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Alumni Spotlight: Le Roy Davis

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Le Roy Davis

March 25, 2021

Meet Le Roy Davis (BS '90, MS '92), MS&E alumnus and Executive Vice President and Head of Commercial Banking Finance at Wells Fargo.

Prior to his time at Wells Fargo, he was a Managing Director and Global Head of Capital Markets (Treasury Division) at Citibank; and previous to that role he was a Managing Director (Treasury Division) at JPMorgan Chase. Le Roy graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering in 1990 and a Master’s degree in Engineering Economic Systems in 1992, two of three legacy departments that later merged to form MS&E.

“Fully embrace your aha moment!”

Why did you choose MS&E?

I chose MS&E primarily because it allowed me to marry my passion for finance, economics, decision analysis, statistics, and optimization within one program. I found that the program provides an analytical framework that allows you to make strong, well informed decisions even when perfect information isn't available. It was the intersection of all those things that caused me excitement, as I had finally found a major that really speaks to many of my intellectual passions.

Were there any other programs that you were considering at the same time?

When I came into the program, I also considered straight economics. But I found that the engineering route suited me better, because I enjoy the practical application of theories to problems to determine effective solutions. I also believed that engineering would provide the opportunity of becoming a patent attorney (my goal upon entering Stanford), assuming I also went to law school; and, if I chose not to go to law school, it would provide a well-established path to employment after graduation.

What does it mean to be an MS&E alum?

I am quite proud of being an MS&E alum, and I consider it to be one of my greatest accomplishments to date. The degree is well respected and the course work has served me well.

If you then alter the question to, "how did becoming an MS&E alum impact my life?," MS&E allowed me to explore my intense passion for the intersection of finance, economics, and quantitative analyses. This was the very framework that opened my eyes to Wall Street which, prior to that point in time, was not even remotely on my radar.

In fact, it was during the office hours of my E60 (Engineering-Economics) course, taught by Professor Sweeney, that created an aha moment for me! Prof. Sweeney posed the question: “Why don't you consider applying for a summer internship on Wall Street?" I agreed, and applied.

During my internship on Wall Street, it was the summer that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. I was sitting there on the trading floor and immediately seeing the markets react in monumental ways. If Saddam Hussein was perceived to have the advantage in the ongoing conflict with the US, one thing happened in the market (particularly to oil prices); and if Saddam Hussein appeared to be losing in the conflict, the opposite impact occurred within the market, and you could observe it instantaneously. I found that the analytical framework from MS&E positioned me to: 1) understand the dynamics and linkages of what was happening in the market, and 2) build a very general pricing model (rudimentary, nothing complex) that traders could then utilize to assess the relative value of similar financial instruments.

The MS&E program, combined with a Wall Street summer internship, transformed my professional ambitions beyond what I could have imagined when entering Stanford—thus creating my aha moment (at least professionally)!

Was there a particular class or professor that really stuck with you?

Yes, Professor Sweeney. Professor Sweeney went beyond simply teaching the coursework and challenging each student to continue to develop intellectually. He invested time, energy, and expertise so that we could grow personally. Professor Sweeney, to this day, is one of my seminal sponsors who I can go to for sage advice—priceless!

As for courses, there were many (in addition to E60) that were also quite valuable such as the "Economics of Natural Resources", ”Decision Analysis”, “Probability and Statistics”, and a Finance course (I forget the formal title). Each of these courses taught valuable theorems—from opportunity cost, to the value of perfect information in an uncertain environment, to understanding volatility and risk/reward trade-offs—that I still use to this day. In short, being able to quickly analyze and determine absolute probabilities as well as conditional probabilities, and then utilize this information to make rigorous and thoughtful decisions, is profoundly important. These core principles pretty much form the foundation of how I approach my career.

Can you tell me more about the work you're doing now?

Yes. I am currently the head of commercial banking finance at Wells Fargo, and up until recently, I was the head of global funding and collateral management there. I'll start with my prior position and then move into my current one. In my previous position, I was responsible for all of the wholesale funding activities that we do as a firm, including unsecured debt, preferred stock, CDs, securitizations, etc. In my current role, I partner with the CEO of our commercial banking business and our firm's CFO to drive financial results and operating efficiencies for our commercial banking division. It’s quite exciting, and I can say that the underpinnings of the MS&E program have definitely served me well and continue to serve me well throughout my career.

What inspires you most about the company you work for now?

What I enjoy most about Wells Fargo is the commitment to excellence and hard work, within a collegial culture. I enjoy partnering with colleagues in a high paced yet friendly environment while also equally holding one another accountable for excellence and continual improvement.

What advice would you give to a current MS&E student?

I would say it is to follow your passion and be open to opportunities that you may not have even considered when you started the program. Who knows? You may have your aha moment in a class, during office hours, while on the quad, running the dish, or participating in a study group, that you never expected! When I started the program, my plan was to study engineering as an undergrad, go to law school, then become a patent attorney. After my aha moment and internship on Wall Street, I found that being an executive within financial services suits me quite well. So, I would say just be open to pursue what you believe your passion is, but as you learn more and more, be open to all the different opportunities that Stanford and the MS&E program will afford you.

How did you feel trying something new that you had no previous experience or knowledge about?

It can be scary for sure! I was a first-generation college student at Stanford. I knew nothing about Wall Street or, for that matter, the professional world, period. I just knew that I was going to be a highly successful lawyer, at least that’s what I thought in the beginning of my time at Stanford. Carpe Diem! I moved to New York directly from Stanford and began a job working on Wall Street even though I was a West Coast kid, who had all of my familial foundation back West. It was scary! But, being open to something completely different, combined with following my passion, opened me up to opportunities beyond what I had imagined when entering Stanford. The range, scope, size, and complexity of transactions that I have been fortunate enough to participate in over my career, have been beyond what I ever imagined while at Stanford! My career also provided me with a global perspective as I worked and lived in NY (primarily) and London for a short stint, but I have negotiated transactions all across the globe in numerous currencies, with largely diverse counterparts, and with multiple legal formats and local customs. So, definitely be open to taking calculated risks; the courses you take in MS&E will allow you to weigh the pros and the cons appropriately.

Can you offer some words of wisdom for MS&E alumni and students interested in pursuing a career similar to your own?

If you're interested in the financial services industry, the first thing I would do is research the industry and the types of jobs. Make sure that it matches your core passion and your core strengths. The next thing would be to do research on the companies at the top of the game within the financial services industry. The third, which is critical and probably most important, is to get an internship at one of those firms. However, I mentioned those other two steps first because, to do well in your interview, you will have needed to have done the research on the industry and the company to stand out when you are being interviewed for the summer internship position.

When you pursued your internship at Stanford, how did you find it?

I visited the Stanford career center and they gave me an outline of all the various companies, opportunities, and salary ranges for recent Stanford graduates across those industries. I also was able to sign up for numerous interviews while at the Stanford Career center. Prior to the interviews and before I submitted a resume, I received immeasurable support from the Society of Black Scientists and Engineers on resume and interview preparation. The combination of research and preparation for the interviews, allowed me to perform well during the interviews. Though I work at Wells Fargo now, at that time, there were other companies coming, such as J.P. Morgan. I ended up interning at J.P. Morgan for a summer, and then ultimately received an offer for my first full time professional employment after finishing grad school. I worked at JP Morgan for 20yrs before joining Citi.

Can you expand on your experience being first-generation at Stanford?

As a first-generation college student, Stanford provided a supportive place of transition. Beyond the things that you learn intellectually that will help you throughout your career, Stanford also created a polish for me and a framework for addressing issues that might have been different from the framework I was taught growing up. I am grateful for my experiences at Ujamaa, the Black Community Services Center, Gospel Choir, ASSU (I was a Voting Senator), Big Game, Maples Pavilion, Green Library, and the numerous impromptu late-night discussions with students representing a broad spectrum of ideas. One of the things that I found to be transformative beyond the intellectual components was the cultural aspect that Stanford teaches you. One of the things that I would describe that I learned at Stanford was demanding a high degree of excellence from yourself and others and allowing a certain amount of grace to others and yourself. By applying that framework, while also not taking yourself too seriously, you are destined for success and happiness. Having that framework when I entered the workforce on Wall Street, which again was a completely different environment from the environment I grew up in, allowed me to have peace in a completely unfamiliar environment. In time, I learned how to be myself, my true authentic self, and be comfortable even within Wall Street's confines, which couldn't be any more diametrically opposed to the environment in which I grew up.

Anything else you would like to share?

You are at an absolutely wonderful place with a huge amount of resources and a wonderful program in which you are privileged to have the opportunity to partake. Make the absolute most of your time while you're there, and then be open to THINK BIG, SHOOT FOR THE MOON, and GO FOR IT WITH ALL THAT YOU HAVE!

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