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Northwestern University

Clearing Hurdles

A first-generation Weinberg College graduate inspires students by sharing the challenges and lessons of his post-Northwestern journey

photo of Rich ParkBy Daniel P. Smith

Rich Park ’99 hadn’t set foot on the Northwestern campus in nearly 20 years.

For a group of a dozen Weinberg College undergraduates, his return was a memorable one.

During a deeply personal “lunch and learn” event hosted by the College’s Waldron Student-Alumni Connections Program in February, Park shared his journey from Northwestern — where he began as a first-generation college student studying economics and molecular biology — to Wall Street.

Over 90 minutes, Park, currently a managing director at Deutsche Bank, detailed the adversity he faced as a student and professional, ranging from pervasive self-doubt and workplace bias to battling cancer and losing a well-paying job early in his career.

“You will encounter failure, and that’s OK, because failure and acknowledging your shortcomings brings learning opportunities,” Park told the students, who represented a variety of majors and backgrounds.

Navigating life’s adversities

The son of Korean immigrants, Park spoke candidly about his upbringing, during which he faced immense expectations yet suffered stinging feelings of inferiority.

“When I made it to Northwestern, I [was given] two choices from my parents: doctor or doctor,” Park said.

Though Park made it through his pre-med courses, he yearned to pursue a different path. As a senior, he landed an interview with Salomon Brothers. He arrived at the interview wearing a borrowed tie and a $225 suit he had purchased by selling his meal plan points.

The 30-minute interview kicked off with Park punting the first question about his interest in investment banking before the conversation turned to his upbringing in Chicago, his interests and personal dreams.

“Honestly, I walked out of that room hoping I could return the suit,” Park joked.

Experiences and building blocks

Instead, Salomon Brothers called him back for another round of interviews in New York. The firm eventually invited Park to join its first-year analyst program.

“I was candid throughout and now realize that we all look for someone genuine,” said Park, who eventually accepted a position with Credit Suisse.

During his first year as an analyst, Park worked on more than 20 deals, learning “to work hard, think on my feet and not be afraid.”

Those efforts translated into new opportunities, including a high-ranking position with Razorfish, a dotcom darling that went bust and sent Park hurtling back to sleeping on a friend’s couch and performing entry-level analyst work.

“Those were a series of experiences and building blocks that allowed me to attack issues with a new set of tools,” Park said.

Finding his way

In 2004, Park landed an associate job with Deutsche Bank. Though he sourced a $1 billion deal in his rookie year, bosses admonished his performance.

“And they were right: I wasn’t contributing anything to the team,” Park said. “That was my wake-up moment.”

Park taught himself corporate finance and began breaking apart financial models. He prioritized collaboration and dropped his unilateral quests.

“Don’t step away from the hard work and don’t be afraid to not know. You know how to look it up,” Park reminded students.

Five years ago, Deutsche Bank named Park a managing director. He is responsible for many of the firm’s most important and largest clients and spearheads its multicultural initiatives.

More empowered and experienced, Park said he has learned to invest in the continued development of himself, others and relationships.“I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” said Park, who he said he’d eventually like to pursue other passions, both entrepreneurial and in public service. “It’s a long game.”

Park’s inspired words resonated with statistics major Lucia Lee ’20.

“His story gives me insight into the world as I try to figure things out and find my way,” Lee said.

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