Photo by Marshall Kean
From Colorado College to Wall Street
Opening Convocation Address
By David R. Malpass '76
September 2 , 2007
Good morning. It is a huge honor to receive this degree and to have the opportunity to speak today to Colorado College students, faculty and President Celeste.
I am particularly proud to have my mother, Eloise, and my son, Robert here with me today. They have taught me a lot. Eloise taught me to read carefully and speak properly - at least she tried. She wanted me to set my sights high, which helped me through school and beyond. Robert is teaching me enthusiasm, which is one of the critical ingredients of a successful life; and reminding me how to have a love for learning.
I don't have deep answers for you today. At best, I can share my insights and experiences. I've organized them into a few lessons, but I know you'll figure most of it out in your own way.
Lesson #1 is already over. Try to absorb the talents of people around you. For me today, it's combining the wisdom of someone over 80 with the enthusiasm of an 11 year old. Equal parts. I hope you will find at CC the professors or fellow students that you can mix together and learn from.
I came to CC in 1973. The U.S. was saddled with a weak President and an unpopular war. The economy was heading into a deep recession, though we didn't recognized it at the time. By 1975, steak nights at the CC dining halls had been reduced to every other week, so that got my attention.
Lesson #2 is to try to have a passing interest in world affairs and business affairs while you're here. I didn't, and I regret not being more engaged. I passed through my months at CC not reading a newspaper very much. You should mix your study of history, literature, art and science with a bit of current affairs. It's fun, interesting and will help you think about careers and life after CC.
I enjoyed the variety of CC. I'd never seen a squash court, but enjoyed learning and playing on the team. I'm now having a great time teaching Robert. I used block breaks for adventures, traveling to Mexico once, skiing some.
Lesson #3 is to enjoy your independence. Learn a lot. Get a variety of experiences here.
Lesson #4 is to go slow with your independence. Of course, your parents have already harped on this - my mother did. I have an example for you. A bunch of students decided it would be a good idea to learn to parachute. Off we went to a place near the Airforce Academy. It was fun -- the practice, the camaraderie, the plane ride, jumping out, floating down. But then the landing was really hard. It was windy and I pulled the chute at the wrong time. There was no big damage to my knees, but that experience wasn't worth it. My advice: enjoy your independence, but be thoughtful about it.
I came to CC without too much idea of what I would study. I never really did make a clear decision. I drifted into a physics major, which was fine, no regrets. I took math, data analysis, English, Russian studies, constitutional law which was my favorite course.
In my career, the transition from physics to economics wasn't hard. In both subjects, the goal is to figure out how things work. I enjoyed a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where the main character enjoys understanding his motorcycle. I'm not into motorcycles, but I like the idea of people gaining confidence in their subject and trying to understand it well.
Lesson #5 is to be flexible while you're here. Embrace change. Dig deep in your subjects. Think broadly. If you make mistakes - I've made a lot - keep plugging along. Those of you who are not burdened today by a big mistake, take a moment to plan on one and to decide in advance that you'll plow through it. If you've recently made a big mistake, keep plugging along.
When I left CC, I hadn't thought much about where I would work. I tried different things, an electrician, a steel foundry, a systems consultant. With occasional schooling in between, I found ajob on the staff of the Senate Budget Committee. I'd always had an interest in government affairs and in political science, so things began to click. I had a lot of jobs in those years - international economist, trade specialist, tax specialist during the 1986 tax reform, several jobs with Secretary Baker at Treasury and State, now 14 years at Bear Stearns. In a way, CC helped me get all those jobs. In the case of the Senate Budget Committee, the clincher was that I'd played intramural hockey here, which appealed to the guy approving my hire. In a more serious vein, I was comfortable with lots of subjects, and with concentrated study. If you can learn biochemistry or differential equations or art history in a block, you get the idea that you can progress fast, day by day in a new job.
Lesson #6 is that most jobs come from intensity, study, flexibility, attitude. You shouldn't decide your career now, but you need to develop a curiosity about business, government, science, foreign countries, all the places in the world where jobs come from.
One of my most useful courses at CC was taught by TK Barton. I've forgotten the subject and the facts of the course, something about history, but TK was famous for making students write papers every day and then correcting their writing. He taught people to write in the active voice and to use short sentences.
Lesson #7 is that writing and communications skills are critical to your career success. As I hire economists, the hardest skill to find is clear writing. Whatever your subject, you should learn to read carefully, listen well, and write clearly. Those are the key career skills, and they can be had at Cc. I've been at Bear Stearns for 14 years now. At the core of my success, I think, is the combination of trying to figure things out - the way I did in CC physics classes - and then writing about it as clearly as I can - the way I learned in writing classes - and then presenting it orally.
I have two more lessons to share.
I've had the good fortune to travel far and wide. It started at CC with a block break trip to hike in the Maria del Cobres mountains in Mexico. My Russian professor here, Marianma Soudakoff, pushed me hard, which I value now more than I did then. In 1975, she helped me arrange an 8-week study trip through eastern Europe and Russia, which CC helped fund as one of its Venture Grants. In various jobs and free time, I've been able to study several languages and visit many countries.
Lesson #8 is to learn languages, do something outside the U.S. It was fun, mentally challenging, it helped my career. And it's given me a better appreciation and pride for our wonderful country.
In the few years since I left CC, people have invented laptops, spreadsheets, graphics, the internet, biotech. Music and art have transformed. The Berlin Wall fell. Wall Street saw the introduction of securitization, high yield bonds, ADRs and I shares. Asia has had two growth miracles, pulling people out of poverty and rapidly expanding their participation in the world economy.
Lesson #9 is to invent and create. That's the highest challenge for you. I wish I'd made a bigger contribution. Maybe I still can. You should set your sights high. Plan to be part of major world changes. We know many will happen each decade. Be part of it.
It's been a pleasure to be back at CC today, to see myoid friend Kat Johnston Tudor honored with me for her contributions in changing Colorado Springs. It's an honor to be here today with Brian Inquist who is causing change in the sciences. I hope some of these thoughts have been interesting. I think you got the message - make use of CC, be flexible, learn to write well and think broadly. Value the experiences of others. Try to invent and create. Enjoy your many experiences here.