MyStory: From Lehman Brothers To Hockey

Ari Segal

Combining a love of sports and a background in investment banking, Segal describes himself as “bullish hockey.”

Stanford JD/MBA Ari Segal took the “safe route” early on. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 2005, moved to Wall Street with the two-year analyst program at Lehman Brothers, and later became an associate at CCMP Capital. Then, he had a major wake-up call: A childhood friend died in a car accident.

Segal’s friend had done exactly the opposite. “He traveled the world, he played soccer in a bunch of different countries, and through the course of his travels, he realized he had this passion for cooking and was in the process of trying to become a chef,” Segal recalls. “I looked at his life, and I looked at mine, and I said, ‘You know, if, God forbid, something happened to me tomorrow, and I had a chance to reflect on the last five years, would I be satisfied with the choices I made? The answer was, ‘Not really.’”

Since then, Segal has changed the trajectory of his career from Wall Street to his personal passion: sports, particularly hockey. He also completed Stanford’s JD/MBA program in December 2013. His classes, consulting projects, and a 14-month internship with the Anaheim Ducks hockey team confirmed his new career focus.

After graduation, Segal will join McKinsey, where he completed his summer internship. At the consulting firm, Segal will concentrate “a good part of my work in the sports practice there” and on maintaining his consulting affiliation with the New York Islander hockey team. He’s in it for the long haul. “Most people, in my experience, tend to focus a lot—particularly on the MBA side—on, ‘What is my first job after school?’” he says. “It seems so important. Everybody is kind of valued among their peers and by the career management center on the basis of what that first job is. I was instead kind of focused on, ‘Where am I 10 years from now?’”

Still, following his passion hasn’t come without pitfalls. Segal spells out his situation: Tuition at Stanford is about $85,000 a year; he’s been there for more than three years, and his wife did her MBA at Stanford, too. “Yeah, we have a big hill to climb,” he says. But it doesn’t sound like the prospect of paying it off is weighing him down. “There’s no question that it’s a big deal,” he admits. “But for me, someone who wanted to go into the experience with the goal of opening doors—well, if you close doors de facto because of the debt, then aren’t you kind of back where you started?”

My Story 

I always knew that I wanted to do something in sports. How did I know that? Every day when I wake up, the first thing I do is go on ESPN.com, and the last thing I do before I go to bed is go on ESPN.com—and frankly, not that much changes between 8:00 a.m and 12:00 a.m.

I started my career off on Wall Street, though. I went to the University of Virginia, and when I reached the end of college, I felt burnt out of school. I was looking for a new challenge. A bunch of my friends had interned on Wall Street the summer before our last year; I quickly figured out that the two-year analyst program at Lehman Brothers was a really great fit for someone like me—someone who didn’t have any real background in finance, accounting, or, frankly, business generally. I figured that if I put a lot into it, I would come out with a solid initial grasp of a lot of those concepts, and that it would be nothing but door-opening.

As promised, predicted, and hoped, the Lehman Brothers program did open doors. 2005 to 2007 was a really exciting time to be doing leveraged buyout banking. Credit was really cheap, and the economy was—at least in the beginning—growing very rapidly. I was given a lot of responsibility really quickly. It was kind of just an all-hands-on-deck environment.

Still, it was a mixed bag. You get caught in a vicious cycle where the more effective you are, the more people want you to work on their projects, and the more work and responsibility you get. At some point, it becomes too much to handle effectively, and so you’re constantly burdened, and burdened, and burdened, and the bar keeps getting raised. About halfway through my banking program, I met the girl who’s now my wife, and as my priorities shifted, the lifestyle became less appealing.

But it wasn’t just the hours. It was also the idea that when you enter one of these two-year programs, the default assumption on both sides is that you leave after two years, because the vast majority of people do. As a result, they have less of an incentive to invest in you. I did go in a different direction after my two years were up—I became an associate at CCMP Capital—but I’ve maintained a tremendous number of relationships with people at Lehman Brothers.

During my time on Wall Street, I never thought about going to law school instead of business school. Initially, I was just applying to MBA programs. I came from this very traditional liberal artsy background, and I’d acquired a bunch of different layers of understanding about business through a trial-by-fire process. But this was a very in-the-weeds experience. I wanted the space to understand all the academic fundamentals.

Still, all corporate transactions take place under a legal umbrella, and I began to see that the lawyers were able to come in and add value at a time where, in many cases, the finance people’s understanding stopped. As I went through the early stages of my career, I began to put more and more of a premium on the legal skillset. I decided that even if I’m not the person who’s practicing law directly, I’d still like to have a little bit of a perspective and understanding about what that person’s bringing to the table.

While looking at Kellogg, I found out about Northwestern’s three-year JD/MBA program. I applied, got in, and wound up having to choose between the JD/MBA at Northwestern and the MBA at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB). I made the riskier decision: I committed to GSB and decided to apply to Stanford Law School (SLS) while I was there.