Timothy Dann ’81 and Ben Rafetto ’09
Applied-math practitioners pursue complexity
by Michelle Simmons
August 4, 2010
Ben Rafetto ’09 (left) and Timothy Dann ’81 work together on analytic models.
When Tim Dann ’81 began his graduate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, finance innovations such as options and derivatives—and the complex mathematical models supporting them—were just beginning to become part of the Wall Street lexicon.
“I didn’t really know much about modern finance, which was in its infancy at that time,” he says. “I discovered that it was a perfect intersection of all the things I love to do—which is basically figuring out analytical problems, what makes things work.”
As director of interest rate derivates trading at the global financial-services firm Société Générale, Dann continues to pursue his love of complexity. “It’s a very quantitative field; it involves the application of a lot of mathematics,” he says. “The way in which you apply it, and your technology in applying it, is often proprietary. It’s an area where you can’t necessarily pick up a book and get a recipe for how to go about it.”
The former mathematics and physics double major earned an M.S. in finance in 1985 and began his career at the entrepreneurial investment firm Greenwich Capital Markets, which was later bought by the Royal Bank of Scotland. He joined Société Générale in 2005.
More recently, he’s been mentoring Ben Rafetto ’09, who joined the company as a junior trader after a 2008 spring internship that stretched into the summer. For Dann, Rafetto’s resumé stood out immediately. “He had the technical skills to get started from day one,” Dann says. “He clearly had mathematical aptitude. You’re not going to hire someone, even if they’re out of Wharton [School of Business], if they lack the experience of solving problems.”
Rafetto, a former international business & management (IB&M) major and mathematics minor, knew from his sophomore year that he wanted to work in finance. “It had some glamour, and it’s a chance to work with numbers,” he says. “It’s also a very meritocratic world.”
His internship gave him the opportunity to compare classroom learning with real-life skills, he adds. “Tim really taught me a lot of things when I was an intern. The newest stuff is proprietary, so you have to learn it from someone else who knows it. There’s a lot of jargon, conventions and processes you don’t see until you’ve worked with it a long time.”
Although Dann and Rafetto agree that getting into the highly technical field of mathematical finance can be a challenge for the traditional liberal-arts graduate, “the good part of the liberal arts is that it fosters a creative and outside-of-the-box approach,” Dann says. “That’s a really good thing on Wall Street.”