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How to get a BlackRock internship: Ask rich people for advice

One day – the 21st of March 2014, to be specific – Reggie Nelson was knocking on doors and asking people for advice. Then he met one of the biggest people in finance.

The exact reason Nelson was walking around London asking complete strangers for financial and life advice is a long story. He spoke to Tommy Dixon, host of the BBC’s Outlook podcast, to explain his story, and it’s worth listening to. To summarize it (unjustly – it’s worth listening to in its own right), Nelson’s father died when he was a teenager, and he suddenly realized that he had an obligation to support his family financially, and hoping for a professional football contract wouldn’t cut it. So, he went to an upscale neighborhood – Chelsea, in London, to be more specific – and asked people how they managed to live the lifestyles they did.

One of the first people he asked for advice was a random man in an Aston Martin. “His advice was to study hard in school, get experience abroad,” and “genuine, genuine hard work,” Nelson said. He thanked the man and continued on his way; the prospective mentor drove after him and gave him £40 from a “wad of cash” for asking that question. The donation would prove useful later.

After a few more disinterested street encounters, he took to knocking on doors, which worked out somewhat worse – most people in the neighborhood had intercoms, and simply ignored him when he said why he was there. Then he was invited in by someone called Elizabeth.

Fortuitously, Elizabeth's name was Elizabeth Prince, and her husband was a certain Quintin Price. At the time, (Quintin) Price was BlackRock’s global head of alpha strategies, and managed around a fifth of the world’s largest asset manager’s assets (at the time, around $1tn of a $4.7tn pool).

“I wish everyone could meet Quintin,” Nelson said. “He’s genuinely the nicest person you could ever meet. He has this great sense of empathy, and this tremendous ability to understand. To walk in someone’s shoes. I’ve never been able to do that.”

The Prices had just gotten back from a football match when he rung their buzzer but chose to sit down and talk with the curious stranger anyway. Price “gets asked this question a lot, why did he decided to help me,” Nelson said. “One of the things he says is, if he had passed away, and his son was doing, how would he want someone else to treat his son. And he said that he acted upon what he thought he would want someone else to do for his son if he had passed away.”

The result was not money or an assured job, but advice and guidance. Price signed Nelson up to a graduate insight day that BlackRock was hosting. “I didn’t have shirt, trousers, shoes, anything like that,” Nelson admitted. Luckily, he had £40 in his pocket that a man in an Aston Martin had given him. “It all just aligned perfectly.”

Price assigned Nelson a BlackRock mentor for career guidance. The mentor encouraged him to gun for internships, calling them gold (which they are). Nelson emailed Price, unsure if BlackRock did internships, and asked if he could do one at the firm – which was arranged (“an off-cycle, one-week internship”).

“On the last day of my internship, Quintin walks past my desk, left an envelope on my desk, and said don’t open it until you’re going home,” Nelson recounted. “As I’m walking home, I open it – there was £150 in the envelope. He took money from his own pocket to give to me, just in case I had to buy any suits for the internship, any lunch. He didn’t want me to be out of pocket.”

The rest is, more or less, history. Nelson had tried to avoid going to university for a long time, seeing academics as not being for him, but was encouraged by Price.

“When he said that, I felt a sharp pain in my core. This can’t be the only way. I don’t want to go to university. But I thought, you know what, I’ve gone and done what I’ve done, and I did that for this reason. To find people like him and to find how they amass wealth. So, if they’re encouraging me to go to university, then I should follow suit and do as they say,” Nelson said.

Having signed on to study economics and Mandarin at Kingston University, London, Nelson promptly scored 25% on his first exam. “I was going to leave university and call it quits after that,” he said. “But then I had a conversation with myself and reminded myself that if I do this thing for three years, what can be available to me is a career in a financial institution that could change the course of my life and my family’s life forever.”

He scored 82% on the next exam, and 84% on the one after that.

“Getting the grades I was getting gave me the confidence to apply for internships as well. Anything and everything, I was getting involved in. If I did one internship, I would find a way to do another internship. If there were no internships available, I would create my own internship,” Nelson said.

“One method I used was writing letters to different managing directors at asset management firms. I would write a letter detailing who I was,” and explaining his story. “I managed to get an internship that way.”

That wasn’t the only method. “I would turn up to the firm’s address, find someone on LinkedIn and ask to speak to them and say, hey, I really want to work for your firm. I’ll do an unpaid internship; I just want to learn. I gave my elevator pitch – and managed to get another internship that way.”

Today, Nelson is an associate in private wealth solutions at BlackRock, where he's worked for a year and a half. He's written a book about his route into the role. It's a reminder that there are other ways to get into finance than target universities and nepotism.

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AUTHORZeno Toulon

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