2022 Best & Brightest Business Major: Kate Donenfeld, USC (Marshall)

Kate Donenfeld

University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business

“I always make the effort to dance in the rain, bother literally and figuratively.”

Fun fact about yourself: I was a competitive dancer growing up, and I still dance by improvising whenever music plays and taking classes virtually or in-person at studios around Los Angeles.

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

High School: Marymount High School

Major: Double major in (1) Business Administration Applied and (2) Computational Mathematics

Minor: Dance

Favorite Business Course: Business Forecasting

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:


  • Marshall Business Student Government (MBSG)
    • Joined during the first semester of my freshman year
    • Became VP of the Professional Affairs Committee during the spring semester of my freshman year
    • Was elected President for my sophomore year
    • Planned and created an initiative called Marshall Families that paired a student from each grade level into a “family” for mentorship throughout the business major
    • Worked with administration to conduct the Golden Apple / Golden Compass Teaching and Faculty awards
    • Led weekly meetings, prepared and monitored the budget and bank account, and oversaw event planning
    • Arranged and chaired meetings with MBSG committees and facilitated interaction between students and admin
  • WAVE Ambassador and Conference Coordinator
    • Represented the national Women’s Association of Venture and Equity (WAVE)
    • Helped plan the virtual 2021 annual WAVE Career Forum
      • Worked with organization Chairs to develop and test the online conference platform
      • Created a presentation for and hosted pre-conference info sessions
      • Promoted the conference amongst USC students and others in my network
    • Marshall Dean’s Taskforce
      • Work on a team of seven students to implement the Dean’s and Vice Dean’s reform agenda at the student level
      • Propose new ideas with accompanying PowerPoints to improve Marshall to Vice Dean Randhawa

Finance Clubs

  • Value Investing Group
    • Joined during the first semester of my freshman year
    • Was selected to be Vice President during my junior year
    • Attend weekly Socratic Seminar style meetings during which we discuss stock picks, market conditions, books on investing, and current events
    • Won Finalist with my short thesis on STMP at the 2019 Stanford Finance Stock Pitch Competition
  • Trojan Investing Society
    • Joined during the first semester of my freshman year
    • Engaged in workshops concentrating on behavioral/technical skills, including accounting principles and valuation
    • Selected in a competitive application process to receive mentorship for investment banking recruitment
    • Mentored underclassmen on the investment banking recruitment process and led workshops to ace interviews


  • Xpressions Dance Company
    • Joined during the first semester of my freshman year
    • Every semester, I choreograph an original piece, teach it to 7-15 other dancers, and coordinate all aspects of the staging for an end-of-semester showcase
    • Learn and dance in pieces choreographed by other students
  • Chamber Ballet
    • Joined the first semester of my freshman year
    • Attend and occasionally teach ballet classes on Sundays


  • Trustee Merit Scholarship (Full tuition)
  • Dean’s List (every semester of my undergraduate career)


  • Teacher’s Assistant for BUAD 101/102: Freshman Global Leadership Program
    • Work on a team of six students and Professor Voigt to plan class and carry out the class agenda
    • Mentor freshmen, answer questions about school and business, and set an example of leadership
  • Teacher’s Assistant for FBE 441: Investments
    • Hold weekly office hour and answer questions about the course content
    • Grade problem sets and exams
  • USC Rec Sports fitness instructor
    • Teach two Pilates, one Zumba, and one barre class each week to groups of about 15 students
    • Articulate instructions on how to execute exercises properly

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • Credit Suisse; New York, NY; Investment Banking Summer Analyst, M&A Group
    • Staffed on five sell-side transactions: assist junior bankers in everyday tasks and client needs, such as taking notes in meetings and reviewing files for the virtual data room in response to client questions
    • Prepare materials, including timeline, WACC, and beta slides, for Investment Banking Committee meetings and board meetings
    • Completed a summer project on Hostess (TWNK)
      • Built a WACC calculation, compacs and compcos analysis, DCF, LBO, and merger model to value and analyze the company
      • Modeled out potential synergies between companies
      • Created a slide deck and presented to senior bankers
    • Duff & Phelps; Los Angeles, CA; Investment Banking Analyst Intern, Consumer Retail Group
      • Researched retail trends, compiled and graphed data, and made PowerPoint slides for the Apparel Quarterly Update
      • Created PowerPoint slides for pitch books, CIMs, and management presentations for three deals
      • Performed due diligence on potential M&A buyers/sellers using Capital IQ and discussed client fit with the deal team
    • Old West Investment Management, LLC; Los Angeles, CA; Research Analyst Intern
      • Analyzed 10-Ks, news, and earnings calls and valued companies with DCF and comps to ultimately create seven
      • stock pitches. Presented them with a write-up and PowerPoint, defending investment rationale and viability
      • Proposed new long/short ideas based on SEC Form 4s, financial ratios, and research on industry trends

Where will you be working after graduation? Credit Suisse; New York, NY; Investment Banking Analyst, M&A Group

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? The biggest lesson I have gained was to build my own competitive advantage. I represent my personal brand, like that of a business. Therefore, I need a competitive advantage to stand out in the job search, day-to-day work, and even simply as a friend. It is easy to blend into the crowd, but a competitive advantage could set me apart. I took this lesson to heart, first gaining a competitive advantage with my double major in Applied Mathematics. My double major enabled me to develop advanced quantitative and analytical skills to solve complex numerical problems. My other competitive advantage is intangible: waking up early. Most college students sleep in, ultimately getting out of bed by 10 am. I like to set my alarm for 6:45 am and get something done in the morning before many of my peers are even awake.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? I would give the advice to continue learning outside of the classroom while majoring in a business-related field. I found that I learned more and retained information better when applying what I learned to daily life and exploring related topics outside of class. Some examples could be practicing soft skills in everyday conversations or practicing Excel skills by making a personal budget. In addition to learning and practicing skills on my own, I found it helpful to learn from professors during office hours. Being in college, we have brilliant, successful role models that are dedicated to teaching us. Going to office hours, I’ve had interesting conversations that stretch my mind and help me apply class material to the real world.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? I was most surprised by the emphasis on people and attitude while majoring in business. I expected an academic major to be about learning information that I regurgitate for an exam, but the business major was so much more than that. Every class assigned group projects, giving me a chance to work on many different teams. The emphasis on teamwork gave me a chance to develop interpersonal skills and network with my peers. Even outside of class, there was an emphasis on people and networking throughout Marshall with networking events and other chances to meet and socialize with professionals. I was surprised by the focus on the people within the business major and that every moment was a networking opportunity. The business major taught me soft skills as well as technical information and encouraged me to develop connections that I can and will leverage throughout my career.

What business executive do you admire most? Sara Blakely founded Spanx in 2000 and was named the youngest self-made billionaire by Forbes in 2012. I admire her for not only achieving this great feat, but also for doing so on her own, demonstrating her comprehensive business acumen. She went to Florida State University and wanted to be a lawyer. However, after performing poorly on the LSAT, she took a job at Disney. Three months later, she switched jobs to work at Danka. While at Danka, she noticed the awkward and cheap look of the hosiery she was required to wear and started using her savings to explore designing new hosiery on her own. She soon finished her design, applied for a patent, and launched Spanx. At the time of her launch, she handled all customer communications, marketing, logistics, sales, and product placement on her own. She soon hired a CEO and COO and filled other positions at her company.

I admire Sara Blakely because she demonstrates how having an eye on the future and taking it slow can lead to great success. While she didn’t go to the top school or get the most competitive job straight out of undergrad, she was not discouraged. Her initial jobs, though not necessarily her passion, allowed her to gain financial security that let her pursue her dreams on the side. She was determined to achieve her vision and not afraid to finance it with her own savings. Taking on the financial risk herself shows great confidence and gives her the skin in the game to do what it takes to succeed. I am also inspired by her ability to handle all business areas on her own. It shows great skill and natural ability to understand marketing, customer communications, logistics, sales, and product placement. It requires her to have analytical skills and be organized, personable, and good with numbers. Lastly, I admire how Blakely puts her femineity in the spotlight with designing hosiery. In the early 2000s and even today, being female can he a drawback in big business. However, Blakely was happy to put that in the spotlight and be a female founder of a company focused on women.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? I am most proud of the research paper I wrote for the Marshall Honors Research Seminar. In my paper, I investigate the influence of executive compensation on the likelihood that a CEO misstates their company financials and issues a restatement with the SEC. In the beginning of my research process, finding a topic was a feat in-and-of itself. I needed to find something that had not been covered before and a topic for which I could access data. I read many published research papers to get an idea of past research questions and proposed 23 potential ideas before ultimately deciding upon my topic. Once I chose my topic, I embarked on the research process.

I took on an exorbitant amount of work and was able to progress slowly. I spent about five hours on my research every week and moving at that consistent pace kept the workload manageable.

I had never worked with big data before, and my data had hundreds of variables and millions of observations. I was initially overwhelmed, but after working with the data over some time, I got familiar with it. I had to learn the program STATA and how to write code to get the metrics I needed for analysis.

I kept very organized throughout the whole process. I wrote down every source I referenced, took notes on the literature I read, and documented the steps I took with my data and the code I ran. My organization and documentation proved extremely helpful when it came to writing my paper. I learned the components and format of a research paper and ultimately wrote a comprehensive 26-page paper describing my phenomenon of interest with data to back it up.

I am proud of this achievement because it is something I had never done before and never imaged I would do. Though difficult, I completed this research paper with great ability, pacing, and organization and learned many new skills in the process.

Which classmate do you most admire? I most admire my classmate, Julia Vandercoft, for being very involved in the Marshall community and a great teammate and friend. She is always on top of her personal classwork, and providing valuable contributions to business discussions. Julia is a fellow senior majoring in Business Administration. She has a double major in Intelligence and Cyber Operations. She is on the Marshall Case Team, a travel team member of USC Model United Nations, one of the founding officers of the Global Investment Society, a member of the Trojan Investing Society Mentorship program and a member of several other organizations including CYBORG. While being involved in these USC clubs and programs, she had time to always keep up with her coursework and be there as a friend. She is also very smart, and I value her opinion. Demonstrating her intelligence, she has competed in several case competitions, highlights of which include placing first in the Boeing Case Competition and second place in the Houlihan Lokey Case competition. In terms of work experience, she interned as an investment banking summer analyst at Credit Suisse, a venture capital analyst intern at Decisive Point, an Investments Summer Analyst on the quant trading and analytics team at AIG, and a finance intern at LegalZoom.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? There are many people I would like to thank for helping me get to where I am today. If I had to choose one person, I would thank Brian Little. During my sophomore year, Brian was assigned to be my mentor in the Marshall Career Advantage Program (CAP). Since then, he has been my go-to person for advice whenever I am confronted with a decision regarding my career. After I got an offer to intern at Credit Suisse for my junior year summer, I had to decide on a group for placement. I was conflicted between the Financial Sponsors and M&A groups and made a long pro/con list. I called Brian and he helped me think through my decision and ultimately decide I would most enjoy and succeed in the M&A group. After having interned and accepting my full-time job offer, I am so glad I made that decision and have Brian to thank for his guidance.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The top two items on my professional bucket list are to lead a client meeting and speak back at my college. I think that leading a client meeting, whether I am the highest positioning person in the room or just given the opportunity to lead, really represents a milestone. If I am the highest positioning person, I have made it and have solid client relationships. If I am not the highest position and still given the opportunity to lead, that shows that my higher-ups have great confidence in me and are allowing me the opportunity to build client relationships. I think speaking back at my college is another great milestone. Sharing my career with college students means that others look at me as role model and example to jumpstart their careers.

What are your hobbies?

  • Dancing
  • Snow skiing
  • Reading fiction and books about investing
  • Running

What made Kate such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Kate is the student we all wish we have many more of in our schools. Academically she is a fantastic student, motivated, curious and hard working. She is very community oriented, always willing to engage in helping make Marshall a better place.”

Professor Raman Randhawa
Vice Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Professor of Data Sciences and Operations
USC Marshall School of Business

“When you’ve taught more than 20,000 students and one of them stands out, you know you’ve found a special one.  When classmates naturally defer to a fellow student to take the lead, to share an opinion, to provide direction, you know you’ve got a talented fast rising business leader in the making.

First day, first class, freshman year, Kate is in the front row and engages me in pre-class small talk.  At the end of the class she introduces herself.  Genuine engagement.  Memorable from the start.   And it goes up from there.  No surprise to me that she is USC Marshall’s undergrad student body president in her sophomore year.  Want something done, ask Kate.Kate has that special “something” – the curiosity and enthusiasm to learn the why, the courage to stretch into leadership responsibility, a no excuses delivering results drive, a quiet “let’s figure it out” confidence of being in control in new challenging and ambiguous situations, a master of the details and the inspiring vision at the same time, and the rare talent of being both serious and fun at the same time.

Kate, I have no doubt she will achieve.”

Professor Carl Voigt
USC Marshall School of Business



Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.