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How Yale SOM Taught Me to Use Finance for Good

Valentina Antill ’94, global head of cross-border and public sector solutions at Citigroup, says Yale SOM cultivated her fascination with complex financial instruments and her belief in “finance as a noble discipline.”

I came to Yale SOM from my native Croatia in the early 1990s, as an adolescent without meaningful business experience nor knowledge of capitalism’s basic institutions. Choosing Yale SOM was the best of all of the transformational decisions I have made in my life. I have thoroughly enjoyed my 27-year span in the development of new, often historic financial products and so live that famous adage about a person who loves her job and so does not have to work a day in her life. I owe this to Yale SOM.

My expertise is the design of solutions that help multinational and supranational clients protect themselves against the various financial risks of predominantly emerging markets. This in turn allows them to open businesses and pursue their endeavors in new parts of the world. The vast majority of these risk-management solutions use derivatives—sophisticated contracts rooted in stats and math. Yale SOM’s legendary financial faculty (whose names echo regularly on trading floors around the world) not only helped me absorb with ease this quant-y area of finance, but also triggered my fascination with derivatives and their unique, tremendous power in aiding financial endeavors everywhere. This fascination has not withered to this day.

Designing a solution that opens a new market or sources funding for safer highways or new schools lends special enthusiasm and pride to what I do. This concept of business and finance as “forces for good,” talked about profusely by many other business schools today, is something that  Yale SOM pioneered, even well before my days there in the early ’90s. Yale SOM’s longstanding expertise here is without par among academic institutions. I left SOM with belief in finance as a noble discipline, transcending politics and biases—which is what lends it its power and its beauty.

The keen personal attention I enjoyed as a student at Yale SOM—a unique luxury of a small school—was essential in turning this adolescent from a socialist country, ignorant of what a stock or a bond is, into a global expert in financial derivatives. I could not have dreamed back then of finding myself on the other side of the Yale SOM cathedra, speaking to students about the cutting-edge, dynamic world of financial derivatives (the largest market in the world today) and my experiences in promoting their role in advancing the human condition.