In between classes at California State University, Sacramento, Barry Kitt would often find himself walking over to nearby stock brokerage EF Hutton to sit with the “old-timers,” watch the ticker tape and talk stocks with those who were there day in and day out. For Kitt, this ritual proved to be invaluable to his professional growth — and decades later, it became the inspiration behind a generous gift to SMU and the Cox School of Business from Barry; his wife, Beth; and their three children: Gregory, Cox BBA ’08; Wake Forest University alumna Monica; and Steven, Cox BBA ’13.
It’s been a decade since Kitt and his family celebrated the launch of the Kitt Investing and Trading Center, a vital part of SMU Cox that allows students to experience hands-on, practical finance and investment experience without needing to stray from campus. In that time, the center has evolved to meet students’ needs as they’ve changed with the times. Now, as the center celebrates its 10th anniversary, Kitt reflects on why the center is so important for business students who walk through its doors.
“Our goal was to build the investment and trading center so that students would have access to state-of-the-art investment technology and tools and to provide the right environment to learn,” Kitt says. “In an ever-increasingly competitive world, we wanted the students to have the best possible opportunity to help them become financially successful in the future, and Cox has provided that opportunity to them.”
Kitt’s dedicated spirit comes to life through the Kitt Center, a place where students go to learn not only practical applications but also how to think outside the box. That’s a lesson Kitt himself conveyed to students when he taught a class for Cox Professor of Practice in Finance Don Shelly’s class in early November, in honor of the center’s 10th birthday.
The Kitt Vision
Back at EF Hutton, Kitt’s experience learning the ropes was a bit different than that of students today. When he heard about a new stock, he would go to the library section at Hutton to do his research using the S&P and Value Line sheets, which were inevitably weeks or even months old. His perseverance paid off. The firm offered him his first job out of college as a stockbroker when he graduated in the spring of 1978. Barry promptly decided to move to Chicago where he spent the summer working on the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). His goal was to learn about stock options over the summer so that he could return to EF Hutton in the fall as an options specialist among the stockbrokers there. However, after having the opportunity to work over the summer at the CBOE, Kitt recognized that a bigger opportunity existed there and then spent the next seven years as a market-maker (trader) on the floor of the CBOE. Along the way, he also started a few businesses and sold one to a company in Dallas. That brought the Kitt family to Texas, where he eventually started a hedge fund, The Pinnacle Fund LP, in 1994 and later started another fund, The Pinnacle China Fund LP.
By the time leaders at SMU told him about the concept for a trading and investment center, he had one son studying at Cox and another who had already graduated. Deciding to support the idea of an investment and trading center was a natural step for the Kitt family.
“The concept of an investment and trading center seemed like the perfect fit considering my 17 years as a hedge fund manager and more than seven years as a trader on the floor of the CBOE,” Kitt says. “Former Cox Dean Al Niemi shared his concept for the investment and trading center, and he took me down to the old computer lab where he wanted the investment center to be located. We had a brief discussion about the vision for the investment center. It was obvious that this was great for SMU Cox and a perfect way to give back to SMU, where our two sons had such a great experience.”
At the time, very few similar trading centers were in existence at other universities across the country. The goal was to make the Kitt Center the country’s best business school investment center by first observing existing programs at other universities and then building a center at Cox to create a program that made SMU Cox stand out from the pack.
A Showpiece for the School
Though he had the vision from the outset, even Kitt is a little surprised at the real impact the center has had in the 10 years since it opened. “I have probably received over 100 communications from students telling me that one of the reasons that they chose SMU was because they saw the Kitt Center when they first toured the campus and they wanted access to the center and the classes being taught there. SMU built a wonderful center, and they have continued to make it a valuable tool for students who will be future leaders in the business world.”
“SMU built a wonderful center, and they have continued to make it a valuable tool for students who will be future leaders in the business world.”– Barry Kitt
Shelly, faculty lead for the Kitt Center, says the center has made a substantial impact on prospective students scoping out the University. “I think it’s really helped us in recruiting students,” he says. “We are grateful for the opportunities the Kitt Center has created for our finance students and for the School itself.”
It’s not only a showpiece for the Cox school, as Shelly puts it, but it’s also a place where students can learn how to use Bloomberg, FactSet, S&P Capital IQ, Morningstar and other platforms that prepare them for what’s next. According to feedback from alumni and their employers, it’s been doing an excellent job.
“When the employer calls up and says, ‘Your students are better prepared, and I can give them assignments sooner than I can give other people,’ that’s the barometer of how well we’re doing,” Shelly says. “They can just hit the ground running, so that becomes more and more important and gives our students the ability to differentiate themselves early on.”
Preparing for a Second Decade
The Kitt Center is looking forward to a significant expansion as it enters its second decade of preparing students for a future in investing and trading. The new center will be a larger space — holding 60 students instead of 37 in the current space — with tiered seating for better visibility and the capacity for more classes, more guest speakers and more room for students to learn and grow. Beth and Barry Kitt have committed $1 million to make these enhancements possible.
“Kitt Center 2.0 is only going to be better and bigger,” says Cox Professor of Finance William Maxwell and Mary Jo Vaughn Rauscher Chair in Financial Investments, who also serves as academic director of The EnCap Investments & LCM Group Alternative Asset Management Center and academic director of The Don Jackson Center for Financial Studies. “The use of the center has exploded, and the new iteration will allow us to open up the opportunity to even more students. The newest Kitt iteration puts us at the forefront of business education, which is the fundamental goal of the institution.”
The need for students to push themselves to the forefront is something Shelly, Maxwell and Kitt all emphasize. The center’s namesake understands how important it is to go above and beyond to achieve one’s goals.
“When Barry Kitt first came to speak to my students 10 years ago, what impressed me most was his passion,” Shelly says. “His enthusiasm about investing and capital markets and his message of never settling for the easy answer resonates with students. The other key message he conveys to the class is that you must continuously improve yourself and always look for the next good idea or opportunity. It’s so important for young people to be inspired by someone who has done this for a long time and who is so passionate about it and still has that passion.” Looking ahead to the next 10 years and beyond, Maxwell predicts that “the Kitt Center will become even more valuable over time as the financial world becomes only more complex and interconnected.”