An In-Depth Look at the Williams Investment Society
By R. Johnson Lykes
Since its charter was established in 1998, Washington and Lee’s Williams Investment Society (WIS) has played an integral role in educating students in equity investments by providing portfolio management experience to members before they graduate. Students outside of the C-School, however, may not know much about the inner-workings of the club. Operating with roughly $5 million in funding from the school endowment, WIS unquestionably occupies an important place on campus. Thus, this article aims to inform the student body of happenings within WIS, and how it manages its substantial resources.
For starters, the society acts as any other wealth management company, reporting directly to W&L’s Board of Trustees by keeping the Board updated on the state of WIS’s portfolio. Unlike traditional wealth management firms, WIS does not charge a percentage “off the top,” or seek any direct compensation. The society has achieved enormous success on-campus, growing a portion of school’s endowment to $2 million. These accomplishments prompted the Board to give an additional $3 million to WIS this past spring. The society’s Executive Director, Sarah Beth Hampton, explains that though the organization now operates with a substantial increase in funding, it will continue to follow its traditional portfolio management procedure: “The additional money has provided us greater flexibility in that we added several holdings in financial, technology and energy industries. But overall, the majority of the funding was allocated toward increasing our stock in existing holdings.” Furthermore, Hampton added that though WIS initially considered extending its investments into currencies and commodities, its members concluded that the society’s ultimate purpose – to educate members and other students on wealth management – is best achieved when its focus is narrow. Thus, WIS will primarily continue to manage equity securities.
With respect to the educational side, Hampton says she has “brought in teachers, given outside lectures on valuation, and implemented additional practices that have been focused primarily on learning, even though we’re still trying to make money.” It’s important to note that all of WIS’s meetings are open to the University community. While “industry” meetings may be most useful to non-members, students are always welcome to attend all activities.
The Williams Investment Society also encourages all students, especially underclassmen, who have an interest in joining the club to reach out to existing members and ask questions. When asked how she would instruct an underclassman, who may have doubts about his or her chances of acceptance into the society, Hampton replied, “I’d say you should definitely start coming to the meetings, specifically the industry meetings. Talk to people who are already in WIS. We’re having an informational session on October 28th, and a ‘women’s dinner’ on October 30th. We’ve added the women’s dinner because we want females who are interested in WIS to have the opportunity, in a non-confrontational setting, to ask questions and understand better what we do -- and to meet the female members of WIS.”
Hampton continues, “Talk to people who have done it, learn what their experiences have been like. Anyone is welcome to reach out to us and express interest. While it wouldn’t affect your chances of acceptance either way, we’d like to get to know you before you apply.” The 2014 application deadline for WIS is due by midnight on November 7th.