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Sunday, November 18, 2018

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Robert Fischbach ('90) speaks with SDSU students. Robert Fischbach ('90) speaks with SDSU students.

Inside BlackRock

Alumnus Robert Fischbach (’90) invited a group of SDSU business students to his company to address leadership, communication and innovation.
By Tobin Vaughn

Robert Fischbach (’90) is head of the Bank Wealth Management Group at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with approximately 12,500 employees and $4.65 trillion in assets under management. He is responsible for the distribution, marketing and product management of mutual funds, iShares, alternative investments and separately managed accounts.

His job is one any business school graduate would covet. It might, however, seem an unlikely position for a San Diego State University alum with a degree in political science who once had an internship in the San Diego mayor’s office.

"It's amazing,” he admitted during a recent interview in his San Francisco office. “I'm a 180 from where I thought I would be at SDSU. As a political science major and an English minor, I thought pre-law would be my path.”

Instead, circumstances led him into financial services and a career journey he never expected to take.

“I had a lot of great advice along the way, but never had someone from San Diego State at the time who could mentor me and say, 'Here's how to do it,'” he said. “Now I'm sitting in the world's largest asset manager having taken no business courses and not having been an economics major.”

Leadership, communication and innovation

Not that it matters. Fischbach’s success speaks for itself. While likely most of his BlackRock colleagues are business school graduates, many are not. But aside from more conventional educational backgrounds, almost all possess personal characteristics that have enhanced their chances for success.

Those characteristics are what Fischbach believes more students should cultivate. They were the basis for SDSU Leadership Day at BlackRock, a day-long seminar he developed and led March 24 at the company’s offices in San Francisco.

Seven high-achieving SDSU business students were invited, including Associated Students President J. Cole, selected from applications they had submitted to attend. All had been given case studies to read in preparation for an extensive discussion. 

Built around themes of leadership, communication and innovation, the seminar featured half a dozen presenters, in addition to Fischbach, who each discussed a different aspect of the company.  Like Fischbach, some came from backgrounds other than business and shared their stories with the students.

"I think that was really rewarding in a lot of ways,” said Jenna Grantham, a 22-year-old statistics major who plans to become an actuary. “It showed a lot of different avenues you can take with a variety of degrees.”

Learn, network and have fun

At the seminar’s outset, Fischbach set three objectives for the students: to learn, network and have fun. The networking intensified when three SDSU alumni, Keith Harris (’91), Mike Kitts (’07) and John Perkins (’94) stopped in during lunch to meet the students, share information about their professions, and answer questions.

Like Fischbach, all are members of SDSU’s Bay Area Regional Council, a group of prominent Aztecs who work to enhance the university’s financial stability and national reputation by working through three main areas of student success, fundraising and network building.  One of the council’s major goals is to develop strong enough regional networks to help create internships and job opportunities for SDSU students and graduates outside the San Diego area.

"I think it's important to have Aztec leaders like Robert Fischbach setting the tone and inviting the rest of us in,” said Kitts, who is the director of corporate partnerships for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. “I think these are the platforms we need in order to truly connect alumni and students.”

Perkins agreed with the importance of Aztec alumni teaming up to help give SDSU students every advantage in the job market. He also said the students he met seemed well prepared for meeting challenges.

“I'm impressed,” said Perkins, who is vice president of TRI Commercial, a commercial real estate brokerage and property management firm. "They seem to have it a lot more together than when I was a student.”

It started at State

Continuously emphasizing his themes of leadership, communication and innovation, Fischbach tried to convey to the students the importance of developing those characteristics that will carry them through any career, not just a particular line of work. 

While his college major may not have helped him specifically in his current career, he says his student leadership and other SDSU experiences left him generally well prepared for the working world. 

“I had to have a strong work ethic, but I took those three areas, leadership, communication and innovation and basically just worked on those skills every day to get better,” he said. "But it all started during my time at SDSU."

Although BlackRock has student interns and has held other presentations for students in the past, the SDSU Leadership Day at BlackRock was unique in form and function. It’s something university administrators would like to see continued and expanded to other industries in other locations.

Building something successful

"I thought what the presenters had to say was very valuable and effective and very applicable to all of us who are doing different things and who are planning on pursuing different career goals,” said Dara Dela Cruz, a 21-year-old finance major from Sunnyvale who will graduate in May. “I think what we take away from that is going to be different, but all can be applied our lives and career plans."

Fischbach hopes the students will do more than leave and look back fondly on the experience. “We are planting in all these people the idea of giving back in a unique way and hopefully they will do the same thing in the future," he said.

He also encourages other Aztec alumni to find ways to get involved with helping SDSU students.

“Everybody wants to be a part of building something successful," he said. “This is a great opportunity to do so."