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UMD financial research team headed to global finals

University of Minnesota Duluth students Ryan Kimbrel, Reed Leonidas, Nawal Mirza, Frank Takkinen and Ryan Woitalla are heading to Malaysia to compete on April 27 in the global finals of the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Research Challenge. The team is the first from the Upper Midwest to reach the global level of competition. Submitted photo

Five University of Minnesota Duluth students will leave for Malaysia on Monday to test their financial analysis skills on the world stage.

The Financial Markets Program team from UMD won a spot to compete in the global finals of the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Research Challenge after advancing through the challenge's Upper Midwest competition in Minneapolis in February and the Americas Regional competition in Boston in March. UMD's team is the first from the Upper Midwest to reach the global finals.

The team includes Ryan Kimbrel, Reed Leonidas, Nawal Mirza, Frank Takkinen and Ryan Woitalla, all seniors in UMD's Labovitz School of Business and Economics.

Team members say they have taken the competition one level at a time and never pictured themselves reaching the global finals. It's been "an incredible experience," Takkinen said.

"We put in a ton of work, and we knew the company well and prepared well. We didn't expect to get this far, but we knew we had a good end product, and we just kept plugging away," Takkinen said.

They knew they'd face tough competition at every level, Leonidas said.

"We wanted to do well. We worked really hard and were prepared for it, but we never expected to do as well as we did," he said.

Takkinen described the days leading up to leaving for Malaysia as "stressed and exciting" because it's crunch time for them — they're finishing up their last few weeks of school work while preparing the financial analysis for competition in Malaysia.

The road to the global finals began in mid-October with each student putting in about 200 to 250 hours worth of work, said Joe Artim, faculty advisor and director of the Financial Markets Program at UMD.

Each team in the Upper Midwest division completed a 10-page financial analysis of Fastenal, an industrial supplies company based in Winona. Research included a trip to Fastenal's headquarters in November and a follow up with management before the analysis was due in January, Kimbrel explained.

"We're really trying to look at all of the different aspects of Fastenal and that could be the operations of the business, how their financials have been performing, what value we believe they're trading at, potential risks around their company, what their industry is like. We take all the information that we get together and we try to put together a narrative to tell the story of where we believe Fastenal is going in the future," Takkinen explained.

They set deadlines throughout the process to spread out the work over several months, which included writing and rewriting many drafts of the analysis, they said.

UMD's analysis was among the top five chosen by a judges panel from 18 submitted by Upper Midwest teams and the UMD students headed to Minneapolis to give a 10-minute presentation and 10-minute question-and-answer session defending their analysis. After winning in Minneapolis, the team traveled to Boston to compete in the Americas division, finishing as one of two winners out of 26 teams that will compete on Friday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The entire experience is a learning opportunity for the students — from visiting cities and countries for the first time to effectively and efficiently presenting their ideas.

"I think the big life lesson is seeing the value of hard work. Coming into this, they certainly know a lot more about how to conduct this kind of analysis than they did seven months ago when they started the project," Artim said.

The team members receive three credits to be on the team, but the credits aren't the reason they volunteer to be on the team, Takkinen said. They used the knowledge they've learned in their classes, but the biggest help has been their participation in the Financial Markets Program at UMD.

"Without the foundation we get from that, we would not have the same product," Kimbrel said.

They said they've learned time management and life skills in the process, along with improving their teamwork skills.

"We were with a group that's all extremely passionate about doing very well so everyone's very passionate about their specific work they worked on. You butt heads in a way, but it's a very, very good product when you do that because we were with everybody who was so passionate about it. Nobody was afraid to speak up, and when that happens, you ultimately arrive at the best possible product if you're actually really testing each other's work," Takkinen said.

The students said completing the financial analysis aligns with their career goals. Participating on the financial markets team gives the students perspective on opportunities they could have in their career if they value hard work, commitment, perseverance through challenges and teamwork skills, Artim said.

"There's a great opportunity to them if they're really clear with their vision, have the right goals. Their goal was initially to get to Minneapolis and then at Minneapolis, you sorta reset," Artim said to the students. "Then the next goal was, OK, can we at least get to compete in the Americas region finals. Then all of a sudden, the next thing you know, you end up winning the finals and you're going to Malaysia. Didn't go in there with any high expectations, saying no more than 'Let's try to get to Boston.'"