Toigo Fellows complement Johnson’s strengths in finance and diversity
Peter Ferrara, MBA ’19, is a man with a plan.
A Toigo fellow and a first-year MBA student at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, he’s headed toward a career in investment banking.
It’s been an ambitious journey that began at Lafayette College where Ferrara earned bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science, graduating magna cum laude while competing on both the varsity baseball and football teams. After college, he worked at JP Morgan in Manhattan for four years and then pursued a one-year master’s degree in finance at the University of Cambridge in England, again graduating with honors.
Ferrara’s hard work and persistence earned him acceptance into the Toigo Foundation’s fellowship program and admission to Johnson—two final pieces that are sure to play a crucial role in his future success.
Only top MBA candidates like Ferrara are accepted into the Toigo Foundation’s selective fellowship program. Founded in 1989, the Toigo program is widely considered the most prestigious MBA fellowship awarded to individuals from underrepresented minorities that want to pursue a career in financial services.
Johnson is a natural fit for Toigo fellows, Ferrara said, with its strong finance focus and strong commitment to diversity. Johnson consistently ranks among the top five MBA programs for finance, and Cornell University was one of the first American universities to admit women and people of color. Moreover, Johnson was the first top-tier business school in the nation to establish an Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
These factors, along with Johnson’s one-of-a-kind investment banking immersion, made Cornell the right choice for Ferrara. His immersion experience, he said, will surely give him a competitive advantage during his summer internship at Credit Suisse’s Investment Bank in Manhattan, where he will be working in the firm’s Financial Sponsors Group.
All Two-Year MBA students participate in one of Johnson’s unique immersion programs, which integrate coursework and fieldwork in an intense hands-on semester. The success of the immersion programs is reflected in Johnson’s high conversion rate—the percentage of students with summer internships who are hired to work full time at the firms where they intern.
Career management and professional development
While Ferrara is at Johnson, the Toigo Foundation will provide him with access to unparalleled career management and professional development services. The foundation’s mission is to foster career advancement and increase leadership of underrepresented talent by creating mechanisms for greater inclusion from the classroom to the boardroom. With more than 1,400 alumni and numerous financial partnerships throughout the industry, the foundation offers its fellows mentoring, leadership training, job placement assistance, and networking opportunities. Fellows also receive a partial merit awards that are applied to their business school tuition.
“Toigo has a multiplier effect,” said Ferrara, whose mother immigrated to Miami from Cuba in the 1960s when Fidel Castro was rising to power. “Not only do you have access to your own business school’s network and resources, but you also have access to the networks all over the country where the foundation has fellows and alumni.”
Toigo alumnus John Bonhomme, MBA ’07, who leads the Global Strategic Markets Group at JP Morgan and is also a principal at a real estate development company he founded, couldn’t agree more.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, after his parents emigrated from Haiti in the early 1970s, Bonhomme said Toigo helped him break into the old boy’s club of private equity.
“It helped me become who I am today,” Bonhomme said. “The network, business partnerships, relationships, and friendships. Toigo is like a family.”
Opening doors to opportunity
The Toigo Foundation’s vast network and resources has opened doors for Bonhomme and countless others. Toigo and Forté Foundation alumna Adrienne Martinez ’01, MBA ’08, a business information officer in Bank of America’s Global Information Security Group, described it as a “pot of gold.”
Martinez, a Mexican American who grew up about 15 miles east of Los Angeles, said Toigo was instrumental in helping her land a summer internship at CalPERS (California’s Public Employee Retirement System), the largest pension fund in the United States.
“Getting that internship at CalPERS was like meat in a shark’s pool,” she said. “It made me highly desirable after graduation.”
For Ferrara, the benefits of the Toigo network at Johnson were evident from the start. Johnson’s admissions ambassador Jorge Garcia, MBA ’16, who now works as an investment banking associate at Citigroup in Manhattan, and several other of Cornell’s Toigo alumni reached out almost immediately, giving Ferrara advice and counsel.
Ferrara and Garcia, in particular, formed a close friendship, with Garcia advising him about the rigorous investment banking recruiting process, the best ways to utilize Cornell’s vast resources, and how to build and manage his network.
“I know that it can be overwhelming when you’re first starting out,” said Garcia, whose family emigrated from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey in the late 1970s. “I let Peter know that I am always available whenever he needs something.”
Johnson has welcomed 37 Toigo fellows over the years. Ferrara, Garcia, Martinez, Bonhomme and others said that they chose Johnson because of its rigorous academics, leadership training, and career management services—and because it is a close-knit community set amid a larger Ivy League university, with access to all of the rich and diverse resources that come with attending an Ivy League university with campuses in Ithaca and New York City and programs throughout the world.
Combining Johnson and Toigo networks
Toigo alumnus Chidozie Ugwumba, MBA ’15, said Johnson’s tight-knit, collaborative community facilitates relationship-building among fellow students, professors, and alumni. He described both Toigo’s and Johnson’s networks as “supportive and responsive.”
Before he entered business school, Ugwumba had spent seven years in the public markets. He said chose Johnson because he wanted to move into the private markets—and saw an opportunity to take coursework in real estate and infrastructure at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration while also cultivating his business skills and network at Johnson.
“Private markets are relationship driven,” said Ugwumba, who was born in Nigeria and immigrated with his parents to Southern California in the early 1990s when he was nine years old. “At a closely connected school, you have a better opportunity to build lasting relationships with students and alumni.”
For Bonhomme, his first success out of business school perfectly combined both his Toigo and Johnson experiences. His first job involved working at a startup private equity firm founded by his Toigo mentor—and his first deal there was based on a case study he completed while an MBA student at Johnson.
“If you look at Johnson, Cornell’s new College of Business, what’s happening [at Cornell Tech] in New York, and our alumni network, Cornell has an expansive presence in the finance industry,” Bonhomme said. “By adding the Toigo network, that presence is only enhanced.”
That’s what Ferrara thinks, too. The hard work and preparation he is doing at Johnson is boosted by his Toigo fellowship.
“The powerful combination of both the Johnson and Toigo networks have provided a competitive advantage that will serve as valuable assets for the rest of my career,” he said. “I am humbled to be affiliated with both organizations and look forward to giving back to the next generation of Toigo fellows at Johnson.”
—Written by Chris Philipp, a freelance writer and editor based in Ithaca, NY