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Intel and McCombs

Curren Krishnan, MPA '99, creates job pipeline for McCombs finance students

By Steve Brooks

Curren Krishnan, MPA '99 smiles at the camera

For Curren Krishnan, MPA '99, hands-on experience in corporate finance came young. His parents, immigrants from India, owned a chemistry lab in Los Angeles. His father wouldn't let him near test tubes but did allow him to collect checks and make bank deposits. By the time he was 12, Krishnan was keeping the general ledger. Three decades later, he's helping McCombs students get real-world experience themselves at the multinational corporation where he is chief of staff to the EVP of manufacturing and sales — Intel Corp.

The McCombs/Intel Corporate Finance Fellows Program, which Krishnan helped design, assigns teams of students to semester-long research projects for Intel — with an inside track to employment for those who excel. This same kind of experiential learning is what first drew Krishnan to McCombs as a high school student. He came for a five-week summer business program that included a day touring a Frito-Lay plant.

It led him to the school's Professional Program in Accounting and another chance to learn outside the classroom.

While getting a joint BBA and MPA in five years, he interned at one of the Big Four accounting firms. Besides honing his financial skills, the stint taught Krishnan that a big accounting firm was not where he wanted to work. "I wanted to be part of a team that was building something," he says.

He got his wish at Intel, which he joined as a new graduate in 1999, moving to the company's Chandler, Arizona, campus, which remained his home base for seven years. Every year and a half, the finance team would rotate him to a different segment of the sprawling business: from chip factories to high-speed Wi-Fi and mobile device development locations. "Intel's global scale gave me a lot of opportunities early in my career to travel the world," he says, "to client and vendor sites as well as other Intel campuses worldwide." In 2006, he relocated to the company’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California.

One of his favorite assignments was strategic capacity planning. "Our job was to look out five to 10 years, do demand projections for our processors, and figure out how many factories we needed to build," Krishnan says.

"Here I was, just four years out of school, and I had the chance to influence those kinds of decisions." It was the kind of heady opportunity he wanted other McCombs students to know about. He traveled back to Austin every year to help recruit. Over time, though, he was finding Intel a harder and harder sell.

Selling Intel to Millennials

Millennials saw it as a dated technology firm. To them, the financial action was in consulting or investment banking.

Krishnan met with McCombs officials about how to make semiconductors sexy. Then-finance chairman Jay Hartzell — now dean — suggested an existing McCombs model called Venture Fellows that sends students to intern at venture capital and private equity firms. Those internships often lead to jobs for many of them. A light bulb went off for Krishnan. "We didn’t pack up and go home," he says. "The real thing we needed to do was not to retreat but to double down."

Thus, in 2014, the Corporate Finance Fellows program was born. Intel pledged an annual contribution for three years. Part of the money provides scholarships for up to six students: four MBAs and two undergraduate juniors.

Students apply in the fall, and those awarded fellowships spend the spring on an Intel project — a big-picture strategic issue like how to connect smart appliances to the cloud. They're guided by both a faculty advisor and weekly call-ins with Krishnan and other finance officers at Intel. At the end of the semester, the fellows present their findings and recommendations at one of Intel's four major U.S. campuses — Chandler, Arizona; Hillsboro, Oregon; Fulsom, California; or Santa Clara, California — and then intern at one of those locations during the summer.

In the program's first three years, eight out of 13 fellows ended up taking jobs at Intel.

Beyond Number Crunching

After doing his fellowship project on the internet of things, Ofir Fatal, MBA '15, became a pricing specialist for Intel's custom foundry, which makes chips-to-order at the Hillsboro campus. He helps potential customers understand Intel technology and negotiate deals. In another year or so, he'll rotate, getting the chance to learn about a different segment of the company.

"Here, you're meant to be as broad as you are deep," Fatal says. "Anyone can crunch numbers. I'm learning how to create actionable information and influence others, to understand what customers need and how to deliver it."

For Amy Wilson, MPA '12, MBA '16, her Intel internship offered another benefit: meeting McCombs alums who were already there. Now that she's a system affordability finance specialist at the Hillsboro campus, analyzing how to make PCs more cost-effective, she can go back to them for advice. "As I've transitioned to a place where I've never lived before, they've helped me with personal support and on-the-job training," she says.

Says Krishnan, "You have a network of Intel employees who are looking out for you. Our goal is to make sure every employee is successful. We're taking a very long view on this." Part of his long view is to make Corporate Finance Fellows the exclusive hiring pipeline between McCombs and Intel Finance. McCombs, he says, is one of just five business schools from which he focuses recruitment efforts.

McCombs Graduates Stand Out

It's not just Longhorn pride. Compared to other colleges, Krishnan says, McCombs stands out on several criteria, like the quality of recruits and their promotion rates. Another strength is the existing web of relationships between the institutions. Krishnan's long-time mentor and boss, Stacy Smith, BBA '85, MBA '88, served nine years as Intel CFO and recently took on a broader leadership position as EVP of Intel's manufacturing operations and sales. Smith is also a longtime member of McCombs' Advisory Council.

So far, McCombs has been pleased with the partnership. In 2014, it gave Intel its Blazing Saddles award for the company with the most unique and innovative school involvement over the preceding year.

"Intel has been a great corporate partner," says Finance Department Chairman Bob Parrino. "It provides students with hands-on experience and the ability to interact with senior financial managers at a major U.S. company. It helps Intel identify students they might not otherwise see, to get to know them and potentially to recruit them. It’s a win-win."

Krishnan is delighted that Intel has renewed its pledge for another three years. To him, it's a reminder of the promise that first brought him to campus. "McCombs was ahead of its time in bringing in industry and giving students real practicum experience," he says. "Looking back, I've been part of one of the companies that changes the world with its products. That I was able to get that job so early in my career is a testament to McCombs.

From the spring 2017 issue of McCOMBS, the magazine for alumni and friends of the McCombs School of Business.

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