Originally posted by Scott A.E. Smith.
For our latest blog, we caught up with Blake Jeffrey, who’s currently on his Corporate Residency with Northstar Trade Finance in Toronto. He will be going on exchange to the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark along with fellow Class of 2013 students Sean Sinclair, Chelsea Mazur, and Afif Nassif this coming September!
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Blake. How have you come to be the person you are today?
I know this is the “cliché” thing to say, but I’ve honestly developed to be the person I am today as a result of a supportive family and great friends. My parents are both extremely hard-working and instilled this quality, along with discipline, from an early age. I grew up in Orangeville, Ontario (my parents are now in London) with a very tight-knit crew of friends. Being a smaller town, we all went to school together and played on the same competitive hockey and lacrosse teams. I have learned a lot from these guys about loyalty and these are the individuals that were a big part of shaping who I am.
I’ve always been one to accept challenge and change head on. I’ve held some rather interesting summer job roles over the years. When I was 18, I spent a summer working as a cheese-maker in a goat cheese factory. Although this wasn’t a “business” role, it was hard, grueling work with long hours and it taught me to appreciate the opportunities I had had to that point in my life. When choosing where to do my undergrad I did a trip to the east coast and immediately fell in love with Acadia. It was a long way from home for any 18-year-old, but it was the best decision of my life to this point. I met some great friends there from all over the country. I was also able to continue my athletics, playing for the Acadia men’s lacrosse team for 4 years, captaining and serving as President for my final 2 years. This is where I was able to develop my leadership style and, most importantly, learn how to effectively get the best out of my teammates and, in that case, friends/peers.
Let’s get this question out of the way early so we can quote you on it later; who will be in the Stanley Cup finals, and who will take home the greatest trophy in all of sports?
Tough question! The playoffs have started out with quite a few surprises. Originally I would have said the Penguins or Rangers but both teams are in trouble/knocked out at this point. I think I’ll have to go with the L.A. Kings, although I figure many of the other hockey fanatics in the class will disagree (Tomas Stryncl, Lyndon Bentley, Scott Smith and crew). I’ve got the Rangers in my pool so I guess I need to root for them.
Okay, so on to the real business. What brought you to Dalhousie? Did you consider any other grad schools, and if so, why did you select the Corporate Residency MBA?
I did consider other schools throughout the application process and had my choice of a few. Ultimately I chose Dal because of the Corporate Residency element, which is unmatched by any other program in the country. Most other MBA programs with a co-op element have 4-month work terms. Here at Dal, we are fortunate to have an 8-month work term in which we can really get our feet wet and add significant value to the organizations employing us. Also, the organizations that are partners of the program provide us with great opportunities to not only gain that 8-month work experience but gain a vision of where we want to see our careers proceed after we graduate.
The fact that I was familiar with and comfortable in Halifax also played a significant role. I went to Acadia for my undergrad so I was in Halifax often for lacrosse as well as a night on the town here or there. It’s a great city and one that has a lot to offer for young professionals. Nothing beats brunch on the Murphy’s patio on the harbour when the weather is nice or a Thursday night at the Seahorse.
For your residency, you’re a credit risk analyst at NorthStar Trade Finance. What does this role entail?
My experience at Northstar has been all I could have asked for thus far. From the first day I was there I was given a lot of responsibility and was thrown to the wolves in a sense, but I’d have it no other way. It’s hands-on learning and I get to work directly with the Chief Credit Officer of Northstar, Milton Spidla. As an analyst, my role is to evaluate the creditworthiness of the foreign buyers/clients, i.e. their ability to repay the credits as agreed. I analyze each individual company by its generated cash flows as well as current and projected profitability. After the initial analysis and recommendation is made, I work with the Business Development team to construct a report that gets sent directly to the export agency for approval. The deals typically range from $1-$10 million USD, so the reports need to be very thorough and concise. A typical report will include the financial statement analysis, forecasted statements (3-5) years, as well as an evaluation of the market, industry and foreign exchange (FX) risk.
The unique thing about Northstar is the international exposure that I get. The companies I analyze are typically from South America and Asia, as well as Russia and Europe. The annual financial reports I analyze are in Spanish or Portuguese, which is a challenge, but I literally learn something new every day, which I love. I have been taking Spanish lessons for the past few months.
I’ve heard that the residency at NorthStar has provided excellent one-on-one mentorship from high-level executives in the past. Tell us about your experience with Chief Credit Officer Milton Spidla and how this has benefited your professional development?
Working directly with Milton has benefited me immensely so far. He has so much experience and has worked all over the globe. The day-to-day interaction with him is the largest benefit. He is a true gentleman and has a leadership style I’d like to emulate. He treats everyone with so much respect and it’s obvious that my co-workers enjoy working with him as much as I do. It doesn’t matter what question I bring forward, he is willing to provide as much knowledge as possible. He usually spends the final 30 minutes of a day in one-on-one time with me, going over previous deals and events happening overseas. One thing he stresses is the importance of horizontal knowledge (awareness of the world economy). This is something I have definitely taken to heart and it was one of the main factors in my decision to apply for the 4-month exchange at the Copenhagen Business School.
What does the near future look like for you, Blake?
Well, I have an another 4 months to go at Northstar. I am looking forward to gaining greater responsibility throughout the final half of my residency as well as continuing my Spanish lessons. I am really enjoying my time at Northstar and I will be sad to leave come the end of August. The Rogers Centre is a few minutes from the condo Sean Sinclair and I share, so I imagine I’ll be at my fair share of Blue Jays games. I was also fortunate enough to get accepted into the Copenhagen Business School exchange along with Sean Sinclair, Chelsea Mazur and Afif Nassif. This is a great group of people and I know we will all benefit from the experience and represent Dal very well. After returning from Copenhagen in December, it’s back out east in January to finish up with the rest of our great cohort. All in all, it’s the best of both worlds.
You can follow Blake on Twitter @B_Jeffreyy or find him on LinkedIn by searching for Blake Jeffrey.