Finance involves projecting the rate of return on an investment over a period of time. Javier Arguello, a fourth-year junior in the McDonough School of Business, has a 20-year plan.
That’s how long Arguello expects it will take him to make his first billion.
With such audacious ambition and a penchant for showmanship, Arguello has been hard to miss for anyone who has crossed his path from O Street to Wall Street. The 20-year-old has a mononymousbrand of sorts — residents of the Hilltop often recognize his first name, but far fewer people know his last. Arguello is a prolific businessman with an enigmatic backstory, yet many students say they haven’t seen or heard of him as frequently they once did during his freshman and sophomore years. It’s as if his stock has cooled off a bit, perhaps from overexposure and overexertion as an underclassman.
“I’m very, very cautious and I keep more to myself,” he said of his lowered profile. “I’m not that outspoken, crazy kid anymore.”
But there’s much more than meets the eye withArguello, and he still has his eye on the prize, whatever that may be. If the next 20 years forArguello are about rising to the top of the financial world, the first 20 have already taken him around that world, in a rocky but resilient ascent.
Aside from a subtle Latino accent and the occasional cheek-kiss greeting, Arguello could be mistaken for one of the countless wealthy New Englanders who come to Georgetown to study business. However, as Michael Cho (MSB ’16), his freshman roommate in Darnall Hall, explained, “Not many people know where he’s from, what he’s been through and how he ended up here.”
Arguello was born in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. He lived there briefly in comfortable circumstances with his single mother and a brother who is 20 years his senior. His father was never in the picture. A banking crisis in the country prompted his mother to emigrate from Ecuador to the United States and prepare a life for Javier, who joined her at age 8 on Oct. 8, 2001 — a date he recites instantly from memory, in part because it was less than one month after the 9/11 attacks.
The mother and son lived in Ansonia, Conn., near New Haven and 10 minutes from Yale University.Arguello’s mother worked two cleaning jobs, and he would spend late nights helping her vacuum and dust office buildings. By then, the 12-year-oldArguello had skipped a year in school and was managing most of his family’s accounting.
“At the time it sucked,” Arguello said, recalling evenings spent cleaning the offices of a bakery and a golf course. “But as I grew older I realized it helped me build a lot of character. I knew then that this is a means to an end — that one day I could work there.”
He attended Ansonia High School, which has four-year college acceptance rate of 70 percent and one of the lower evaluations in the state. Kenneth Firmender, a guidance counselor there, recalls that Arguelloinitially was “kind of quiet and observant, but not overly outgoing.” After success in Advanced Placement courses and a better command of English, things began to change.
“He learned that he could achieve quite a bit with hard work and diligence,” Firmender said. “Going into senior year, he felt like anything he tried he could be successful at.”
A photograph on Firmender’s desk of Georgetown’s campus brought the university toArguello’s attention, and within days of researching the school’s international business program, he was eager to apply. A full-ride, need-based scholarship, granted in the beginning of 2010, made that dream possible.
As Arguello prepared for college, Firmender saw in him “a high degree of motivation and huge amount of confidence. Some people could have seen him as arrogant, but I knew that it was just confidence.”
That confidence drove Arguello to immediate success on the Hilltop. It also became his Achilles’ heel.
Finding himself in a profoundly unfamiliar environment, Arguello was determined to blend in.
“A lot of my success came from living kind of a fake-it-’till-you-make-it life,” he said.
Arguello was outgoing as a freshman, with a colorful personality and a wardrobe to match. His hunger for success made him unfazed by a full plate, which included intensive Chinese (the reason he now needs five years to graduate), the Georgetown University Student Investment Fund and a spot on the crew team.
Rowing was a challenge for Arguello, not only for the rigorous early morning workouts, but in part because he saw it was a way to affirm his worth on campus, citing the tendency of rowers to come from good schools with the money for crew programs. Now, he says some of those teammates are among his closest friends.
“Coming to Georgetown I felt like I needed to get myself up to par to compete,” Arguello said. “This persona that I built for myself was positive and negative in some ways. In some ways I took it too far.”
His confidence and competitiveness swelled with success, and friends began to take notice.
“In the first phase of college, Javier was like the best person you could meet,” Cho said. “But when he was putting certain things up on Facebook it came off as very obnoxious. I think it came from insecurity.”
While Arguello enjoyed early success at Georgetown, he also carried a heavy emotional burden. His mother was sick and nearly died after losing both kidneys. Arguello was inclined to return home, but his mother wouldn’t have it, and he spent many nights crying while trying to fall asleep. His mother no longer works, and Javier is proud to be able to support her.
“It gives me more drive and hunger to work harder.”
Entering his first summer as a college student in 2011, Arguello landed an internship at PepsiCo, Inc. Not satisfied with being one of the company’s youngest employees, the 18-year-old sought an additional job at Ivy Insiders, a test prep service for high school students. He was initially denied, as his 1900 SAT score was well below the top 1 percent scores expected from tutors.
Arguello wouldn’t accept that he was unqualified. Instead, he retook the SAT, scoring a 2240 and, ultimately, a position at Ivy Insiders in his hometown.
The commute to the PepsiCo offices in Purchase, N.Y., took Arguello three hours each way with three modes of transportation. After leaving home at 5 a.m. and returning around 7 p.m., Arguellowould teach until 9 at night. He netted $9,000 in sales at Ivy Insiders and his students’ scores increased 250 points on average. At PepsiCo, he developed a flair for flashiness, arriving on his first day in a pinstripe suit, bright red tie and with a red pocket square.
Although he made thousands that summer, Arguello concedes that he blew almost all of it on clothes and nightlife. But he doesn’t regret his decisions.
“It was awesome,” Arguello said, adding that his indulgences also helped him develop some maturity with spending. “It was a lot of delayed gratification from working hard in high school and I felt like it was time for me to enjoy myself.”
Upon returning to campus, Arguello decided that he could be more productive away from the crew team and quit at the end of his freshman year. Instead, he spent the first month of sophomore year working as a club promoter.
“It was a fun experience,” Arguello recalled, “but probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made.”
Arguello was recruited by Zack Huhn, an American University graduate and employee of Club Glow, one of the largest nightlife programmers in the District. His job was to sell tickets for a “welcome back” party, and Arguello delivered, earning more than $3,000 from one week of sales.
“I was trying to be the popular guy,” Arguello said, and that demand quickly wore on him. “I was perceived as the scumbag club promoter. I think it came with what I was doing, but I didn’t know it would have such an effect on my reputation.”
Felipe Ernst (MSB ’14) briefly worked under Arguello promoting events. Ernst said he got along with Arguello, but could see the downside of that line of work.
“He gets the job done, but it’s not necessarily in the most efficient way and it’s not necessarily going to make people like him after,” Ernst said. “Javier was never overbearing, but he was extremely persistent.
“He would also sell you on the idea because he wanted us to be excited,” Ernst added. “The whole job is about convincing people that they’re going to have a good time. He would always say, ‘This is going to be the best day of your life.’ You’ve got to sell it.”
Arguello called it quits after promoting four events, but not before the damage was done.
“When you have to convince your friends to come to an event week after week and spend money, people get annoyed,” Ernst explained. “It’s kind of like a gnat. After a while it’s just buzzing around your face.”
“It came easy to me,” Arguello said of promoting. “But at the cost of my reputation.”
With crew practice off the table, Arguello also became more invested in GUSIF. As portfolio manager in the club’s financial division, Arguello oversaw solid returns. But he also managed to ruffle some feathers.
“Javier makes a very strong first impression,” said Steven Fuschetti (MSB ’13), who worked alongside Arguello as a GUSIF vice president. “It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It can come off to some people as overbearing or arrogant, other people just see a strong motivation and desire to succeed.”
Although successful in attracting new students to his group, Arguello occasionally clashed with the GUSIF Executive Board about management of the club. When Arguello tried to innovate with the organizational structure, the Board wasn’t on board.
“[Arguello] had his idea of what the right ideas were and when the Board would push back, he didn’t take the criticism that well,” Fuschetti said.
Arguello also held an internship sophomore year at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, an office he didn’t take to well.
“It was incredibly boring stuff,” Arguello said. “That life is for people who want to live a very nine to five lifestyle. That’s not for me.”
Set on working on Wall Street during the upcoming summer, Arguello received an internship offer from JPMorgan Chase in the winter of 2011, and he posted a photo to Facebook of him holding his signing bonus check. Someone created an Internet meme that read, “Signing bonus … not as big as my ego” and several spinoffs followed. The memes went viral and received thousands of shares — a bottoming out for the Javier brand.
When an offer to work in investment banking at Goldman Sachs emerged, Arguello reneged on the JPMorgan deal. Immediately, he knew he had committed a serious business faux pas.
“I did burn a bridge with an alumnus here who had helped me get that job and was pretty upset about it,” Arguello said. “I was young though and still learning.”
Arguello arrived on Wall Street again dressed to impress.
“One of the things that hurt me at Goldman is that I was coming from a more relaxed professional setting,” Arguello said. “I used to wear colored shirts and crazy colored ties and pocket squares. Within that culture that’s a big no-no.”
Arguello butted heads with employees at Goldman, but not just because of how he dressed.
“I hated it, to be honest. It was incredibly boring work,” Arguello said. “One person would tell me to do something and then someone would tell me not to do it. Everybody had a different opinion on how things should be done.”
Professor James Angel, who taught Arguello in a finance course freshman year, described internships on Wall Street as a “balancing act.”
“When you come out of Georgetown and enter the workforce, you’re competing with an army of well-educated people,” Angel said. “You face the challenge of getting noticed in a good way and differentiating yourself from the pack of intelligent, hard-working people.”
Angel also offered a piece of advice that proved true for Arguello: “Spurned suitors sometimes get quite vengeful.”
One day at Goldman, Arguello received a letter from an anonymous source describing how he slighted JPMorgan. The letter was intended for his bosses, but a secretary mistakenly thought the “Re: Javier Arguello” heading meant to deliver it to Arguello. Upon reading it, Arguello tore the letter to shreds.
Arguello suspects a Georgetown student sent the letter, maybe a friend. He’ll never know.
“I’ve cut down on the people who I call my friends tremendously,” he said. “People have tried to sabotage me and I’m just now seeing who my real friends are.”
After working 80-hour weeks at Goldman Sachs and still going out many weeknights, Arguello was probably due for a change of pace. That came fall of semester of his junior year by studying in Beijing, where he honed his Chinese and fell in love with the culture. Arguello got a Chinese character tattooed on his forearm that means “discipline,” an indication of a shifting mentality.
Arguello sought a fresh slate in Washington. He erased almost all of his Facebook history and cut his Facebook “friends” down from upward of 2,000 to less than 150. It was done in part because he wanted a clean record when applying to jobs; in part because he hated those memories.
“It wasn’t that I cared about their opinions,” Arguello said. “It was that there was some truth to what they were saying. I started to recognize what I was doing wrong.”
A program that places minority college students in banking internships got Arguello back with JPMorgan last summer. As with Goldman Sachs, Arguello wasn’t sold.
“At that point I knew that I was done,” Arguello said, describing his monotonous workload and workplace. “I just didn’t want to deal with that anymore.”
Arguello’s goals haven’t changed much since he was a wide-eyed 17-year-old arriving on campus. He still wants to pursue a career in finance, although now he hopes to find his fortune in China. He will intern at Bravia Capital in Hong Kong this summer and would like to work there upon graduating in May 2015.
What has changed is Arguello’s demeanor. He’s learned to temper his bravado, letting success speak for itself.
“I’m much more receptive to advice,” he said. “That’s why I’m 20 times different than I was freshman year.”
Arguello attributes some of his earlier missteps in the workplace to a lack of guidance, especially as a first-generation college student and immigrant with no previous exposure to the life he encountered. He urges the MSB to provide more mentorship for students in similar situations.
If all goes to plan, Arguello would have the wealth one day to run his own charitable corporation, “like the Bill Gates Foundation,” he explains, though Arguello concedes that this may have been too grand a comparison, even for him. He hopes it could provide young people the opportunity to succeed regardless of their socioeconomic background.
Arguello dismisses the suggestion that his quest for riches is motivated by resentment for those who started with more. He seems comfortable working among the wealthy and calling them peers. If anything, Arguello thinks he has the leg up.
“I feel my background gives me an advantage,” he explained. “If you take me and you take a kid who has always had everything given to him and put us in a similar situation, if I lose everything, I can get it back because I’ve worked for what I have and I know how to start from nothing.”
Although Arguello is drawn to the dream of a big payday, he’s no Wolf of Wall Street. If anything, he’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and the sincerity shines through when he talks of one day giving back while still maintaining his competitive spirit.
“I wouldn’t be here without Georgetown’s help,” Arguello said. “But I think they recognize that they’re making an investment. Georgetown will always be my home, and hopefully I’ll come back one day and break the record that Frank McCourt set.”