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Alum Ray Chandonnet ’87 talked about his career path and offered advice to students

June 27, 2016
As a computer science major, Chandonnet preaches the value of a multi-disciplinary academic background, and he encourages students to be bold and take risks.

Ray Chandonnet ’87 is, quite literally, in the second act of his career in banking and finance. Two years ago, at age 48, he retired as a partner at Sander O’Neill to live out his childhood dream of wanting to be a chef. He became an apprentice chef at a farm-to-table restaurant in New Jersey.

“It was a cleansing breath. I call it my career intermission,” said Chandonnet.

A year later, richer for what he learned and wiser for knowing he didn’t want to be a full-time cook, he became a founding principal of Second Act Capital Partners in Summit, N.J., an advisory firm focused on financial services companies.

For 15 years, Chandonnet has worked with the Girard School, speaking at dinners and networking events, mentoring students, and recruiting some to work at Wall Street financial institutions. He preaches the value of a multidisciplinary academic background, speaking from his own experience.

“It’s a finance guy with a computer science degree that stands out,” said Chandonnet, who came to Merrimack intending to major in mathematics and go into teaching. “I owe my career to Walt Maxey,” he said of the memorable Merrimack teacher of computer science, electrical engineering, and mathematics who told him that career prospects were better for computer programmers than math teachers. And, it was another Merrimack professor, Mike Bradley, Professor of Mathematics, who provided the additional encouragement to go “off-script” in pursuit of an idea, that has inspired him ever since.

Chandonnet became a computer science major, got his first job as an analyst and computer systems manager for Malden Trust Company, and enrolled in night school for his master’s in finance at Bentley University. He finished his master’s in 1996 and a year later was working in capital markets for First Union Securities in Philadelphia. His Wall Street career began in 2001 in banking strategy at Lehman Brothers and JPMorgan, and beginning in 2007 at Sander O’Neill & Partners, a boutique investment bank where he was a partner and chief balance sheet strategist.

He emphasizes the value of a liberal arts education.

“I majored in technical sciences and had a heavy dose of technical coursework, but at a liberal arts school I could study English and arts and music and religious studies and philosophy. It’s a broad exposure to other areas and was helpful in evolving how I look at the world,” Chandonnet said. He listed the skills he acquired at a liberal arts school: “My job requires a tech angle, a math angle, a sales and relationship angle. I do a lot of public speaking.”

When he speaks to groups of students, he is impressed by the ones who ask questions and connect with him. He appeared before finance students during their visit to New York City in March.

“The most fundamental thing is two words: They ask. It’s that simple,” Chandonnet said. “Network with me. I told the students in March that I’m available. You have my email address. If you send me an email, I’ll respond. If you send me an invitation on LinkedIn to join your network, I’ll respond.”

Employers remember students who act boldly.

“By speaking up and asking a question, they took a risk. The good ones showed interest. They asked me a question and a follow-up question that showed they were listening.” Chandonnet advised, “Step out of your comfort zone, move beyond the smartphone, and begin engaging with the adult world you are joining.”

After the finance students visited in March, Chandonnet hired two of them to do client research and analysis projects for his firm this spring. The paid positions took six weeks, probably 30 to 40 hours of their spare time, he estimated, while they completed their coursework and other campus activities.

“I had a very good experience with both students,” he said. And they both are multidisciplinary. Kate Mermelstein ’16 graduated with two degrees, a B.S. in finance and a B.A. in political science. Brianna Roberts ’17 is studying finance and economics.

Chandonnet was so impressed that he interviewed Mermelstein for a job after graduation. In July, she will start work as an associate at Second Act Capital Partners. 

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