Interim President Kevin Clayton,'84, '13P, shares his distinguished 19-year career experiences as a former principal and director of the global investment management firm Oaktree Capital Management, L.P. on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014. He founded Oaktree's Marketing and Client Relations Department, and served as Supervising Principal of OCM Investment, Inc. (Chang Sun/B&W photo)

Interim President Kevin Clayton discusses his business career


“Just get in and learn the business,” said Interim President Kevin Clayton, ’84, ’13P, to a room crowded with Lehigh students for a discussion about his career experiences within the business world.

Clayton, a former principal and director of Oaktree Capital Management, L.P., spoke about his job experiences and offered advice to students during the event, which was hosted by the Investment Management Club. Clayton was a member of the club during his time at Lehigh.

“I have fond memories of sitting where you are today,” Clayton said. “I’m going to take my 25-year career and try to keep it exciting. It’ll be like Clayton unplugged.”

Clayton spoke to students about his experiences after Lehigh and the risks he took in leaving his job for a startup company in hopes of giving them insight into the world of investment management.

“I’ve wanted to learn more about him, and I hope his advice can help me in my own career,” said Danielle Stout, ’15.

Caroline Terry, ’15, agreed on the potential benefits for her own career.

“As a finance major, it’s really interesting to hear what he has to say about investment management,” she said.

Clayton said he graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences with a degree in government, although he took many business-related courses. He was interested in pursuing a career on Wall Street, which came as no surprise to his family, which had worked there for four generations.

Clayton joked that the phrase, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen,” began in his living room.

Clayton’s first job was working in sales and marketing for Chrysler, which brought him to Philadelphia for his first assignment. While in Philadelphia, he decided to take advantage of an opportunity to enroll at Saint Joseph’s University and earn his MBA after three years of night school. After a few years of working for Chrysler, he was asked where he wanted to locate to next.

“It was a fascinating job,” he said. “But I told (my manager), ‘I want to go home. I want to go back east. I want to go to Wall Street.’”

And so he did.

Clayton was soon hired by Trust Company of the West, an investment management company based on the West Coast, but with an office in New York, which needed a salesman. He accepted the job and was able to learn the ropes of investment.

At the age of 32, Clayton was asked by two of his coworkers to leave the company and join them in a startup company. He accepted the offer, and their small startup slowly grew into what is now Oaktree Capital Management.

“We didn’t own a pencil,” he said. “We didn’t own a book. We didn’t own a chair. We managed zero assets when we opened our doors.”

Clayton said he took a huge risk in leaving his job, but that it was the best time of his life.

Clayton said he and his coworkers worked hard to network with former clients and attract new investors.

“We were crisscrossing the globe and doing a good job,” he said.

After 19 years, they had acquired $19 billion in assets and later even landed the UN as a client. He attributed the company’s success to previous management experience and its emphasis on good performance, meaning it focused on being a consistently low-risk producer.

Through his talk about his own job experiences, Clayton was able to give the students advice about seeking jobs in today’s competitive job market. He said the most important thing to do is to learn the business, which will probably mean starting at a lower-level position.

“The first job is not going to be your last job,” he said. “And on the second day, you’re not going to be the salesman.”

He added that Oaktree Capital Management does not hire undergraduates without experience, so he advised students to gain experience in a job or go to graduate school.

Clayton also mentioned the importance of networking. He attributed much of his company’s success to his and his coworkers’ abilities to connect with former clients and sell their product.

“You’ve gotta get out in front of the client,” he said. “You’ve gotta get out in front of the people. It’s a relationship business.”

“It was really interesting to be able to hear from someone who’s graduated from Lehigh and worked on Wall Street,” said Ryan Kautz, ’17. “I hope I can take some of his advice and apply it to my own job in the future.”

When asked about his future plans, Clayton said he would return to the board of directors at Lehigh. Clayton said that Lehigh “is in for a real treat” with regard to his presidential successor, John D. Simon.

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