Working with the best
Two recent Northern Arizona University alumni went from taking classes in The W. A. Franke College of Business to working with Bill Franke himself. Through a prestigious internship, the 2013 graduates—Brett Baumgartner, who graduated with a degree in economics and Ryan Gravett, who graduated with degrees in finance and accountancy—made an impact at Indigo Partners LLC, a private equity firm that specializes in investments made in the air transportation industry.
The internship is designed to provide recent graduates with real world experience to help propel them into a top-tier MBA program. The internship also provides participants a glimpse at life beyond graduate school by putting them in the heart of a professional business environment. Allen Atkins, a professor of finance, says the internship is a rare opportunity for alumni as young as Gravett and Baumgartner.
“If you graduated with an MBA from one of the top schools in the country, this would be a dream job,” Atkins says. “But our recent undergraduates get this amazing, rare opportunity to get involved in the analysis of buying and selling large companies.”
Selecting the elite
Each year, Bill Franke asks professors in The W. A. Franke College of Business to introduce the internship to the college’s best business students. After the professors determine the best candidates for the internship, those names are passed onto the dean’s office and narrowed down even further. The remaining candidates are interviewed by executives at Indigo Partners, and the top two are selected.
Both Gravett and Baumgartner held several internships during their time at the university. Baumgartner gained experience in the financial sector by interning at Human Investing and Edward Jones, and Gravett was an investment analyst for Four Peaks Wealth Management, a firm run by some of his former professors, including Atkins.
“Gravett was the best finance student the year he was selected,” Atkins says. “If you're the best student, you pretty much absorbed everything and more.”
Atkins says the opportunity to work closely with airline investment prodigy Bill Franke is something usually only experts in the field have the chance to do.
"They're going to get to work with somebody who's done this for decades – and Bill Franke really has,” Atkins says. “You can read about things in books and try to understand what's going on, but it doesn't really compare to being there and seeing how people do things. It's real, hands-on experience that is incredibly rare to have, especially at such a young age.”
Making the most of opportunity
During the internship, Baumgartner was amazed at how much he learned and the amount of responsibility he was given. He says that Gravett and he saw tremendous personal strides over the course of the internship.
“I’m sure our recommendations have improved remarkably since the beginning,” Baumgartner says. “They helped us and they critiqued us, so by trial-and-error, our work drastically improved.”
This process required Baumgartner and Gravett to have the confidence to speak their mind and make decisions.
“All of the people at Indigo are so intelligent and good at what they do, and they’ve been doing it for a while, so it was intimidating when we had to speak up and give our input,” Baumgartner says. “It says a lot about their character; that they were willing to take the time to help us improve.”
Baumgartner and Gravett also travelled around the world to go to meetings with other airlines and investment companies.
They also got to know Franke both as a mentor and as a friend. Baumgartner says that Franke’s leadership and knowledge is inspirational, and is what made the internship so valuable.
“He is a captain in every sense of the word,” Baumgartner says. “He runs the firm and is very candid in doing so. He is one of the best leaders I have ever been around. He gets everyone to be as productive as they can and gets the most out of every single person. That in itself made this internship worthwhile— working with a leader of that caliber.”