] You gotta listen to that voice, right, before you listen to anybody else’s. So, I think that’s like got to be key and people are starting to really understand and understand what I would describe as the business case for diversity and investing in women, et cetera, which Berkeley has been in my viewpoint far and ahead on these issues.
[00:13:01] SEAN: Yeah, no, it’s funny. You just brought that up because that just made me think about even our VC class that I just took this past fall. A friend of mine, a fellow student, she brought up how, you know, all the cases were male-centric and how, even though that’s a status quo prior for, especially for private equity venture capital, it is predominantly white, male. And that’s just, that’s the reality of it. I don’t even know if that’s the right word but that is a reality of it. But why do we keep perpetuating that reality? And as even as a male, I don’t pay as much attention to that because I’m just like, okay, that seems normal to me. But then when she brought it up, because she approached me about it, asking if she should send the professors an email.
[00:13:47] And I was like a hundred percent and she sent me the email that she wanted to draft and I looked it over and helped her out. And, the professors not only were so open to her email but they gave her the floor for 30 minutes to talk about it, to have the whole class talk about how can we get more diversity in venture capital.
[00:14:07] And I thought, that was just amazing. And to that effect, the professor and the cases that he wrote, he stated that he even picks gender-neutral names just so that it could go either way, that the characters in the story can go either way. And so, you’re definitely right.
[00:14:23] Like Haas is very forward-thinking and very conscious. I mean, we can always do better but Haas is very self-aware to a certain extent about how important these issues are to address.
[00:14:37] JAKE: I completely agree. I think we still have a long way to go, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.
Giving Back to Haas
[00:14:43] SEAN: Yeah, let’s talk about how you’re only a year out as alumni, but you’re already doing so much to give back. Not only to the Haas community but the community at large. Can you share with us some of the things that you’re doing working on so that other alumni can be inspired to do the same?
[00:15:03] JAKE: Yeah. So like I mentioned something I’m very passionate about is giving back. I think where that comes from for me is that I had a nontraditional background and upbringing. I very much believe that the community I was in helped provide the foundation for me not only to receive opportunities but take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves.
[00:15:25] That is just absolutely not lost on me. That so many people helped me along the way. I mean, I think of organizations like MLT, which is called Management Leadership for Tomorrow. That’s a national organization that helps black and brown students, younger folk are interested in business to understand what it tastes to relatively be successful in business. Whether that’s introducing them to companies, help them with their resumes, exposing them to different industries, taking the personality tests, figure out would you be good at sales? Would you enjoy it? What is sales, right?
[00:15:58] And that just went such a long way. And I did that program when I was an undergrad, the career prep. I did that program again, applying to grad school called MBA prep and there they have a professional development program. And now I serve actually on the local alumni chapter here in LA. And that’s one of the nonprofits that I’m super passionate about and getting involved in.
[00:16:19] And just as like a Berkeley alum, I’m also getting involved there. You have examples of that would be serving on that kind of alumni leadership council there as well with Liz and Tenny and Molly. So, great people and super personable. But I guess what I would say for alumni, there’s so many ways to get back that we don’t think about. Obviously the first one, which you’ll get calls about, I don’t need to tell you but you can always get back financially, right? You can always write a check and that’s a huge part of endowments, right, is your alumni contribution.
[00:16:56] And that helps keep the wheels going for the institution. That’s a mobilizer for so many people including ourselves, right? Growing either personally, professionally, made contacts that helped you start the businesses of tomorrow. But another way you can do that outside of giving back and actually just staying in touch with the school.
[00:17:13] It’s actually, doesn’t take too much work, but for example like your friend, we could have just actually had this conversation catching up just via phone. And that does, I think that goes a long way because business schools, especially, your kind of only as strong as the network, right? If your network is tight, people catch up with each other or be able to reference when you’re in between jobs.
[00:17:32] Or you’re looking to hire someone. I know someone who can this, that, and the other, then those are connections that help grow the pie for everybody involved. They make more, even more, successful alumni. I would say another way is mentorship. I think that goes a long way as well. I know I’m extremely proactive in terms of seeking mentors.
[00:17:52] I’m sure I have mentors who didn’t have a choice but to be my mentor because I call them so much. Yeah. So that’s around of the person who I am. Right. But you’ll get those reach-outs on LinkedIn, someone who wants to explore a career in the field that you’re in. And I think in terms of our defining principles and culture at Berkeley, in terms of confidence, without attitude and being beyond yourself, those would fall in those tenants, just like being accessible, like responding to those requests on LinkedIn.
4. Alumni Helping Alumni
[00:18:21] Because we were all at that standpoint where we didn’t know how to do DCF or we didn’t know who the top investors in the world were or what industry does what, and KPIs, you name it, right? So, you can also get, you know, refresh view. And these people are just trying to March the same path that you’ve taken.
[00:18:38] I like to think of it as I’m a big sports guy, right? It’s almost like if you probably have. You’re doing quarantine may have heard of The Last Dance with Michael Jordan. So, it’s just I, they I’m big on basketball. So, you know, Bill Russell coming from Boston Celtics fan. I feel like he helped pave the path or like MJ or some of the world Chamberlain types. And then he paved the path for Kobe. And then Kobe paved the path so LeBron James can not only just do everything that they did but even more. And what he’s doing outside of basketball I think is going to have far-ranging implications than we’ve seen in sports.
[00:19:09] And it’s been absolutely fantastic and empowering. And I think, as alumni, we can have that same attitude of just yes, we got help to get here. I don’t have long ways to go but helping along the way is also super important, right? Because not only the very senior people can help you but like the person who’s just one step above you.
[00:19:27] And it was like, Oh, I would’ve done this a little differently but you’re going to do this XYZ, I found that to be really helpful. And I guess other last point on kind of alumni at Haas especially and ways to give back or stay engaged other than just like calling your classmates and who you haven’t seen in a while or what have you, I think with business school especially as unique. If you’re a Haas undergrad too, cause those classes get relatively small as you get older or get further along and your curriculum, reached back out. So, your professors, faculty, people you connected with on-campus check and see how they’re doing their people too. So, a great example of that would be I was working on a project for work in the last year that you wouldn’t see the touchy-feely stuff in finance that much, but I was aware to integrate a little bit more on behavioral economics type survey using this Keasy and economic beauty game concept, which you might remember the leveraging professor, Don Moore, who actually just recently came out with a book called Perfectly Confident, just small plug.
[00:20:27] SEAN: We interviewed him on the podcast.
[00:20:29] JAKE: Oh, fantastic! With him and Brandi Pierce has been fantastically helpful because she taught a class called High Impact Teams.
[00:20:36] SEAN: I’m actually doing a series with her in August.
[00:20:40] JAKE: Oh, my gosh. She is absolutely trailblazer. What she’s doing.
[00:20:43] SEAN: The downside is I’ve never had any of her classes but I’m getting to meet her now, which is, I just feel so privileged and fortunate to get to work with her.
[00:20:51] JAKE: I completely agree. Given the whole, again, recent climate and the socioeconomic awakening, I’ll describe it corporate businesses and diversity and inclusion that even finance firms are like, we don’t have any invested anything on this. They’re asking me as a black male, like what could we do?
[00:21:07] And I’m like, wait a minute. I didn’t get to take Kelly, professor Kelly McElhaney’s class. I know so much of her stuff has done really well. And it had so much impact. She’s an absolute rock star. She’s been working on this field for a while and has several consulting engagements with gap, sits on the board of some hedge funds in the Bay area and VC firms, and works with large FinTech companies that implementing their DEI plan.
[00:21:30] She picked up the phone when I called, right. A student who took her classes really close with her connected us. And then I was able to put my HR on the phone to connect her, even though yes, I’d love to help more with DEI, but oftentimes the burden of diversity falls on the shoulders of employees of color, where I’m just trying to be the best investment I could possibly be.
[00:21:47] I don’t want to be the black Warren Buffet. I want to be the first Jake Wamala. You know what I mean? That’s what we’re trying to do. But again, that’d be, that’s what it’s about. As alumni we can of course give financially but then being accessible to future students, current students, graduating students, staying in touch with your classmates, being in touch with the school, talking to professors, that helps in so many different ways.
[00:22:11] SEAN: I want to segue off of what you just brought up about race in the work place. What has your experience been like? And what are your thoughts on how we can do better as corporations?
[00:22:29] JAKE: I think this was a relatively taboo topic, right, in the past. It’s just like everyone kind of knew it was there type thing but no one really talked about it. Politics, church taxes, let’s also not talk about race, you know, if you want to have a good Thanksgiving dinner with family. But now it’s just it’s important.
[00:22:48] It’s important to be able to have those conversations which can be very much of the time uncomfortable. And being uncomfortable is just the small costs that we pay to what is in many ways, super … and unfair, or whatever word you’d like to describe. So, in terms of my own personal experience, I’m again, I’m super fortunate to be where I am today.
[00:23:13] I think regardless of race or vendor background or what have you, I would describe Brian today is very fantastic. I didn’t know what investing was growing up. I didn’t have any investors in my family. I didn’t, was not exposed to this in terms of financial services. I knew the little 5 cent bank down the street so that it right.
[00:23:35] I think there was a TD bank drive through them. I walked to school but that’s literally about it. Financial services was way beyond my wildest imagination outside of the. To think or swim account that my dad had and it blew up. And I think the biggest one had to pay a hefty fine for their advertising, et cetera. From a personal kind of standpoint, it’s something, especially when it comes to race, you can’t hide that diversity.
[00:23:59] When I go into an interview which makes it really unique is it’s if you have a non-obvious disability. You might identify as being disabled but they might not be able to pick that up in the interview. Or, you may be like LGBTQ in terms of sexual preference or identify as something like a different alternative other than cis-gendered male or something, you might not be able to pick that up in the interview. But as a black male or black female for example, you just come in, right, and then you’re going to have to cut my hair short. So, it’s just like an, I need haircuts like every two weeks approximately to look professional.
[00:24:34] And I think in some industries they’re starting to allow a little bit more alternative hairstyles to be presented, but in business, it’s slower on those lines. And this is again when we talked about fit, it’s being personable, the business is not just about the numbers. It’s not just quantitative, right?
[00:24:50] It’s about negotiations. It’s about all of these things and having a high EQ is important. So, I think I pick and chose what I can engage in without being able to put aside people who have maybe different views than me that I’m passionate about. Whether that’s like sports was an easy one. I follow sports religiously.
[00:25:08] I mean, English premier league. I know this is audio only but Sean can see that the LSC scarves in the background and most solid jerseys in Saudi Amani and Robert Camina. I’m a big Liverpool fan and had them winning the English premier league recently. It has been fantastic in 30 years. Yeah. So being a Boston sports band from the Fenway group, I know what that’s like when the Red Sox won.
[00:25:32] So it just feels great. But again, I could talk about that in the office of the big smiles and a lot of animation but it’s then when black history month comes around, it’s a little bit quieter. And then, but I still have the appreciation for it because again, it’s just like with time, I felt like things will change. And on the flip side of this, these are obstacles, but benefited from what I would describe lucky breaks. So, for example, Morgan Stanley had this diversity program that we’re rolling out my freshmen at college where they’re only allowing students who are from New York to join freshman internship where you pretty much know nothing, right?
[00:26:07] You’re a freshman just learn about financial services. And I showed up to every review session, asking them if they had jobs or something like that. And they were like, no, we only hire sophomores and juniors are, really, to be honest and maybe not even. But I kept calling them. And then like last minute, probably May came around and then they were like, we’re piloting this new program, you’ve been really persistent, I heard good things about you. If you can find your own housing, you can come to New York City and do this program. And I was like, yep, I’ll be there. I’m there. And then I’ll figure out the housing later. And that was a whole other kind of challenge but it helped put those wheels in motion.
[00:26:48] So there’s some people who again, took either a flyer on you or saw something in you and that benefits. So, I think as with every obstacle that I’ve had, that I’ve had to just achieve or overcome, regard to race or unfortunate happenings in business. This been twice as many people or opportunities that are presented themselves to help me get to the path I’m on today. Including the last one, right, where I got a job with Aristotle Capital Management.
[00:27:13] They only hired one person which they interviewed at 10 top business schools, including many of them rank around us, above us, below us, for one spot. And they hadn’t hired for years but they said, this is a good fit. Very fortunate. In my industry, everybody’s qualified but it’s just you don’t even take it personally if you don’t get the call back because it’s just like the odds are not in your favor and had to develop a little bit of grit. So, I guess that’s a long-winded way of me responding, saying yes, but it’s something I’ve always had to impact.
[00:27:46] And then creating alliances and gravitating towards people who are willing to sponsor me, help me create a safe space that I can show my vulnerabilities around, and then, keep a straight face with around public settings. And what have you has been a strong benefit for me and my career.
[00:28:05] SEAN: What do you think gave you that grit? And I’m sure it’s from your parents or family but also we totally didn’t touch upon your history or just your passion for chess. And I’m really curious if that had a big impact on your personality because growing up I was forced to play piano, to learn piano, and I didn’t really have it have a tiger mom but she was pretty liberal actually about everything except for piano.
[00:28:29] She was like, you got to practice every day. And I begrudgingly did it and I hated it for like 10 years, but after 10 years, like it just developed this grit in me. And I came to love piano and music obviously. It reinforced in me personally that passion is a whole myth. They call it the passion myth, right.
[00:28:49] Like you’re born with like passion. Like I wasn’t born passionate about piano. Like I, I did this for 10 years. I became good at it because I put in so much time and then I became passionate about it because I was starting to fall in love with it. What helped you build that grit?
[00:29:09] Because that’s, all the examples and the stories that you just shared and I’m sure that’s like just a small sample of it all, that sheds a lot of light into Jake Wamala as a person. It’s not common that when people get rejected or turned down for mentorship that they keep contacting that person.
Jake the Chess Master
[00:29:28] JAKE: No. I mean, the, you nail it right on the head. And I was hoping we were able to weave a little bit of the chess into this conversation. It’s a game that I love and still love to this day. And, it’s played a pivotal role in my entire life. I learned chess when I was seven years old. My dad taught me how to play.
[00:29:49] I was very bad, but as I improved in the game, it built, I think number one, self-confidence, which is absolutely super important for children. And I think it’s immensely more important for children of color. Believe that you can do something. Even if you don’t have any examples of that relatively in your life it’s a lot easier to believe.
[00:30:12] I think for example, Barack Obama, I think a bunch of kids today believe that it’s actually a possible thing but growing up for me, I would have never thought I could possibly be a president. Right. I was like, there’s no way. I look nothing like any of these guys that have been here before, but again, once you start to see it, you can believe it.
[00:30:32] But even that building up that self-motivation for chess, it was huge. I can tell you a little bit more about that story because I think it’s extremely important.
[00:30:43] I learned when I was seven, I was really bad. I’d play all the time. And then my dad would take us to the chess club on Friday nights.
[00:30:52] And the only games I won or tied was against my sister, who was like one year younger than me. We’d always end up at the end of the tournament with zero points. Cause you get one point if you win, half-point if you tie and we zero points if you lose and so we’d both have zero points. And then we’d end up playing each other and like, you know, or messing around and then we’d go on these scholastic tournaments and I still pretty much lose but most of the time I play adults.
[00:31:17] And it was just like, it was brutal. And of course, like you said, you don’t grow up with a passion for the game. Just naturally. Sometimes as my dad played, there’s already an inkling I could want to get better. You always want to impress your parents or what have you, but it just it seemed like a far-fetch goal. And then a couple of things happen that made it a really big pivotal moment. I think I was 10 or 11. I’d go to these tournaments and I would overhear some of the chess parents or the kids. Again, chess is not a common game for people of color so it’d be like often just me and my sister would be the only black or brown people at the tournament.
[00:31:53] Most people were Russian, White, Asian, especially the good players. So, your chess is taught in schools and it’s a really big deal. And I overheard people saying that like, Oh, these kids aren’t that good, they’ll never be good because they’re either like racially inferior or they’re just not that smart.
[00:32:12] And I was just like, this is absurd. Like no way. That’s definitely not why. It’s just I don’t have tons of money to pay for coaches that you send your kids to, and all these camps, and know all the grandmasters were ready in your network. And I just wanted to play basketball with my friends at the park.
[00:32:28] So it’s was just like, this is what it is.
[00:32:32] Exactly. And then I went to this one tournament. I think we had like five bucks. And then I asked my parents if we can buy this CD-ROM, this chess software program. And it just had, I want to say 1500 chest tactics and it, and then I was just like, okay, this is interesting.
[00:32:47] So I started using computer again, technology plays a huge role in this. And then, the first time I go through all of these tactics, I want to say it takes six months to a year. And then the next time I did, I’m like, okay, let me go through it again. And then it takes like three months, right? And then the next time we go through all of them again.
[00:33:06] And I get through the first easy ones through a breeze. And then the last one is, and are a little bit tougher but I’ve seen them before. I’m starting to build up this pattern recognition until I keep going through the same set of 1500 problems until I can sit there on a Saturday morning or afternoon and knock out all 1500 in a matter of five hours or six hours, literally just like boop seconds per problem.
[00:33:28] Just recognizing, building up that pattern recognition. And then there’s the three different formats in terms of the way they would go through them. So, it wouldn’t be like the same problems in a row, so they’d mix them up. So, it’s just like, literally really understand the concepts and building this crazy intuition which isn’t that crazy actually.
[00:33:43] Because this is how you get better at things, right? If you just keep putting in the proverbial 10,000 hours. They say that’s a myth but I think there’s some truth to it too in some ways, but practice makes perfect.
[00:33:52] JAKE: And I just kept going through the same program all over and over again. So, all of a sudden it was hockey stick projection. Like I started beating with people in my class going to the chess club on Fridays and it was one of the best players at the chess club.
[00:34:05] And I started gaining tons and tons of self-esteem. I think chess also builds this executive reasoning in terms of thinking ahead. Thinking about cause and effect there’s along those lines, this field needs so much. And I think from a chess career standpoint, you gotta ended abruptly when I was 16 due to some unfortunate circumstances but then I was Massachusetts state chess champion.
[00:34:27] I was ranked 16th in the country like in terms of my rating. I knew all the players who are in my age group including some of the best players that are today who I’ve seen that tournament or talked to hung out with this. This absolutely fascinated me like Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, or Hikaru Nakamura.
[00:34:45] I mean, these guys are like my age. And they’re three or four out of the best 10 players in the world are US-based. So, this is absolutely fascinating even though I stopped when I was 16, which I didn’t think it was going to take, I was going to go full time because they’ll also around this time, a lot of the players in my age group, who are this good stopped going at school.
[00:35:05] But I said, okay, let me just pour this into my academics and finance because I don’t need to be the top hundred best investment world to make a decent living. That’s it so different calculus there. But it just played a huge role. And like you said, it went to grit and I think the self-teaching also helped if you just put a little bit of discipline and believing in yourself.
[00:35:27] So let me just provide two or three examples of that on my personal life. And I want to share these, not for like boasting because I have plenty of flaws like everyone else. But I think for the kids or whoever listens to this, it’s super important to me. They know that they can do anything, right.
[00:35:44] Chess gives me that self-esteem and grit that if I practice, then I’ll figure it out. For example, I had again another lucky break in middle school. This guy named Derek, blue hair smell of cigarettes, would come in volunteering from the college nearby to teach certain kids in my middle school a little bit more advanced math.
[00:36:03] They took us out of class and he would tell us like, okay, you guys are learning, maybe pre-algebra concepts in eighth grade but like we’re all way too smart for this. Here are some more algebra concepts. And he’d come in and volunteer his time. And he’s just like, guys, whatever you do in high school, you can do it, push yourself.
[00:36:19] So next year, going into high school, I failed my math entrance exam. They were like, clearly, you don’t know algebra, so you’re going to have to go into algebra and I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. I pleaded with them. Put me in algebra two, please put me in algebra two. Somehow they’re able to hear me out and put me in algebra two.
[00:36:39] And like that was algebra and trig, but I was able to figure it out. And again, this is sort of building your confidence. And I got like a good grade in that class. And then like the next summer, I got a calculus book. I checked it out from the library and read it and practice it over the summer.
[00:36:53] The stuff that I couldn’t find or understood, Googled it, then tried to see four or five different ways. It built on everything I had and then was able to go into it calculus my sophomore year and got a great grade on the AP exam. The third example of that is circling back to the business side, right?
[00:37:09] In college, again, I didn’t know what finance was outside of the stock-picking class I had and my dad’s experience with that, and the local bank tellers in my community, but then I’m hearing about this whole investment banking thing and Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and first time ever hearing about these things.
[00:37:27] And I’m like, okay, I need to learn more about what this world is because it was never exposed to me. So, I actually listened and watched Bloomberg television every single day since 2008 which obviously a lot was going on there. Googled every word I didn’t know. I got the Investopedia word of the day and it was just like, literally just building and building until like I could understand the daily financial jargon.
[00:37:51] So it was just like, that helps so, so much. And then things build on top of each other and I was able to get the internship, with people and mentors who helped me out prep for those interviews, but that was over classmen. And then I think to spell my way. And many of the cases, of course, many of the cases they didn’t, but kinda having that grit and persistence helps.
[00:38:15] SEAN: And none of that would’ve happened had you not had the grit and just that persistence to do those exercises, right? To have to learn to improve yourself, to be a student always. The really interesting, important thing that I hear in your story and I don’t know if you know where you learned this is that you’re willing to take a lot of small actions that ultimately become impactful that add up.
[00:38:40] Let’s take the email example, right? Most people send two emails, sending one email is a small thing but if you send like 20 it adds up. If you’re doing those chess exercises, you run through that exercise, the CDROM once, that’s one thing. You run through it every weekend, every other day, that’s something else. And again, these are small actions and I think that’s a, Jake Wamala theme. It’s is that change happens in life because it’s these small steps. I think that’s a truism. But I think many people forget about that. There’s no patience, you exhibit this extreme patience out.
[00:39:19] I want to say and I think that’s a really important message for listeners is especially in times like these is that change is not going to happen overnight. And so, you gotta be willing to work at whatever it is and chip away at it every single day, a little bit at a time. And setting really clear expectations that this is not going to get better, I’m not going to get better, the world’s not going to get better overnight but we still got to work at it.
[00:39:45] JAKE: Yeah, you absolutely nailed it. That’s very much a key tenant of my personality. That persistence, a little patience, also stubbornness, right? It happens that the greatest strengths are your greatest weaknesses but like give up already Jake. Just one more time!
[00:40:06] So yeah, again, sometimes you get really cool pay-offs, right? With a little bit of hard work or a lot of it hard work. And I think it says a lot like you said. And then of course like with everything you learn in investment banking, someone doesn’t respond to the email, of course, follow up.
[00:40:23] Would you be surprised that following up is one of the most like underrated things that people just never do? And have, my mom is usually the artist is a really big proponent of thank you letters. And that’s something that I’ve adapted for myself. And it’s just nice. It’s just nice, like, you know, someone who appreciated the time that you spent with them or what have you or send them a follow-up email.
[00:40:44] People respond to that. So, they are you trying to get something, contact or reach out to them and send them another one. They don’t respond. Yeah. Obviously don’t just keep blowing up their inbox. But if you can provide something of value to them, like you saw this article that I think is interesting or whatever, something engaging then sometimes.
[00:41:02] Yeah. They might never respond and that’s okay. You move on and find another way around the obstacles that get you to a place you want to go and don’t lose sight of that.
[00:41:13] SEAN: That’s key. And I think that’s also super important for people who may be struggling to, you know, who may have lost her jobs and who may be looking for jobs, gotta keep chipping away at it and develop some grit. And I’m so glad you shared your chess story because many people talk about their successes with hindsight bias. If I were to take myself and tell my piano story from like age 16, people are like this kid, he’s been playing piano since six he’s probably a prodigy. I was probably the same as you. I was terrible at it. I sucked at it and nobody tells that story.
[00:41:48] Everyone just says yeah, maybe I was a prodigy. Hell, no, you know, and that’s, that’s where we create these fallacies, these overnight success fallacies. I’m so glad we had this conversation because even more so now just in so many areas of life right now, people need to realize that tenacity is a skill that you build over time.
[00:42:10] It’s not something you’re born with. Nobody’s born with tenacity. I don’t believe that’s huge, like nature versus nurture debate. I’m a huge nurture proponent. There’s some nature aspects obviously but I’m still a huge believer that we have free will. We have the ability to change at least in ways that we can control.
[00:42:28] JAKE: And not only that, I would add on onto it not even just from a philosophical standpoint, just nature versus nurture debate. It’s just such a different time. And I have so much appreciation for where we are today is that the access to information at such low bare-bones costs is more pervasive than it has been in the history of the world.
[00:42:48] If you want to learn something, it’s just a matter of you wanting to put the time in, there’ll be, there’ll be a YouTube video on how to do this, they’ll give you a Wikipedia article, right, that’s already culled and combined and resources all at the bottom of the page from all the journals you need to.
[00:43:05] And if you’re passionate about X, Y, Z, you can learn it. It’s if you want to be the best FIFA player online, there’s so many people selling their services. So many tutorials on Twitch, YouTube, people you can watch all from your couch. It’s fantastic. Where a lot of these barriers that might’ve been in the past, where again, you had to know someone growing up doing this or what have you or be even just in the US to do some of these activities.
[00:43:30] And some of those barriers have really came down tremendously.
[00:43:33] SEAN: Alright. I think we covered a lot of ground today. This has been really wonderful, Jake. I’m really glad that I met you when I met you and I’m really glad I know you obviously, but I think this is why we get along so well. Like there are a lot of these personality traits that we share that I didn’t even realize some of these things that I had.
[00:43:54] Until you brought it up in your story. And I think it’s important to remind myself even now that hey, nothing’s changed. Just keep at it. Just keep at your ways. Right.
[00:44:06] SEAN: Well, this has been a real pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today, Jake.
[00:44:11] Stay safe.
[00:44:12] Thank you for tuning in to another episode of the one Hoss here at Haas podcast. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe to us on your favorite podcast player and give us a rating or review. You can also check out more of our content on our firstname.lastname@example.org, where you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter until next time. Go bears.