CCAS Alumnus Says ‘Figure Out What Excites You’

Frank Cordek, CCAS BS ’00, is uniquely qualified to talk about success in business. A director at Signal Hill Capital, a boutique investment bank specializing in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and private placement advisory, he has been a driving force in building the firm’s Internet & Digital Media practice, closing more than 30 transactions since 2012 and making his mark in a highly competitive field.

But he’ll be the first to say that as a GW undergrad with a focus on pre-med and an interest in acting inspired by a lead role in his high school play, he never expected that one day he’d have a seat at the table among some of the most renowned names in finance. Along the way, Frank has gained insights that could provide guidance for recent graduates as they chart their own career paths.

According to Frank, first and foremost is to “figure out what excites you, and then target that industry.” In Frank’s case, his early passion for the medical profession waned as he gained hands-on experience in an ICU. Instead, he gravitated toward finance, inspired by some relevant courses he took at GW.

Once his interest in finance was piqued, he did his homework—researched options, labored through job applications, rehearsed for interviews. “I remember clearly, sitting on a bench outside of Lisner Hall, getting career advice from one of my professors on whether or not to take a job on Wall Street or in LA,” he says.

Indeed, many of his GW professors served as early models for the mentor relationships he would pursue as he embarked upon his career, as well as informing his own role as a mentor to young professionals at Signal Hill. “Mentorship tends to be organic and often a deeper connection than just management, so be on the lookout for that person with whom you click and who is willing to teach and provide guidance,” he says.

Frank credits much of his professional success to the value he places on continuing education. He advises newly minted entrants into the workforce to read the trades, take meetings, listen to podcasts, follow intriguing people and companies—absorb, distill, and then form opinions that move an idea or project forward. “When you have a feel for your business sector and develop your own opinions, you become an influencer,” Frank says.

Finally, Frank says that friendships established in college often prove invaluable as life progresses, both personally and professionally. “Even 15-plus years after graduating from GW, some of my closest friends are those I met at Thurston Hall,” Frank says.

Frank’s trajectory, from interning in an ICU to overseeing multi-million dollar mergers and acquisitions, has been neither linear nor traditional. Yet, by remaining open and curious as a student and young professional, he has achieved tremendous success in a field distinctly suited to his skills and passions.

Oh, and that acting bug he caught in high school? He never did make it big, but he was featured in a Hallmark commercial that is still available on YouTube. “It was a great experience and helped me with a down payment on my first condo,” he laughs. —Mary Follin

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