SAI Alumni Spotlight: Lee Schaffler
Before managing investments on behalf of pension funds, university endowments, and large institutions, Lee Schaffler (‘01) started his career as a manager for several of Student Agencies, Inc.'s businesses during his sophomore year at Cornell. Lee had both a lasting and broad impact on the organization, running Mile High Laundry, the Shortline Bus business, and the front desk that sold student ID cards and class rings at the time. Mile High Laundry has since transitioned to a dry-cleaning service, while Shortline and the front desk at 409 College Avenue are integral components of Student Agencies today. As a student studying Policy Analysis and Managem
ent in the College of Human Ecology, Lee entered an unfamiliar and exciting environment after joining the SAI management team. He vividly remembers the CFO requesting his pro forma for the upcoming year for Mile High Laundry within his first few days working at the company. Lee was barely familiar with this term and had yet to step foot in a finance course; however, he was motivated by the challenge and opportunity to learn. During his time working for a number of businesses across SAI, Lee gained experience running all facets of these fast-paced and detail-oriented companies. Whether analyzing financial statements or creating marketing campaigns, Lee developed vital business acumen that fueled his success both at Cornell and in his professional career.
Lee has since become a leader in the finance industry, working in the Investment Management Division of JP Morgan as Executive Director of the Real Estate Group. He was initially attracted to the buy-side role given the opportunity to manage money across a variety of different mandates (including equities, fixed income, and alternative assets) to benefit his clients. Lee's work focuses on investing in commercial real estate properties while analyzing risk and return frameworks to ensure that his clients meet their financial goals. The first and one of the most important lessons he ever learned in real estate was, in fact, from Student Agencies. Every day, while walking home from campus, Lee would pass a billboard affixed to an SAI-owned apartment building above Collegetown Bagels that stated, "If you lived here, you would be home by now." Location is vital to any real estate property, and this principle drives Lee's investment strategy today. Lee considers it of the utmost importance that properties are transit oriented, in close proximity to public amenities like restaurants, cafes, and nightlife, and easily accessible to work in order to maintain lasting appeal and make for a worthwhile investment for his clients.
While Lee has thrived in his current role and is passionate about generating returns for large institutions through his investment decisions, he can envision more entrepreneurial pursuits in the future. As a result of the rapid disruption of the retail industry, he believes one of the greatest areas of opportunity is real estate that capitalizes on the evolving nature of consumer fulfillment and “last mile” store distribution networks.
Lee's greatest piece of advice for current and past managers going through the recruitment cycle for internships and full-time positions is to highlight their experiences and challenges they overcame while operating their respective businesses. Running a business at only 19 or 20 years old is an incredible responsibility and with that responsibility comes great wisdom that will shape your career. Lee also advises students to talk about their coursework in interviews as well. Interviewers are interested in hearing about the group project you led, research project you are striving to complete, and presentations in which you built consensus around your original idea or thesis. You have the remainder of your life to succeed and have an impact in the working world, however, only four years at Cornell that go by far too quickly. He recommends that students continuously ask questions, both in the workplace and in class, diversify their interests early on in their careers, and specialize in a field later on in their careers and share that unique expertise with others. Learning is lifelong and certainly continues after graduation from Cornell.