GFA: Ten Years of Learn, Do, Become

Finance professor Bryan Sudweeks still has the 2004 email saved.

The missive popped into his inbox from Jim Seaberg, an investor who gave Sudweeks’ students companies to research and make watch, buy, or sell recommendations. Seaberg and his partners proposed an even more real-world investment experience: he suggested creating a fund, with real money, invested by himself and his partners, for Marriott School finance students to manage.

After Sudweeks picked his jaw up off the floor he ran with the idea, working out the blueprint for what became BYU’s Global Advisors Fund (GFA), which marked ten years this spring.

“Ten years says you’re established,” says Sudweeks, himself a successful asset manager prior to teaching.  “A lot of mutual funds don’t even make it this long. And the fact that we beat the bench mark in seven of ten years at a low level of risk says that we’ve got something here that’s very unique.”

The anniversary was celebrated with a GFA alumni dinner and a recognition of the three investing partners—Seaberg, Brett Davis, and Angelo Prieto, who fly in every year to hear finance students report on the fund’s performance.

“They told me that from the beginning they thought they were going to lose all their money, and they were OK with that,” Sudweeks says. Instead, a disciplined, long-term value investing approach and sophisticated analysis tools developed over the past ten years has led to success.

Sudweeks’ goal is to give interested students at least one year of asset management experience before graduation in a two-course series, with the first teaching them how to analyze and research a company’s potential and the second giving them the chance to manage real investments, making the buy and sell decisions themselves. The result? Beyond creating a successful long-term fund, in its ten years the program has a nearly 100-percent alumni placement rate. “The students want to be asset managers,” Sudweeks says. “What are they doing? Analyzing companies. This program is the poster child of the Marriott School’s Learn, Do, Become initiative.”

Nelson Catala, a 2016 finance grad who served as a team leader over the consumer discretionary sector, said GFA was helpful in landing an investment-researcher position with Goldman Sachs. “I was able to speak to that experience,” he says, adding that what he learned about long-term investing will help him in his work.  “What I really got out of it is an understanding of business models, how companies make money, and what the potential risks are to their cash flows. GFA provided a protected environment for us to learn and make mistakes, which was huge for me going into this field.”

GFA alumni, many of whom attended the anniversary celebration, also praise the program for jumpstarting their careers. Matt Herbert, director of marketing finance and strategy at Walmart and a member of the first GFA class in 2006, has seen its benefits from his first job to his current position. “It was a way to synchronize the learning we were doing in the Marriott School and apply it to something that has meaning and impact,” Herbert says.

Herbert was involved in GFA for several years after graduation, training students and fine-tuning their tools; today, he’s always excited to receive annual reports of the fund’s growth.

“It’s satisfying to look at that chart and say, ‘Yeah, we were the ones who started it; we were able to build that foundation and that it’s been successful and consistent over time,’” Herbert says. “It’s a compliment to the program and all the work Bryan’s done there, and it’s a compliment to the students who have been working hard to be a part of something that really they don’t have the opportunity to do elsewhere. It’s a very unique opportunity, and it’s a framework set up for success.”

The 2016 Global Financial Advisors investors, with Bryan Sudweeks and Jim Seaberg (back) and Brett (right)

The 2016 Global Financial Advisors investors, with Bryan Sudweeks and Jim Seaberg (back center) and Brett Davis (right).