2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Alexander Daifotis, University of Chicago (Booth)

Alexander Daifotis

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

Quant-turned-poet trying to create the future of asset management.”

Hometown: Westfield, NJ

Fun fact about yourself: I was known as “twinkle toes” on my collegiate ski racing team because a training accident led to severe frostbite. As a result, I met the doctor on the 1996 Krakauer expedition to Mt. Everest. Thankfully I got to keep all 10 of my toes!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Princeton University, B.S.E. in Computer Science, Summa Cum Laude

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Bridgewater Associates, Investment Associate, Westport, CT.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? PAAMCO Prisma (KKR Subsidiary), Irvine, CA.

Where will you be working after graduation? D. E. Shaw, Corporate Development Associate, New York, New York.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Co-Chair of Investment Management Group, Siebel Scholar, TA for Introduction to Investments

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I really enjoyed the opportunity to lead the investment management group at Booth. In comparison to other MBA career paths, IM can feel intimidating and tends to have a less active community. In addition to our normal training and programming, I was happy to support more social ties amongst our members and partner organizations through events like our hedge fund trek to New York, small group breakfasts, and alumni gatherings.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was lucky enough to be the lead researcher covering the Chinese Yuan and balance of payments during the China crisis in 2015-2016. I was able to make major contributions to Bridgewater’s FX trading algorithms and participate in the creation of client materials that went to several major policymakers and institutional investors.

What was your favorite MBA Course? Austin Goolsbee’s Platform Competition course was another favorite. It was a competitive strategy class focused on platform businesses like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, etc. It was a great course because it gave students general frameworks that can be used to analyze these businesses. Through case studies, it demonstrated how those economic principles were applied in practice. Given the economic power of these business models in the Internet age, his material is both fascinating and critically important to any business person. As an added bonus, Austin is also hilarious (listen to him on NPR!).

Why did you choose this business school? The fact that Chicago has always been a research-focused institution and has a culture centered on the pursuit of truth was a major draw for me. I went to get an MBA because I wanted to pursue a career in business, but I also wanted to take an approach to business that was more than just a series of anecdotes or hard to specify personalities and intuitions. In other words, I wanted a place where I could study how firms, markets, and organizations worked in a more fundamental sense. And to do that, you need an environment where people can ask hard questions and demand thorough answers. Booth has been great in this regard.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? When you have a sense for the path you would like the MBA to set you on, take the time to get to know a few students or alums from Booth that are doing what you want to do. They will be able to give you the best sense for the sort of people that succeed in those paths from Booth and what set Booth apart for them.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I had understood how asset management is growing increasingly specialized and the forces pushing investment firms to rapidly consolidate. Understanding this would have saved me some time figuring out exactly what I wanted to do in finance, namely, be more focused on management and less on the research function. That said, I view my Booth MBA as an indispensable platform for learning exactly this sort of thing. The combination of classes that gave me the frameworks for understanding what drives investment returns with the opportunity to connect with great firms like D. E. Shaw, Dimensional, PIMCO, and AQR was what allowed me to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Ashley Edwards, also a member of the class of 2019. I have never met anybody with the drive to succeed, commitment to excellence, and high level of professional competence that she has. Prior to the MBA, she was a banker at JP Morgan’s power and utilities group and a private equity associate at Victory Park Capital. After graduation, she will be joining Goldman Sachs’ private equity team. We worked together in several classes and her expertise and thoroughness were indispensable to our success.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Karen Karniol-Tambour was one of my first managers at Bridgewater and was a constant advocate for me during my time at the firm (as an intern and full-time). During my senior year at Princeton, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to enter finance and was contemplating both a Ph.D. and a career as a technologist. Karen believed in me more than I believed in myself at various points and made sure I was put in a position to succeed.

What is your favorite movie about business? I don’t watch many movies but I do read a lot of books. I’d say my favorite business book was Reminiscences of a Stock Operator. I liked it because it shows that even 100 years later, the way people interact with markets hasn’t changed a bit in many ways. The book follows the life of legendary trader Jess Livermore from bucket shops in the Midwest, to Wall St. riches, and back to being broke in the end.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? Steve Kaplan gave us the acronym OUTSX-CUPID which is meant to remind us of the relevant considerations to keep in mind for private equity investors when evaluating potential deals. I always thought it sounded a bit goofy, but in fairness to Professor Kaplan, it has been tremendously useful!

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…pursuing a Ph.D. in financial economics or computer science.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? Hard to say because I think much of what I value from my MBA isn’t financial. Studying computer science as an undergrad already gave me a skillset worth more than enough to satisfy my desire for money. Instead, I value most highly the chance to learn a lot from fantastic professors, travel around the world, and meet people I never otherwise would have had the chance to meet. And on the other side, I now get to work on problems I find meaningful with people I enjoy working with. That, to me, is the real prize. In this sense, it has been 100% worth it.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? I’ve always wanted to go skiing in Japan and I still haven’t had dinner at Alinea.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A great friend, helpful classmate, and a creative leader who has a good nose for where to look next.

Hobbies? I’ve loved to ski as long as I can remember. I’m also an unabashed Dead Head.

What made Alex such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Alex brought to Booth an impressive portfolio of professional and educational experiences, the learnings from which he shared generously with his classmates as a student leader and as a knowledgeable colleague. He jumped into Booth with the most rigorous curriculum possible – a Ph.D. class with a Nobel Laureate – and continued to push himself fully for two years. Without reservation, I consider Alex to be a rock star Booth graduate and look forward to his future success.”

Stacey Kole
Deputy Dean for MBA Programs

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