Peter A. Wright ’75, MBA ’76
Thinking out of the box – in investment management, and alumni support
As an MBA student in the mid-1970s, Peter Wright was impressed with the faculty at Cornell’s business school. “Even back then, they were diverse, in terms of both ethnicity and experience,” he says. He also appreciated finding real practitioners on the faculty. “I especially liked the way in which professors not only taught principles of finance and accounting, but did it in a way in which we were forced to be problem solvers and think about real-time solutions.”
In a class taught by Professor Dave Ahlers, an investment banker, Wright developed an algorithm for making money via arbitrage of bonds that have the same ratings and the same risk profiles, but different pricing. “It really resonated with me, that there were thousands of ways of making money in the finance business; that you could keep your eyes open to try and understand who you are and what type of process works best for you,” says Wright. “He gave us opportunities to think out of the box, to think in ways that were different from the way we had been trained and educated.”
Wright went on to hold prestigious positions in financial analysis and investment management at IBM, the Gartner Group, and Soundview Financial Group. In 1990, he established the hedge fund PAW Partners.
His continuing support of Johnson has manifested itself in many ways over the decades: as a guest lecturer for various professors’ classes, for the Parker Center for Investment Research, and for the Investment Management Club; as a judge of the MBA Stock Pitch Challenge; and as an investment advisor to the Cayuga MBA Fund.
He also spearheaded a fundraising drive to found an asset-management chair, for which he rallied many other Johnson alumni. “I didn’t have enough capital myself to just write a check; and I wanted the chair to be inclusive of all the alumni in the financial-management business,” Wright explains. “So we reached out to about a dozen Johnson MBAs, all of whom contributed generously. I wanted to highlight Johnson’s strengths in asset management and to add visibility to the investment community, and to help create a model for the business school for a different approach to raising money.”
In his fundraising effort, Wright tapped into the Johnson alumni body’s remarkable commitment. “The alumni have a real fondness and a comfort, and a value, associated with their education and experience at Cornell,” he says. “There’s clearly a warmth in sharing our experiences at Cornell, our likes and dislikes, and the energy that existed in the Cornell environment.”
More recently, Wright himself committed a large gift to name a finance professor for Johnson’s One-Year MBA at Cornell NYC Tech. “I think this is extraordinarily exciting, and really has a chance of raising the profile of Cornell University and Johnson for decades to come,” says Wright. “I think one of the things that Johnson has struggled with, to become a top-ten-type school, has been in part because it is not in a major metropolitan area, like Wharton in Philadelphia or Harvard Business School, in Cambridge. I think this is a tremendous opportunity, and I wanted to reach out economically, as well as in many other ways, to help bring this dream to a better reality.”
Beyond his support of Johnson and the School of Engineering (his Cornell undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering), Wright supports Cornell in other ways. His oldest son just graduated from the School of Engineering, his second son is studying computer science there, and his third son is applying to Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, early decision. “We bleed Big Red,” says Wright. “And we’re still waiting for championships in lacrosse, hockey, and wrestling!”