Interview with Alex Klikoff, C'92

Alex Klikoff, C'92 - Senior Managing Director, Fintan Partners, LLC
Major: International Relations
Location: Palo Alto, CA

How has your liberal arts degree been influential throughout your career?

My liberal arts degree influenced me profoundly in two ways: a) to be a generalist rather than a specialist; and b) to take into consideration history and its context in influencing events and human behavior.  In the current environment, students and professionals are often encouraged to specialize.  I think that striving to be a competent generalist has encouraged me to remain creative, to avoid attachment professionally to staying in areas in which I am working as they become more crowded and competitive over time, and instead to continually seek newer, less crowded areas.  Being a generalist propels me to reinvent myself on a perpetual basis. 

In addition, my international relations emphasis within liberal arts helped drive a fascination with current events and how people as individuals and groups are influenced by the context of history.  My liberal arts degree also encouraged me to foster my sense of intrinsic curiosity.

What is the value of the Penn network, and how has it played a role in your career?

The Penn network has helped me globally in terms of its brand recognition and value. I can travel virtually anywhere in the world and receive acknowledgment and validation.  As a lesson learned, I wish that I had been more proactive while I was in school at fostering my network.  I value my friends and network from Penn, and can see from others that my network could have been even stronger had a devoted more time to nurturing it while in school.   My niece graduated from Penn several years ago, and the value of fostering the Penn network was my principal piece of feedback to her.

What advice would you give students at the College who are trying to decide what career path to pursue?

I recommend that students harness their own passions in a purposeful and directed way when deciding what career path to pursue. For example, my love of international diplomatic history and of travel has helped me greatly in international investing.  My passion to be involved in areas or businesses early in their corporate life cycles sustains me and gives me energy.  It drives me to help build new businesses and craft new areas of research.  Work is often extremely difficult, and harnessing one’s passions and strengths in a constructive way is essential to maintain longevity and creativity, and avoid burn-out.

What was your favorite course at the College and why?

My favorite course at the College was taught by Hilary Conroy and focused on Japanese history. It was a wonderful course for several reasons.  First, Dr. Conroy deliberately included both undergraduates and graduate students.  This created a Socratic dialogue of a rich and robust nature.  Second, Dr. Conroy had harnessed his passion of Japan and Japanese culture not only as an academic, but also as a participant. He learned by doing as a Japanese interpreter in military intelligence and continued to use his participation across cultures to drive change, including co-founding the Conference for Peace Research in History and its journal Peace and Change, and helped create the Committee for Concerned Asian Scholars. 

He also exhibited passion for history and the role knowledge can play in augmenting communication between cultures.  He held us to a higher standard by providing a rich and diverse reading list and asked us to make personal choices within the reading list and take responsibility for them rather than assigning a rigid curriculum.  I love the fact that as a somewhat distracted sophomore I walked in to Dr. Conroy’s class and was included as a peer in his life’s work and community.

Feel free to share any additional comments.

I will always be grateful to the College for fostering a sense of intellectualism and pragmatism.  I think this is increasingly important in a world in which it can be risky to rely solely on on-campus recruiting for jobs and careers.  Pragmatic, curious students can take responsibility to create and direct their own career paths and life pursuits.  To the extent I can be helpful in assisting students to harness their own passions, curiosity and energy to forge their paths in life I would be happy to do so.