Thursday, April 16, 2015

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Eric Ball ’88 (MA), ’88S (MBA), PhD
Senior Vice President, Finance, Oracle

A leading figure in the world of finance,
Eric Ball believes that technical skills are
important, but to succeed in the real
world and move up the ladder, you need
to master soft skills and team building.
When Eric Ball came to Rochester to study economics and finance, he was uncertain if he wanted to pursue a career in academia or corporate work. He ultimately decided that his primary base would be in business—a choice that would lead him to a career in corporate finance, venture capital, and authorship.

Ball began at AT&T as a financial analyst and soon entered corporate treasury operations, building expertise in capital markets at large corporations. He moved to Silicon Valley and landed at Oracle ten years ago, where he now leads the team that manages treasury operations, corporate finance, risk management, and stock administration. After starting at Oracle, he began making venture investments and advising startups on the side. “Spending time with startups can be addictive,” he notes, “in part because they face real resource constraints and have to make decisions very quickly.”

Along the way, Ball earned his PhD from the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. He’s also a Kaufmann Fellow, a selective program that grooms leaders in venture capital. Ball has taught at the University of Rochester, Rutgers, and USC, and has published articles on venture capital in prestigious journals. In 2011, he was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Finance” in CFO and Treasury & Risk Management magazines.

Using his exposure to both corporate and academic arenas, Ball coauthored Unlocking the Ivory Tower with Joe DiPuma, who had a similar background. “We wanted to connect the two worlds,” says Ball. “Our book helped distill the academic research that was most relevant for managers in a concise format that was easily absorbed. From there, we converted the book into an online course on management research.”

Ball believes that big companies reward depth of knowledge before breadth, at least in early-to-middle management, and that, in general, it’s easier to move from bigger companies to smaller ones. “You always hear ‘passion drives success,’ but I think it’s better to find what you’re successful at first,” Ball says. “Then you may develop a passion for it as you gain expertise.”

Ball credits Simon for giving him the technical skills he still uses today. “Technical skills help get you that first job and move into middle management,” he says. “But to move into senior management, you need soft skills, particularly when it comes to team building. Schools do a great job at teaching the technical skills, but soft skills require experience and learning from feedback.”

Professor Cliff Smith at Simon was a role model to Ball in his teaching methodology. “[Smith] showed us that finance was not dry, that personality and passion make a real difference in performance,” he says. “Professor Mike Barclay also instilled an enthusiasm for finance that made me want to learn more on my own.”

Ball recently participated in a Simon roundtable in Silicon Valley that updated alumni on the latest in the School curriculum and faculty. “It was an eye-opener to learn how the school has evolved and to find out how many of us are out west,” he says.

“I believe that learning to learn is the most important skill any school can impart,” Ball adds. “While technical skills are pretty much required now, I urge students to look at their initial post-MBA job as a first date rather than a marriage. Regardless of where you start, you’ll likely be someplace completely different in ten years.” Ultimately, he believes that working with other people to accomplish a shared objective is what makes for a successful career, including the tricky work of balancing technical and interpersonal challenges.

In his spare time, Ball enjoys parenting his two young boys, coaching Little League, perfecting his piloting skills, and serving on numerous advisory boards.

—Joy Underhill


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