University of Southern California

Justin Saks
Title
Investing in the Future
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Graduating Year
2009
Hometown
South Africa

Growing up in South Africa and moving at age 13 halfway around the world to Orange County, California, gave Justin Saks a global perspective early in life – and one that he sought to continue through his choice of college.

“One of the reasons I joined USC was the network, and specifically that it’s an international network,” says Mr. Saks, who traveled to Taiwan and Vietnam through Marshall’s International Experiential Corporate Learning (I-ExCEL) program and to Mexico as part of Carl Voigt’s Global Strategy class. “In Taiwan, we by chance ran into the now dean of the school, who was there on a recruiting trip. It’s phenomenal that USC has had the ability to expand its network that far out.” He notes that during visits with executives at foreign companies, they primarily met with Marshall alumni, all of whom were willing to give back to current students. “The Trojan family certainly lives up to its name,” he says.

As a member of the Marshall Case Team, he competed in Hong Kong, Copenhagen and Texas, as well as at the Marshall International Case Competition, the world’s largest. “The case team was without a doubt the most valuable program I participated in at Marshall,” says Mr. Saks, who served as the team’s president his senior year and was president of his professional business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, his junior year. “You’re competing against the best and the brightest from the most prestigious business schools in the world. You really have to put your best foot forward.” During the 2008-2009 academic year, Marshall won three first-place trophies, including one earned by Mr. Saks’ team in Copenhagen. “No school had ever won three major competitions in one year,” he notes.

He is carrying that spirit of competition into his choice of career. After internships with Merrill Lynch, Johnson & Johnson, Bear Stearns and Regal Capital Advisors, he is joining Merrill Lynch’s investment banking division in San Francisco. “Investment banking teaches you how to operate in a high-pressure, dynamic environment,” he says. “That’s why I chose it. You’re working with some of the most talented and forward-looking people in a very fast-paced environment. And I think at the end of the day, it puts you in the position to learn the most. You could potentially be working on something that has a significant impact on society, such as two companies merging or taking an extremely large company public, to name just a couple of examples.”

Although he was interested in the field earlier on, one of his favorite classes – Financial Valuation with Professor Julia Plotts – ignited his passion for investment banking. “What’s great about that class is she speaks from experience, so she presents both the theoretical aspects and the more practical perspective,” explains Mr. Saks, who served as her teaching assistant his senior year.

“I think it’s hard for anyone who’s 21 or 22 to tell you what they want to do the rest of their life,” he says. “At this point, I’m really just trying to get as much experience as possible and really want to immerse myself within the finance world.” One thing he is certain of, though, is expanding his global perspective. “I definitely plan on living abroad at some point,” he says. “One of my passions remains learning about other cultures and about business in other cultures.”