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History Degree Pays Off for Investment Banker

Mark Kolt (History, ’10) uses research skills to help investors find The Next Big Thing.

While his college studies as a history major were focused on the past, Mark Kolt’s job is all about the future.

As a venture capitalist and investment banker, the 2010 graduate makes investments in U.S.-based nanotechnology startups for the Russian government. He predicts which companies to gamble on, in hopes of picking one that experiences rapid growth and provides a big return on investment. He bases his predictions on thorough evaluations of company and industry history.

“Investors make bets based on their interpretation of how current events will affect their bottom lines,” Kolt said. “They look at how markets react based on similar news in the past, make educated assumptions based on that research and apply those assumptions to their current models to predict future trends and determine the best course of action. This is exactly what history teaches you to do.”

In American Business History, a lecture-and-discussion class, Kolt learned how historical events affect business culture. It inspired him to write a senior thesis about the history of venture capitalism in Silicon Valley.

“Really, what I was interested in was, ‘how did all these people make all their money?’” he said.

Professor Daniel Pope, Kolt’s thesis advisor, said UO history students learn to write a clear narrative and develop persuasive skills through producing a thesis, a requirement for the major.

Historical knowledge can be useful for business professionals in several ways.

Said Pope: “People with historical training should bring an awareness of the social context of business—trends in national and international politics, macroeconomics, popular culture, race and gender relations all affect how a firm functions in the present.

“Second, historical research experience is often valuable for specific tasks and projects. Well-trained business people will know how to investigate the past to get a sense of what worked and what didn’t, to learn of paths not taken, to become alert to potential problems and issues in current and future activity.”

Kolt’s study of venture capitalism led him to pursue a career in finance.

Living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kolt starts his typical day by reviewing news and market conditions, looking for anything that may affect his clients’ investments. He then spends time on the phone working on deals, reaching out to companies, making introductions and scheduling meetings.

Kolt keeps track of two clocks and manages his day to work with people in America and Russia. “It’s not a very traditional schedule,” he said.

Moscow is 10 hours ahead, so after eating dinner around 10 p.m. Kolt hops onto an 11 p.m. conference call. Around 1 a.m. he’s off the phone, having passed any unfinished work to analysts in Russia, and into bed. He is then up and in his stateside office by 10 a.m.

“My history degree gave me the skills to not only analyze source materials,” Kolt said, “but also to understand the underlying causes of economic trends, paths to success and to apply such lessons to my current job and responsibilities.”