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Alumnus gracefully transitions from dance to a career in finance

Adam Still
Adam Still trades his dance shoes for a stock ticker, Patrick Sweeney photo

In many ways, the world of finance – one filled with mergers, acquisitions and portfolio management – mirrors the art of dance. Finance, too, is about movement. Like a large ballet company, its success requires skill by honed by patience, attention to detail, and a sensitivity to the interplay of individuals and forces far beyond one person’s control.

Perhaps that’s why Boise State alumnus Adam Still (BA, finance, ‘19) excels at his job. While Still currently spends his days working on the investment team at Block Real Estate Services in Kansas City, Missouri, his life prior to Boise State University was devoted to dance. Still was a ballet dancer for nine years, most recently as a soloist for Colorado Ballet in Denver.

He credits his sister – or rather, his mother – with introducing him to ballet when he was 12.

“My sister was a dancer and they needed a guy to do a walk-on role at her studio. I really didn’t want to do it but my mom basically said ‘you’re going to do it.,’” he recalled.

By age 13, he was dancing full time. After high school, Still joined his first ballet company. He danced at the Milwaukee Ballet, before traveling to Boise for an interim season at Ballet Idaho — during which he would meet his future wife, a fellow ballet dancer, who would eventually follow him to Colorado. When Still began thinking about retiring from ballet, returning to Boise was a natural fit for the couple.

“Every dancer knows their career is finite. I’d always been interested in managing my own money and how to make my money work for me, so finance was a natural fit when I decided to go back to school,” he said. “Boise State checked a lot of boxes for us. It had a good business school, it was a steal, honestly, and I could ride my bike everywhere. The economics were good.”

Pivoting from dance to student life

Still enrolled at Boise State in fall 2016. While Still missed ballet, making the transition to school was surprisingly easy.

“It was hard letting go of being a dancer. It was a huge part of my identity, who I was and what I was.,” he said. “But my work ethic honed in ballet translated directly to a university setting.”

Like ballet, Still nurtured an interest in finance and accounting (his eventual minor).

“Adam stands out in his inquisitiveness of the subject and thirst for knowledge. He truly is a student of finance,” said Garrett McBrayer, an assistant professor of finance, who described Still as one of the top three students – “perhaps top one” – he’s taught in his career.

“Adam applied the skills he developed as a professional ballet dancer to his academics,” said Mark Cowan, a professor and director of Boise State’s Master of Accountancy-Taxation program. “Both ballet and accounting require and reward hard work, tenacity, attention to detail, and focus. Adam came to accounting with all of these attributes and deftly applied them to his coursework. The success he achieved speaks for itself.

In addition to participating fully in class, Still took advantage of the networks and opportunities available in Boise State’s College of Business and Economics, including the college’s Student Managed Investment Fund. The fund empowers students to manage roughly a half-million dollars of real money for the benefit of the college and its students.

“This task places students in the ‘hot seat,’ as they are responsible for making investment decisions with real consequences,” McBrayer said. “There are few, if any, other classes on campus with such tangible stakes.”

“Garrett McBrayer was my faculty sounding board, he was the person I could run ideas off of, and he’s become a good friend on top of being a very good teacher,” Still said. “Mark Cowan – he was another incredible lecturer and just a great teacher who was always ready with career advice.”

Setting new goals for the future

Adam Still rides a bike downtown
Adam Still rides to work in downtown Boise, Patrick Sweeney photo

In summer 2019, Still interned at Goldman Sachs in the company’s derivatives risk team, where he examined single-name equity options. Options give the purchaser the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell the underlying asset.

“If you want to buy an equity option, Goldman Sachs would sell you an option and vice versa – that’s what a market maker does,” Still explained. “Essentially, my job was assessing the firm’s risk appetite for making these kinds of trades with various counter-parties.”

He also completed a public finance investment banking internship at Piper Jaffray (which has since merged into Piper Sandler) before accepting a position at Clearwater Advisors.

Another internship, this one at The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in his hometown of Kansas City has set a new goal post for Still: eventually becoming a chief investment officer at a private foundation or university endowment.

The foundation’s endowment helps promote education and entrepreneurship in underserved communities in the Kansas City area. Working on such a worthy campaign inspired Still and showed him that mission-driven finance work could be the perfect blend of his passions.

“I enjoyed seeing how the Kauffman Foundation made a tangible and measurable difference in the community. The people on the investment team were true stewards of the endowment.”

Still is now closer to reaching that goal – physically closer, if not professionally. He recently left Boise to accept a position on the investment team at Block Real Estate Services in Kansas City. There, his team conducts due diligence on the firm’s commercial real estate portfolio acquisitions.

He also is studying to become a chartered financial analyst, a postgraduate professional qualification that involves taking a series of three tests spread over two years. (Still says the cost of the first test was covered by a new Boise State scholarship: the CFA Study Award.) He credits support from his Boise State professors with putting him on his current path.

“The skills I learned at Boise State directly translate to life – finance is very powerful in changing how you think and accounting is the fundamental language of business.,” Still added. “Armed with the skills I learned through a career in dance with the finance and accounting foundation laid at Boise State, I’m excited to try and make a difference in the world.”