Gary Perlin (SFS ’72), chief financial officer of Capital One Bank, discussed the unpredictable trajectory of his career Tuesday evening in Lohrfink Auditorium.
Perlin’s speech was cosponsored by The Lecture Fund, the School of Foreign Service’s Karl F. Landegger Program in International Business Diplomacy, D.C.-based student investment fund Trebizond Investments and Zeeba Investment Group, a student-run markets fund started at Georgetown.
According to Perlin, his undergraduate years at Georgetown were very different from current students’ experiences: They were influenced by the riots that resulted from both the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the response to the Vietnam War.
“We started in the ’60s and finished in the ’70s. We saw the end of some things, we walked in on the middle of others and began some ourselves,” Perlin said, quoting the Class of 1973 yearbook. “Surely, we have lived in two different worlds. Perhaps all can say somewhat the same thing, but no class in recent memory has seen so deep-seated a metamorphosis.”
While at Georgetown, Perlin pursued a major in International Affairs but did not have a set career path.
“What I never would have imagined was that I would become the treasurer or the CFO of a major financial institution or two or three,” Perlin said. “In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what a CFO was.”
Perlin studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs before returning to D.C. to work as the chief financial officer of the World Bank. He focused on commodity production in Zambia, Botswana and Peru.
Perlin also served as treasurer of Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored initiative that serves the housing market, for 11 years.
Since 2003, Perlin has served as CFO of Capital One Bank, where he is responsible for accounting and reporting, financial planning, treasury and funding operations, corporate finance and investor relations.
He attributed his success as CFO to his unique perspective of business, which he attained by learning finance through experience instead of a formal financial education.
“I appreciated market forces and their imperfections, and I soon learned in the real world that the dynamics of markets are always idiosyncratic, which means they always need to be learned on the job, regardless of your academic background,” Perlin said.
Perlin encouraged students to seek out opportunities that may not seem apparent at first when establishing a career.
“I wish I could give you a magic formula for building the career you want or think you want, but I can’t,” Perlin said. “I never expected or trained for a career in finance, but careers are like that — they’re serendipitous, and they only make sense in retrospect.”
The event included a question-and-answer session after Perlin’s talk, during which he encouraged students to consider the broad picture of finance, economics and the job market.
Andrew Nader (NHS ’16) said he was impressed by the speech.
“[Perlin] informed us through his own experiences that careers are unpredictable, but we must be creative and practice ingenuity in whatever work we find ourselves performing,” he said.