Skip to Main Content
Women in Asset Management · Naomi Walch

Expedition behaviour and curiosity were key to success for WAM capstone project

Jun 5, 2023

Naomi Walch

Naomi Walch at the WAM capstone project event at Ivey's Toronto campus.

Naomi Walch is from Calgary, Alberta and has just finished her second year in the Bachelor of Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS) program at Western University. On May 31, she received her certificate of completion for Ivey’s Women in Asset Management Program (WAM), which required four weeks of in-class learning. She is now enjoying the next part of the program, her internship with Mackenzie Investments. In her blog below, she writes about the final capstone activity for the program, which challenged the students to compose an investment thesis and valuation of Loblaw. 

Is Loblaw a buy, sell, or hold? That was the question given to the 42 women in Ivey’s Women in Asset Management program for the final capstone project. Knowing this was the project's premise early on, it is safe to say we were completely uncertain of how we would approach our valuation of Loblaw. At that time, we didn’t know that we’d be exposed to a vast amount of knowledge and resources in the coming weeks.

Learning the basics of discounted cash flow

The program was structured by gradually introducing the basic building blocks to a discounted cash flow (DCF) weekly. This included classes on capital structure, the cost of capital, and stock valuation and was all brought together with a presentation on DCF analysis by Dave Thomas, Co-CEO of The Marquee Group. Although understanding the meaning behind the calculations is essential, I noticed that most of my learning occurred when my knowledge was put to the test in preparing the Loblaw DCF model, forcing me to think critically and reflect back to class along every stage of the process.

Not just about the numbers

The first team meeting with my capstone group was actually a bit unnerving. While I’ve worked on many group projects before, I had never been in a group with such high-performing women just like me. While I knew we would produce a presentation we would be proud of, I felt uneasy with what a team dynamic would be like in a group full of leaders. 

Thankfully, we had a class on working in teams with Ann Frost, an associate professor of Organizational Behaviour, prior to starting the project. She had us complete an Everest Simulation. In the simulation, we were split into groups and given different profiles with the objective of climbing Mount Everest while completing each of our individual goals, some of which clashed. The outcome – learning how to adopt “expedition behaviour.” The essence of this is to support the group’s goals first, pitch in where you can, and – my personal favourite – be “cow-like”(there’s no room for divas or drama – get on with it!).

I had never considered the parallels between leading groups in a professional and an expedition setting, but now they were clearer than ever. I realized that sometimes taking an integrative approach to leadership is often more tedious, but ultimately results in higher group member satisfaction, both in terms of output and content.

Interviews with Loblaw executives

A common theme that I noticed among the women in the program (and I am sure many others) was how stress-inducing it is to interact with top professionals. So, when it was announced that we would have the chance to ask our questions to Loblaw executives, we were both excited and nervous. The opportunity for direct insight into the company we could implement in our valuation was incredibly motivating, but the fear of asking a trivial question and wasting their time was present.

As the program continued, we had the chance to meet incredible professionals, like the women leaders panel featuring Nicole Mussico, CIO of Calpers; Barbara Zvan, President and CEO of UPP; and Helen Rattee, Managing Director of ESG and Portfolio Thematics at OMERS. This experience allowed us to feel comfortable asking questions. We realized that those top executives were in our position at one point in time, too, and they genuinely wanted to help us learn as much as possible. 

Challenging the status quo

After presenting our investment thesis to Loblaw executives John Wiliams and Roy MacDonald; Jonathan Millman, portfolio manager at RBC; and Rory Ronan, portfolio manager at 1832 Asset Management, I reflected on some of their feedback. Something that stood out to me was their advice to always seek to answer the question, Why? They explained that this applies to every number, decision being made, and any information or opinion given. The bottom line comes down to being curious, which, I believe, is significant not only to asset management, but to every other facet of life.