Conor and Auckland

In the world of business, finance is a universal language. Recent CU Denver Business School graduate Conor Steffey, decided to try his hand at speaking it halfway across the world.

For most people, the idea of moving can daunting, especially when your new home is located half a world away. But for Conor Steffey, a recent MS in Finance graduate holding a Certificate in Commodities, the choice to pursue a commodities career in New Zealand was an easy one to make.

When first deciding on which graduate program to attend, Steffey recalled that it was CU Denver’s commodities specialization that really set it apart from other institutions. Even more appealing was the flexibility in career choice from obtaining an MS in Finance afforded graduates. Steffey said that the CU Denver Business School prepared him well for his current position in New Zealand with the firm Fonterra, the largest exporter of dairy products in the world. “My time at the J.P. Morgan Center for Commodities prepared me for a career in commodities by exposing me to many different aspects of commodity related industries.  When I started the program, I thought I had a relatively good idea of what I wanted but after taking all the required courses, I realized just how much I had learned and how valuable the knowledge and experiences I gained through the JPMCC were to my career.”

During his time at the Business School, Steffey received an opportunity from the JPMCC to travel to Toronto and attend the International Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada Conference (PDAC) in March 2016. The conference is one of the premier commodity conferences in the world with over 22,000 attendees from over 100 different countries. Steffey stated that the conference helped him narrow down his preferred career choices in the commodities industry. He said, “By having these opportunities [like the conference], students are able to gain experience and knowledge in areas that are not accessible by other universities.”

Additionally, the international bent of the school itself piqued Steffey’s interest in a career outside of the U.S., “While I was a student, I was introduced to a diverse set of industry professionals, fellow students, and professors from many different cultures and backgrounds. The diversity helped to expose me to different ways of thinking and helped me to develop an international mindset.”

Specific commodities classes affected Steffey during his time at the business school, developing, challenging, and in some cases changing, his previously held perceptions:

Through ‘Foundations of Commodities’, I was able to hear from a number of commodity related professionals to develop a better understanding of what sort of career I wanted to pursue. Also, by taking “Commodity Supply Chain Analysis,” I was able to gain a better understanding of how commodity consumers and producers interact and what role I could potentially have in working for a commodity consumer. For me, the “Trading in Commodities and Financial Markets” course allowed be to gain insight as to how hedge funds, private equity, and investment managers use commodities in their investment strategies/portfolios. This was perhaps one of the more valuable courses for me, because it convinced me that there is a lot of opportunity in trading commodities and that there is an infinite number of ways that one can make money by trading commodities. Most finance courses preach the efficient market hypotheses, however Professor Gavan Duemke proved to everyone that the market is not completely efficient and that there is still opportunity to be had. This paradigm shift gave me all the motivation and determination I needed to pursue a career in commodities.”

And pursue a career in commodities he did. After learning of Fonterra through a global dairy markets presentation by Bruce Turner, one of the JPMCC’s Advisory Board Members and the Director of Central Portfolio Management at Fonterra, Steffey jumped at the chance to intern with the company, applying as soon as he was notified of the opportunity. It was through this internship that Fonterra offered Steffey a full-time position at their location in New Zealand as a trading analyst. Needless to say, he accepted.

Now living and working in the Southern Hemisphere, pursuing his passion in commodity-related trade, Steffey had this piece of advice to offer to students interested in a similar path, “Apply yourself. Many of my fellow students did not apply for some of the opportunities that presented themselves at the JPMCC simply because they did not think they could achieve them. Expose yourself to as many new things as possible, join every club you can find, and pursue every opportunity you can–you never know what doors these experiences will open in the future.”

The J.P. Morgan Center for Commodities (JPMCC) at the University of Colorado Denver Business School focuses on a broad range of commodities, including agriculture, energy, and mining. Established in 2012, this innovative center provides educational programs and research in commodities markets, regulation, trading, financial fundamentals, investing, risk management, and ethics.

Feature Photo by Bernard Spragg

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