Growing up in Boise, Idaho, finance and marketing major Brian Thrasher says his childhood could simply be described as “safe.” Indeed, the city has consistently ranked as one of the safest cities in one of the safest states in the country, where kids can still walk to and from school and people still leave their doors unlocked.
“Boise, Idaho, is a safe, welcoming place and I had a loving family who supporting me in all of my creative and academic pursuits,” Thrasher says. “My Dad worked at companies like HP and Microsoft as a software tester and my mother worked at home managing the house and investing the family’s money. Her expertise in stock investing was a big inspiration in my own pursuit of a finance degree.”
This past spring, Thrasher graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Management degree with a “self-made emphasis in business and data analytics” that he designed through his course selection. And on the day he and his classmates received their diplomas, Thrasher was the student speaker at their commencement ceremony for Tulane University’s A. B. Freeman School of Business Class of 2019.
We spoke to Thrasher about his experience at the Freeman School and how he’s worked towards becoming a business intelligence analyst at Dell, one of the top tech firms in the world, starting this coming August.
What was high school like for you?
I attended Renaissance High School in Boise, Idaho. Renaissance is a public charter school primarily for students pursuing the International Baccalaureate diploma. I received my IB diploma after two grueling years of hard work that culminated in just two weeks of all-day testing. The time I spent preparing for those tests was one of the most stressful periods in my life.
I’d say the IB Program taught me many of the skills others wait until college to learn: self-discipline and time-management for sure, but also an important lesson in always moving forward. If one of your tests in IB goes badly, you can’t dwell on it: you have to focus on the one you have the next hour. You can’t affect the past, but you can affect your future. It’s an important lesson when dealing with failure. I’ve maintained all of my IB mindsets as I studied at Tulane.
What was moving to New Orleans like for you?
When I first came to Tulane, I was not at all familiar with New Orleans or living independently. Sometimes, people ask me why I never studied abroad. I tell them that I’m from Boise – New Orleans is ‘abroad’ enough.
New Orleans has a unique culture with its own music, cuisine, customs, and even language to some extent. I had a lot to learn, and when I first came to Tulane, I was probably more overwhelmed than adventurous. But over time, I became acclimated and started feeling more comfortable venturing beyond Tulane’s campus.
I started trying new things: in Boise, I had never even eaten seafood because Idaho is landlocked and my mother is deathly allergic to fish and shellfish. In New Orleans, they eat whatever swims up the floodwater for dinner, so I had to adjust quickly. After four years in NOLA, I know my way around a crawfish. I’ve eaten alligator sausage and turtle soup. I’ve tried squid, crab, and other foods that the old Brian never would’ve wanted to try.
New Orleans forced me to adapt, and I’d say I’ve become more adaptable in general as a result. Next time I’m in a new place – for example, when I move outside Austin, Texas, to start my permanent full-time job at Dell – I’ll be quicker to adjust to the local way of life.
What did you want to be when you first arrived at Tulane and how has that changed?
I wanted to be an entrepreneur when I came on campus, which meant I was pursuing the Management major with a specialty in entrepreneurship and also a minor in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship. By the end of my time at Tulane, I had changed both of those. In high school, I started an LLC with my older brother focused on comedy music and animation and I was interested in getting involved with the startup scene in New Orleans. During my freshman year, I participated in pitch competitions and joined a group of ambitious Tulane seniors who were creating a new business focused on connecting entrepreneurs to feedback and collaborators.
Today, I still think entrepreneurship is important and a part of my future, but I came to the conclusion that I would rather learn entrepreneurship on the job, so to speak, than at school.
My brother and I have recently relaunched our business, now called Clever Dan. We make comedy music and animated music videos, often about TV. The first one online is about Game of Thrones. I hope to always have a business on the side as I go through life.
What are some of the greatest hard skills you’ve acquired at Tulane?
The A. B. Freeman School of Business gave me plenty of opportunities to develop hard skills. Over the years, I had hands-on experience in a variety of business activities ranging from forecasting a bank’s financials for 10 years to running ads on Google and Facebook. A few classes stand out to me.
First, the Burkenroad Reports are one of the Freeman School of Business’s premier programs. As a Burkenroad student, I was assigned to be a research analyst for a real bank: Home Bancorp (HBCP/NASDAQ). Over the semester, I worked with my group to create a complete forecast for all of Home Bancorp’s financial statements to help us identify our predicted stock price for the next year. We had the amazing opportunity to actually drive to Lafayette and meet with the CEO and CFO of Home Bancorp to advise us on their views of the future of the company. We wrote a report and created a research video.
Another unique class I attended was the Darwin Fenner Student Managed Fund. In Darwin Fenner, students manage $3,000,000 of the Tulane endowment. The goal of the class is to invest the money in large-cap stocks to create a portfolio that has higher returns and lower risk than the S&P 500. We engaged with dozens of academic papers that try to explain what factors can help beat the market. The problem is that once the papers are released, the big institutions get a hold of the information and that investigated factor is no longer as powerful because it gets priced in. That means we had to use the very latest papers to try to drive our proprietary models.
I personally studied the financial sector of the S&P 500. Ultimately, I recommended the class buy Fifth Third Bancorp and the Bank of New York Mellon after running the whole sector through my own model. The greatest thing about that class is that the students truly make all the buying and selling decisions.
Finally, my favorite class was Introduction to Business Analytics. While I took more advanced classes afterward that taught complicated models and coding in R, my favorite analytics class was the first one that dealt with Excel. I really appreciated the way the Freeman School taught me both business analytics tools and a new mindset to approaching problems. Instead of trying to solve problems myself, the business analytics mindset is to find a way to phrase the problem in a way the tool can solve for you.
Since then, I’ve been given opportunities to learn machine learning, R and Python, and I even got certified in Tableau visualization. But my favorite class was my first exposure to analytics. After I started, I quickly became close to the professor. He took me under his wing and we started having lunches regularly. I think those lunches will be some of my favorite memories of college.