When asked to picture where he will be five years from now – or even ten years from now – the answer for Josh Wilkes is simple: “investment banking.”
The 2007 Carolina graduate and Covenant Scholar will earn his MBA from Kenan-Flagler Business School in May 2013, and he has already secured a full-time position with Wells Fargo in Charlotte, N.C., where he will join the Consumer, Healthcare, and Gaming Industry Group. For Josh, this is a dream come true.
“It’s what I came to school for,” Josh explains of his position with Wells Fargo. “I can’t believe I’m going to be a banker. It’s exactly what I want to do.” Reaching this point, however, was not easy.
At the age of 12, Josh moved from Dallas, Tex. to Clarkton, N.C. following his parents’ divorce. Josh’s mother worked full time, raised two children, and cared for his injured grandmother and special needs aunt. Josh helped by cooking meals, doing laundry, tending to the yard, and setting a good example for his younger brother.
“I got my first job at 14 because my mother showed me that if I wanted something, then I had to earn it.” This work ethic instilled in Josh the resiliency and determination that continues to propel him forward. It also kept Josh from being discouraged when he did not gain admission to Carolina as a first-year student. “I knew that Carolina was where I wanted to be, so I decided to work hard and transfer.”
Although Carolina was at the top of his list, Josh applied to multiple universities as a transfer student. The academic rigor of the institutions was a top priority. “I knew I wanted to be at a place that had a good reputation and quality academics that would give me an exceptional education and the best opportunities once I graduated.”
Cost was also crucial. “It was important to me that I transfer to a public state university because I worried about the loans and debt I could accrue if I went to a private school.” When Josh began to weigh his options of the schools that would provide him with the best education at the greatest value, Carolina emerged as the clear favorite.
Once Josh received his acceptance letter, he was pretty set on transferring to Carolina, but it was a subsequent correspondence that solidified his decision. “I got an email telling me I had received the Covenant, and I was thrilled. Not having to worry about the financial burden was and is a huge relief.”
Getting into and paying for Carolina were only half the battle. “As a transfer student, it was difficult to come here and get the lay of the land,” Josh says. “There were just a lot of things that I didn’t know.” While Josh appreciated the faculty and staff support he received as a Covenant Scholar, he longed for greater interaction with students who could better relate to his experience.
“I worked with Covenant Academic Coordinator Fred Clark to pilot the Peer Mentor program because I felt that it was important for students to get a perspective of Carolina beyond that of faculty and staff.” As part of the program, Josh connected with the next cohort of scholars to provide them with information on housing, dining, student organizations, and campus life. “While great, faculty and staff can’t speak on these topics in the same way students can because we live that life day in and day out.”
Due to Josh’s vision and persistence, the Peer Mentor program has evolved into an integral part of the Covenant experience. “I hope the program provides a better transition for students and ultimately makes for a stronger Covenant community.” Creating the program also provided Josh with a way to pay it forward to the organization he believes positioned him for success.
“The Covenant isn’t a handout,” he says. “Yes, tuition is given to you, but if you want to graduate debt free, then you have to work hard and take advantage of the many resources and structures in place to help you do so.”
These resources were particularly important for Josh since he spent his undergraduate career as a psychology major. “My dad bought me a subscription to the Wall Street Journal my senior year, so I started reading about companies and international business, and it captivated me,” he says.
By that time, Josh was too deep into his major to change, so he turned to the Covenant. His mentors there directed him to Career Services, where he searched for jobs in business that did not require a business degree. “I was able to differentiate myself because I had people skills,” he says. “I knew how to understand, talk to, relate to, and read people.”
Josh perfected his people skills through his work-study position with the Environmental Protection Agency, which he held as a part of his Covenant package. “We did joint studies with the UNC Hospital on cystic fibrosis,” he explains. “Since I was initially contemplating a career in psychology, I knew it was important for graduate school to gain experience running studies, engaging with people, analyzing data, and conducting trials.”
Even though he did not go on to pursue an advanced degree in psychology, this foundation allowed Josh to land a job with Lincoln Financial Group in Hartford, Conn. upon graduating. He spent three years learning about different business models and structures, and it was there that Josh discovered his passion for investment banking.
“I wanted to learn as much as I could about investing, so I reached out to local Carolina alums working in the industry to ask questions and get advice.” Based on the feedback he received, Josh decided to work another year at Lincoln Financial Group’s Charlotte branch before applying to MBA programs.
“When I started thinking about getting my MBA, I knew I wanted to return to Carolina,” Josh says. “I applied to two schools and received my acceptance letter from the other school first, but I knew that if I didn’t get into Kenan-Flagler the first time, I was just going to wait and apply again the following year.”
Luckily, that wasn’t necessary, and as he does with his many other accomplishments, Josh attributes it in part to the people at the Covenant such as Fred Clark and Shirley Ort, Director of Scholarships and Student Aid. “Fred and Shirley always believed in me and encouraged me,” he says. “That’s the Covenant difference – the people.”