Stephen Toy '94 Speaks to UAlbany School of Business Class of 2017

Stephen Toy '94, Senior Managing Director and Co-Leader at WL Ross & Co Speaks to the UAlbany School of Business Class of 2017 

Thank you Dean Shawky. Good afternoon. Class of 2017, friends, family and faculty. Congratulations to you all. It is truly an honor to be here with you today.

In 1994, I was in your exact same shoes. Except back then, the concept of cutting the cord meant losing access to more than just the current season of Game of Thrones.

When I was asked by the University to give some commencement remarks, I immediately thought of a phrase that my wife often uses to describe parenting, which is “the days are long but the years are short”. Even after 23 years, I remember very well my own commencement day and the stage in my life that it represented. It was a day of excitement with sense of achievement, but also a time of uncertainty and insecurity. The world was no longer going to be prescriptive and the path forward would no longer be well-defined.

In reflecting upon my own path since that day, I would like to recall a progression of events that in hindsight were important elements in determining its course. So I’d like to focus on 3 chapters from the early, formative stages of my career that provided some key realities learned.

Chapter one: The future is unwritten

Some of you may recognize this as a quote from one of my favorite bands, The Clash. Your future IS unwritten, and I would add to that, your past will continually be rewritten. You are at a point right now where the possibilities are endless.

Some of you, may think you have it all figured out. While others may think, they don’t have any of it figured out. For me, I had my entire plan in place. During my time here, I had specifically targeted the municipal finance industry. And in my senior year, I landed the analyst position that I had wanted. After graduation and about a year on the job, I realized….I hated it. I excelled at it…but I hated it. I had no passion for it. And, I lacked any intellectual curiosity for it.

At the time, that was tough. My plan, everything I had worked for….poof. How could I have gotten it so wrong? But as history would rewrite, this was one of the best things that could have happened.

Everybody makes mistakes. Everyone has failures. Everyone has setbacks. Not just in business but also in life, in general. Being able to recognize them. How you deal with them. What you learn from them, is what will make you successful.

I know people who used to be traders that are now farmers. An engineer turned entrepreneur. A school teacher turned real estate executive. All in their own way great success stories. None of who got it right, out of the box. Douglas Adams wrote: “I may not have gone where I intended to go but I ended up where I needed to be.”

For me, I decided to finish up my two year program, head back to school and come up with a new plan.

Chapter two: Sometimes you seemingly get lucky

After accepting to attend the University of Michigan for my MBA, I was asked by my boss to meet with our now current US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. I initially declined the meeting. My plans were already set and I didn’t want to waste his time, or frankly my own.

After a lot of insistence, I was ultimately convinced to take the meeting, offered a position and signed on. The position was another analyst job, this time in the M&A and corporate restructuring department of Rothschild. At the time, I didn’t even know what a corporate restructuring was. So it obviously seemed like a perfect fit. Strangely enough, it was.

My friends used to ask what I thought I’d be doing had I gone instead to Michigan, as I had planned. I never had a good answer for that, and would just chalk it up to luck.

Years later I would run into my former boss and asked him: “why were you so insistent that I take that meeting when you knew I had already committed to return to school.” He in fact had written one of my letters of recommendation. His response was quite simple: “because you had earned it”. And so as Thomas Jefferson once remarked “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more of it I have.”

Which brings me to Chapter three: Hard work. As hokey as it sounds, you cannot shortcut hard work.

Each year my firm holds an Annual Meeting for our investors, and brings in a guest speaker to address our clients. One of my favorite speeches was from the author Malcolm Gladwell.

For those of you who have read the book Outliers, you are familiar with his notion around 10,000 hours. 10,000 hours of practice as a benchmark to hone ones craft and be an expert in a domain. He spoke to our investors about the different pathways people took to become world-class in their trade. Such as a young Bill Gates, who would break into a computer lab every night, in order to pull all nighters writing code. Or the early Beatles, who played in strip clubs in Hamburg, Germany in order to get copious amounts stage time. Neither knowing at the time how much they would ultimately achieve.

I don’t know if there is any true magic to 10,000 hours, but I do think it effectively highlights that becoming accomplished in any field, requires a tremendous amount of effort, exerted over an extended period of time.

One thing about Wall St. analyst programs is they tend to be really demanding both physically and mentally. When the second of my programs was completed in 1998, the Asian Economic Crisis was just hitting its peak. There was a growing concern that contagion could lead to a global recession.

Our group was awarded a hugely complicated mandate halfway around the world that nobody wanted to touch. It was too big, too messy and in a strange place. I raised my hand, packed a bag and booked a one-way plane ticket. This, would be my strip club! Or computer lab, perhaps.

I saw it as an opportunity to go from being the 5th person on a deal team, to being the entire deal team.

I lived in a hotel for six months, and when I could no longer stomach walking past the same reception desk every day, I rented an apartment for an additional 18. Two years in total to complete deal.

So when I think about my own 10,000 hours and how I went about honing my craft, I think about both of my 2 analyst programs, including the failed one, and my 2 years overseas. That period of time built the foundation for my career and helped shape my professional life. Upon my return from Asia in 2000, I was asked to help establish WL Ross & Co. and the rest as they say is history.

Steve Jobs once famously said that you cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So if I look backwards through the chapters of my own experience and the realities learned, I guess my advice to you would be:
• To work hard;
• So that you can get lucky;
• In order to write your future, the way you want it to be written.

Congratulations again. Thank you. And enjoy the big weekend.

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce Mr. Brandon Claye who will offer remarks on behalf of the senior class.”