Five months ago, Gretchen Tonnesen was carrying the ball, analyzing defenses, and leading her teammates as a flying halfback and captain on Princeton University's women's rugby team. And she was doing it all on a wobbly knee, following six months of rehabilitation after a painful injury. Today, her team is JPMorgan Chase & Co., where she's equally busy scrutinizing technology, media, and telecommunications companies for the investment bank.
Tonnesen, who majored in religion, was chosen not so much for her academic interests as for her proven passion for rugby. Recruiters are noticing that college athletes have a slew of qualities that not only lead to business success but are also often lacking in new recruits: leadership, competitiveness, and an almost obsessive focus on goals. Such employees can have the drive and stamina that make them near-perfect matches for the 80-hour high-pressure workweeks of many Wall Street jobs. "I love the work," says Tonnesen. "I love the fast-paced atmosphere."
Tonnesen is one of many young professionals who have come to Wall Street by way of the Alumni Athlete Network, founded by former Harvard University basketball captain Ronald P. Mitchell. Each year the program whittles roughly 500 applications from college athletes down to 150 interview candidates, of which about 45 are placed in internships at banks such as Citigroup (C), Goldman Sachs (GS), and Merrill Lynch (MER), among others. The best part: A remarkable 87% of the interns, like Tonnesen, go on to land full-time jobs on the Street.
Scott Harrington, managing director at JPMorgan and sponsor for the Alumni Athlete Network, believes the program is a great opportunity for the firm to hire talent that is both driven and diverse. Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits educational discrimination based on gender, may be responsible for some of that mix. In fact, few talent pools are as diverse as those of student athletes. Says Harrington of the former jocks: "We have more breadth in recruiting than we ever had before."
When Mitchell created the network, he knew that student athletes like himself would make good matches for the intense environment. Team responsibility, time management, and dedication all go a long way in the industry, and student athletes have these virtues in spades. "There is a winner and a loser every day on the trading floor," he says. And the dumb-jock stereotype? Forget it. Students in the program have an average GPA of 3.6 and an average SAT score of 1320 -- that's 300 points higher than the national average.
By John DeBruicker