How did you hear about the ModelOff competition? What made you want to get involved?
I heard about ModelOff in the contest’s first year through an email chain being forwarded around the office. It sounded like the kind of thing I’d be interested in since I’m something of an Excel hobbyist, and the chance to compete against the best modelers in the world sounded intriguing. However, I didn’t think I had a chance and didn’t sign up the first year. On a whim in 2013, I decided to sign up at the last minute, and I slipped away from a tailgate party before a Texas Longhorn football game for a couple hours to complete Round 1 on a Saturday. I made Round 2, and I was hooked from that point forward. After two consecutive performances that landed me a top 50 ranking but no finals appearances, I finally broke through in my third year.
How did you get so good at Excel? Tell us a bit about your modeling training.
My Excel skills were forged in my investment banking years during late nights under the harsh glow of double-monitors, where finger cramps and nights of minimal sleep were a regular occurrence. If you spend that many hours hunched over complicated spreadsheets, you’re bound to pick up something. Over the years, I’ve honed my Excel practices, and, while I still use Excel frequently at work for financial modeling, lately many of the models I’ve built are unrelated to work. For fun, I’ve built craps and blackjack games (complete with the graphics of cards and rolling dice), as well as several sports analytics models that analyze hundreds of thousands of historical plays. I like to constantly test the limits of what I can do with a simple platform that everyone has on their home computer.
What makes you different from the other competitors? What are your strengths?
There probably aren’t many other competitors that get to wear cowboy boots to work. Seriously, though, working in Texas and trading the world of high finance for an industry career at an oil company has definitely lowered my stress level and allowed me to focus a lot more on my life outside of work. I think that has mellowed me out and served me well in these high-stress competitions so far with my ability to remain calm. I also spend a lot of my Excel time now working on little projects (professional or fun) that I enjoy rather than an inflexible work-related task. As a result I have broadened the scope of what I’m able to do in Excel beyond pure financial models. However, my background in investment banking and private equity has definitely allowed me to be competitive in any finance or accounting related questions.
Tell us a bit about your experiences in Round 1 and 2. Did you think you would make it to the World Finals?
Round 1 was an interesting experience for me this year. It occurred on a Saturday morning at 7 AM my time. One of my best friends happened to be getting married that day, and I was the best man in the wedding. After what was a very late and very rowdy Friday night celebration the night before, my head was spinning so much Saturday morning that I considered throwing in the towel. Thankfully, I competed, and after a brief consideration, I decided not to repeat the feat again for Round 2.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received at work?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. When frequently working in high stress situations at work, I’ve seen that the best folks to work with are those who remain calm and keep an eye on the big picture and end goal. Don’t let the little things that won’t sink the ship prevent you from reaching the finish line. Attention to detail is always important, but everyone makes mistakes – learn from them, brush it off, and move on to the next thing.
Also: Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing. (credit: Ron Swanson, “Parks & Recreation”)
Favorite Excel Shortcut(s):
I learned in Excel 2003 and I still use those shortcuts most frequently, so once they phase those out I’ll just be another old man past his prime talking about the “good ol’ days” to anyone who will listen. I guess I like Alt+E+S+V+E to transpose values (2003 shortcut). My true favorites, though, are Ctrl+S and Alt+F4, which let you know that it’s quitting time.
From where does your passion for financial modeling come?
I’ve just always liked problem-solving. I view any modeling problem as a puzzle to be solved with the tools at your disposal. There’s always an optimal solution out there ready to be uncovered. From my first taste of Excel modeling in college courses, I knew I wanted to enter a career that involved finance and modeling, and my passion has grown from there as I’ve encountered increasingly complicated problems.
Tell us a bit about your life away from work.
I’m married to a wonderful woman and we end up traveling around quite a bit. That comes in the form of weddings (22 and counting the last two years), Texas Longhorn football games, family visits, or the occasional trip to just get away. Some of my hobbies (other than Excel) when I’m home in Dallas include trying my hand at golfing, woodworking, and scotch-tasting, in all of which my talents are decidedly mediocre.