​Rising Star: Matthew Little is an engineer with a less than typical career path

Matthew Little is an equity research associate at CIBC World Markets. Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

Decisions are typically binary. One door opens, another closes. But not always. Matthew Little has figured out how to keep his career options open and he cofounded a group that provides engineering students a view to wider horizons for their careers.

Little’s knack for resolving competing interests was tested when deciding which university to attend. A promising athlete, he received football scholarship offers from across North America. He assumed he would end up in the States, but then he learned that playing football and getting an engineering degree were almost mutually exclusive.

“Every school I talked to said, ‘We don’t have many, if any, student athletes pursuing football and engineering. We don’t have a program in place that helps mitigate the time conflicts,’” Little recalls. “The University of Calgary was actually the only place that had a program for athletes but also for serious students.”

With his university choice sorted, he came to another fork in the road as his interest in business started to compete with engineering. Rather than quit one for the other, Little rebalanced his engineering studies with business and finance courses.

Today, Little is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and is in the process of completing his application to become a professional engineer.

“I’m proud of the fact that I passed each level of my CFA on the first try. I’m also happy I did it early on in my career, which allowed me to transition from true engineering to business development and then into investment banking and now equity research,” he says.

Matthew Little is one of the Fluor/Oilweek 2018 Rising Stars. To read all of their stories, click here.

Little’s work at Sinopec Canada as an engineer provided that real-world expertise that’s not typically part of the financial world.

“A spreadsheet might tell you that you can do anything, but the reality is quite different. Understanding both the technical and the financial sides helps deliver more grounded, insightful advice,” he says.

The passion he feels for his own hybrid financial/engineering career led Little to share his experience with others. Along with his brother Connor (also an engineer) and two colleagues, Little co-founded Unconventional Engineers, an organization that helps engineers consider less typical career paths.

“When we were in university, we didn’t really know the paths to investment banking, private equity, or consulting. So we thought that if we bring information to students, they will be three or four years ahead of us,” Little says.

Offering an initial information session almost completely filled a 100-seat venue, confirming that there was a huge appetite for this idea. Unconventional Engineers went on to become a multifaceted club at the University of Calgary. It offers a speakers’ series, case competitions, formal job postings, networking and mentoring.

“The industry has undoubtedly changed. Low commodity prices might be the new norm. Unconventional engineers are technical professionals with finance understanding to help build businesses, evaluate opportunities and mitigate risks from the technical and financial perspective,” Little says.

“For students, Unconventional Engineers helps them see that there’s so much more than just a pure engineering role awaiting them and gives them the resources to develop their passion or interest. There’s also a benefit to employers, who now have direct access to engineering students who bring a different skill set—a very analytical, numeric one—right out of school.”

Education: Civil Engineering, University of Calgary, 2013 (and CFA Charterholder, CFA Institute, 2017)

Favorite charity: Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation

First job: Summer student at Stantec in Lethbridge

If not for your career, what would you be doing: Body willing, I would likely be pursuing a professional football career. I stopped playing due to injuries and other opportunities.

Best advice received: Don’t live life by the “shoulds”– meaning, time is your most valuable resource, so be thoughtful about how you choose to spend it.

Favorite pastime: Anything active such as golfing, hiking or snowboarding as well as travelling.

Favorite book: Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street, by Sheelah Kolhatkar.

Other interests/passions: I have a passion for the real estate market and when visiting other cities or travelling, I'm often interested in seeing how those markets vary. I enjoy using my finance background to evaluate real estate opportunities, even if I'm not buying or selling.

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