By Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
Since the financial and market meltdown in 2008 investment bankers have had less than a cuddly image. If not completely Madoff-like, then certainly some were at least complicit in the recession of 2008.
But what if that investment banker was Ally Disterhoft, the prep and college basketball star, the girl next door, the two-times going on three-time academic All-America? Wouldn’t you have to reassess? Or would you just wonder what a nice girl like her is doing in a place like this?
Disterhoft is the gold standard for college students who are also Division I athletes. She won a state title at West High, a Miss Iowa Basketball crown and played on an NCAA Sweet Sixteen qualifier at Iowa. In a couple months when her college career concludes she will have one of the most significant legacies in program history. She will leave an equally impressive legacy at the Tippie College of Business.
As a youngster Disterhoft played the violin and was involved in multiple sports. She always excelled academically, but like most kids it took a little time to focus in on what might be her area of study.
“I always really liked my math classes when I was younger,” she said. “My dad (Jeff) has been working at the (University of Iowa Community) credit union for awhile now, and going to work with him was always interesting.”
Jeff Disterhoft, an accountant who is President and CEO at UICCU, had a knack for solving and, better yet, explaining math problems. But that’s not exactly all that Ally picked up in following him around.
“When I would go to work with him I’d see how easily he would interact with his peers and people that he worked with,” she said. “How math and numbers and business were also incorporated into what he was doing, but he also spent time with people that he really enjoyed being around. That’s kind of fit his personality, and it fits mine.”
A high school accounting class intrigued her.
“She first indicated an interest in accounting as a junior at West High,” said Ally’s mother, Missy Disterhoft. “She happened to be telling me about it in the kitchen, and Jeff overheard and practically sprinted into the room smiling to hear her describe her interest.”
She was accomplished enough to be directly admitted to the business school her freshman year. She took upper-level classes immediately.
“The two hard-core math classes you have to take right away are ‘Stats for Strategy’ and ‘Stats for Business,’” she said. “Math is incorporated into every single business class.”
Not every 18-year old is prepared for that kind of narrowly focused commitment as a freshman, but she was. Four years later she’s still committed.
Disterhoft said her hardest class, ‘Financial Accounting,’ came early.
“It’s the class that everyone has to take, and it kind of weeds people out,” she said.
The most rewarding (and time-consuming) was last semester’s ‘Applied Equity Evaluation.’
“You learn all about valuing companies, and in the process you are actually evaluating a real, live company,” she said. “At the end you have to present your evaluation to a board at the business school.”
This is the kind of practical problem with which investment bankers are tasked.
While she’s a double major in finance and accounting and taking these kinds of classes she is also a Division I athlete, which is the real-time equivalent of having a full-time job that also plays out in public and in the media.
“She’s always been very driven to succeed in both her academic and athletic pursuits and seemed to realize early on the sacrifices that needed to be made with her time to accomplish those pursuits,” Missy Disterhoft said.
Ally said she sets aside blocks of time for study and sticks to it. She doesn’t watch TV. She laughs and says she has no social life. She easily spends five or six hours at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and finishes the day at Tippie at 11 p.m.
“It has been a huge commitment, and I’ve had to make sacrifices,” she said. “It’s something that I’m passionate about, so I think when you’re passionate about doing something and succeeding at it then it becomes a little bit easier.”
Last summer she interned in Chicago with PricewaterhouseCoopers, doing audit assurance.
“I learned a lot about high-level accounting processes at two different firms,” she said. “It was a little bit slower than I would have guessed, but it was the summer months.”
In addition to getting ready for her senior season at Iowa, Disterhoft spent the summer preparing for interviews with major investment banks in New York. She interviewed in September, and had to revamp her wardrobe to do so.
“I’ve got to at least look the part,” she joked.
She landed an offer from Barclays Investment Bank in New York City, one of the world’s premier investment banks.
She will be working as an analyst doing research on different types of deals, preparing evaluation models and explaining them to clients or the people on her team. The deals could be mergers, acquisitions or debt offerings, among other things.
“I think what really intrigued me about investment banking…I am already interested in markets and numbers and stuff like that, so the background stuff is there,” she said. “But I think that investment bankers really value the lessons you can learn from sports. It’s a very competitive environment, and I think I’m drawn to that.
“I think I’ve always done well or performed the best that I can in an environment where I’m challenged every day around hard-working, smart, passionate individuals. I’ve also always wanted to push myself outside my comfort zone and be the best that I can, and to be able to pursue an investment banking job out of college is one of the top jobs you can do.”
Very few if any jobs right out of college present the challenge that Disterhoft has sought.
“She’s extremely competitive and driven, which is a must have for the industry,” Missy Disterhoft said. “She’s not afraid of and is very acclimated to working long hours between her athletic and academic commitments, again a must have within the industry.”
Strong interpersonal skills and plenty of leadership experience enhance her chances, but it is that inner drive that separates her from others.
“Ally has often had a need to prove herself to others, be it her parents, the community, friends or to herself in some cases,” Missy Disterhoft said. “Working at Barclays… she wants to prove to herself that she can make it on one of the biggest stages in the nation, at one of the premier banking houses in the world.”
Ally said she’s ready to pursue her dream in the hyper-competitive milieu of world finance.
“I’m excited to get out of my comfort zone, to be in the financial capital of the United States and the world,” she said. “To right out of college to be in the middle of it all, that’s really exciting to me.”
She knows what people think of investment bankers and concedes there’s some reason for the stereotype given what happened in the recession of 2008.
“You’re going to find that, but you’ll also find people who don’t fit that mold,” she said.
And she’s one of the latter. We should all be thankful.