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NIU Today | NIU College of Business CFA student team wins global finance competition

6,400 students, 1,100 universities, 91 countries

Few can claim the title Champions of the World. But Paula Veyhle, Nicholas Stone and Nolan O’Rear achieved that right while they were NIU College of Business Department of Finance students. And they did so, soaring to epic heights, all while keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground.

During spring 2022, the three competed as a team in a prestigious two-semester-long global industry event, the Charter Financial Analyst (CFA) Research Challenge. CFA Institute, host of the competition, describes the event as such:

The CFA Institute is a worldwide network of CFA Institute member societies that lead the investment profession globally by promoting the highest standards of ethics, education and professional excellence for the ultimate benefit of society. Local CFA® Societies work with universities to assemble teams of three to five undergraduate and/or graduate students. Teams research and analyze a designated publicly traded company; Prepare a written report on that company that supports a buy, sell or hold recommendation; receive advice and support from a faculty advisor and an industry mentor; and present and defend their findings to a panel of industry experts.

This year, participants included more than 6,400 students, 1,100 universities and 91 countries. All of which represent the highest participation ever in the 16 years of the challenge. The competition was staggered at the local, subregional, regional and global level in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa regions. In the Global Final, only one team emerged as world champion.

2022 CFA Research Challenge World Champions (left to right, seated outside the NIU College of Business): Nicholas Stone, Paula Veyhle, Nick O’Rear.

Which means that Veyhle, Stone and O’Rear competed in – and won – each stage of a multi-level event: local, subregional, regional semi-finals, regional finals and global. While confident in their abilities, the trio remained aware of the depths associated with the overall challenge. Even during the competition, O’Rear knew the event would be career transforming and described it as the ultimate “capstone of my education.” Stone regards the experience as singly “the most intense and exciting” of his academic journey thus far. Veyhle, an international student native to Germany, called the experience “extremely valuable” in the enhancement of many aspects required for success.

To advance beyond the first round, the team beat out 12 teams from five other local universities before competing in the next series of rounds. Consider that their road to victory also included defeating well-branded institutions with a reputation the world over as among the best in the field of finance. Consider also that now NIU is solidly a member of that esteemed group.

“I am beyond thrilled that our NIU College of Business CFA research team is the 2022 world champion. We began this journey over five years back with the goal of winning it all. To see this become a reality is a point of great pride for all of us. This is NIU’s first-ever win in this prestigious competition,” said NIU College of Business Dean Balaji Rajagopalan. “Few students have I met in my career that can match Paula, Nick and Nolan’s talent, hard work and determination to succeed. They personify the NIU Huskie spirit. They were undaunted by a competitive field in the thousands from public, private and ivy league institutions around the world. All along this incredible journey they were inspired and supported by their outstanding faculty coach Gina Nicolosi. There’s no question that she instills the ‘can do the impossible’ mindset in them. I am proud of the team.”

The trio began their team activities in earnest in fall 2021, as did their competition. Their initial activities included researching, drafting and publishing a professional valuation report of a locally headquartered, publicly traded company. Motorola Solutions served as this year’s Chicago-area firm. After submitting their 20-page research report, the team prepared a slide deck, based on an updated valuation they conducted, then presented and defended their updated findings and reasoning to a panel of CFA judges. For each subsequent round, they conducted an updated valuation and revised their slide deck, presentation script and anticipated Q&A responses. Along the way they received feedback from the Department of Finance Chair Gina Nicolosi who served as the team’s faculty advisor, as well as from Crowe Corporate Development Manager Ian Long, CFA and 2014 finance alumnus, who served as the team’s industry mentor.

2022 CFA Research World Champions with their NIU faculty advisor (left to right): Nick O’Rear, Department of Finance Chair and faculty advisor Gina Nicolosi, Paula Veyhle, Nicholas Stone.

“As their faculty advisor, their professor and their friend, I couldn’t be prouder,” said Nicolosi. “There is just something about these three. I think we all had this feeling from the get-go that this was a possibility; we just didn’t want to voice the thought aloud. Their drive, intelligence, passion and poise are strikingly apparent as soon as you begin interacting with them. I have never coached a team that displayed this level of initiative, all while maintaining such a positive and congenial spirit. I am so honored to have been part of this journey with them and have no doubt that their future holds even bigger and brighter accomplishments.”

The team’s industry advisor Ian Long, a CFA Charterholder and corporate development manager at Crowe LLP, agreed wholeheartedly. Indeed, his Passion for and first-hand knowledge of the demands of this challenge extends well beyond this year’s effort. During his undergraduate years in the NIU finance program, he served as one of a handful of high-performing finance team members in the finance department’s Student Managed Portfolio course, which charges students with the responsibility of managing actual investments made by the NIU Foundation. He also directly faced the CFA Research Challenge himself, along with two other team members, under the guidance of former NIU Professor of Finance Gerry Jensen.

Speaking from first-hand experience, Long said, “The CFA research challenge gives students access to key company stakeholders and professional equity researchers, and allows them to really explore the nuances of a deep dive sell-side analysis. This team proved they understand the complex cornerstones of developing, articulating and defending an investment thesis. Nick, Nolan, and Paula were thoughtful and strategic with their presentation, always staying a step ahead of the judges. This kind of success doesn’t happen overnight. It was a direct result of their focus and perseverance. I’m extremely honored to have worked with these talented individuals. They, along with Professor Nicolosi, deserve all the credit in the world.”

“We at CFA Society Chicago congratulate the NIU Team on their amazing achievement,” said Deborah Koch, CFA, member of the CFA Society Chicago Research Challenge Committee. “This is Chicago’s first Global Research Challenge Champion and we could not be more proud! We would also like to thank our featured company Motorola Solutions and all of our dedicated CFA volunteers who have made this competition a success over the years.”

The first place finish by the NIU team marks CFA Society Chicago’s first global win and is the first time a team from CFA Society Chicago returned to the Global Finals since 2012. The final five teams competing in the Global Final were IE Business School (CFA Society) Spain), Northern Illinois University College of Business (CFA Society Chicago), Polytechnic University of Milan (CFA Society Italy), University of British Columbia (CFA Society Okanagan, CFA Society Vancouver, and CFA Society Victoria), and University of Sydney (CFA) Society Sydney).

Few doubt how remarkable it is to be a global champion in a multi-stage, nearly year-long event that attracts thousands of outstanding students from every corner of the world. It’s entirely astounding to do so while simultaneously rigorous academic programs.

Indeed, the degree areas from which the three students graduated in May 2022 include the Bachelor of Science in accountancy, the Bachelor of Science in finance, and the Master of Science in finance. Yet, their academic tenure extends to several areas in the college. Stone completed his Bachelor of Science in finance in December 2021, his Master of Science in finance in May 2022 and is on track to complete his Master of Science in data analytics in December 2022. Veyhle completed her Bachelor of Science in management in May 2021 and her Master of Science in finance in May 2022, at which time she was on track to an unheard-of perfect GPA in the graduate program. O’Rear completed his double-major Bachelor of Science in accountancy and Bachelor of Science in finance in May 2022.

True to form, Stone, O’Rear and Veyhle also managed to keep calm and carry on after learning they were CFA Research Analyst Global Champions a few handfuls of hours before they walked across the stage for their diplomas at NIU’s spring 2022 commencement ceremonies.

Perhaps Veyhle best encapsulates her takeaway and that of her teammates Stone and O’Rear on the impact of what they experienced and achieved when she said, “The global CFA Institute Research Challenge has been an extremely valuable experiential learning opportunity encompassing many important aspects that it takes to be successful in the future: analytical, financial, and strategic knowledge, presentation skills, as well as dedicated teamwork. I am proud to have represented NIU with such an amazing team and I am certain that this competition marks a milestone and shapes each of our careers in very special ways.”

Stone, O’Rear and Veyhle: Champions of the World. But even more — Masters of their Future.

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