Real-world success comes early for Tacoma student

C.R. Roberts

Staff writer

Yes, Matthew Peterson is pleased with the $500 prize and a seat at tonight's banquet. Yes, he is both proud and excited to have won.

But most stirring for the 21-year-old University of Puget Sound senior has been the chance to see how the lessons of the classroom can make a difference in the real world of business.

He calls his business "M. Peterson Financial Services."

The successful synthesis of academia and commerce is part of the reason Peterson is among four winners of this year's Youth Entrepreneur Awards sponsored by the Pacific Lutheran University School of Business, KeyBank and the Herbert B. Jones Foundation.

"I was very proud and very honored by the award," Peterson said. "The thing that I really like is that my business provides an opportunity to apply economic theory and my mathematical skills to a real-world situation."

It's a great thing, he said, "to use the things I learn in my classes and apply them."

Two years ago, Peterson applied for an internship with the Seattle office of American Express Financial Advisors. Interviewed and tested, he won a position.

The job had him collecting and structuring data provided by clients. He would take information about income and outgo, about resources and debt. Then, using special software, he would develop various strategies and options that the advisers would then analyze and present to their customers.

After several months, Peterson was working with a group of advisers in Tacoma. With the recession, American Express downsized the office, and several of the advisers became independent contractors.

"They were working for themselves, and I had to work for myself," Peterson said.

He pitched his proposal to the advisers who remained. For a fee, he would continue providing them his own analysis of the data.

Thus was M. Peterson Financial Services born.

"You tell him what you want, and he really knows his way around the computer software we have to work with. He does a very good job," said Ken Baker, an adviser with American Express in Tacoma.

"He's a pretty sharp kid. He's a hard worker, very conscientious."

When the internship ended, Baker said, "I suppose Matt could have taken the approach, 'Gee whiz, this is over.' But he knew he had something to offer. He went to the advisers. He pitched his service: This is what he could provide, and this is the fee structure. Those of us that wanted to, did."

Said Peterson: "I've always been an entrepreneur."

At 8 or 9 years old, he was hiring friends in his St. Paul, Minn., neighborhood to help with landscaping and yardwork jobs. At 12, the CDs he bought included certificates of deposit, not necessarily the latest music.

He continues to carry his business sense into daily life. When he and six fraternity brothers decided to share a house for the current school year, the first thing Peterson did was set up a spreadsheet to handle household expenses and revenue.

That, and he has been known to tout the virtues of a Roth IRA to friends on campus.

"I've always enjoyed working with numbers," he said. "I've enjoyed making money for other people, and for myself."

The PLU award - and it does not escape Peterson that he soon will be a graduate of rival UPS - is given to young entrepreneurs on the basis of their accomplishments and their response to questions.

One question Peterson answered concerned the definition of an entrepreneur, which he said is "someone with a vision and the ability to put that vision into action."

So far, the money he earns "pays the rent and give me a little extra," he said.

After graduating with a degree in economics this month, Peterson will begin studying for the Chartered Financial Analyst examination on June 1. He will leave a few days later for a vacation to Indonesia with his girlfriend, and then, depending on the job market, he will either return to the Northwest or move to New York.

Although he can't give financial advice for pay, he does offer one general recommendation. Better to pay off credit card debt, at 19 percent, than to prepay a mortgage at 7 percent.

For his own investment strategy, Peterson likes small-cap growth funds. Also, he looks at companies with inflated profit-to-earnings ratios.

"I'm looking at shorting some of those companies, and buying call options to hedge. That way I limit my loss, and have a high gain potential."

The one recommendation he does offer is that people should speak with a financial adviser, whether they're in debt and looking to increase cash flow, planning for retirement or simply managing their income.

Peterson's own retirement looks to be a long way off.

"Right now," he said, "I'm looking for work."

And the winners are ...

Along with Matthew Peterson, three other young people have been selected to receive the Pacific Lutheran University School of Business Youth Entrepreneur Award.

All winners will be recognized at a banquet tonight at Chris Knutzen Hall, at the University Center on campus, beginning at 5:30. The public is welcome. Admission, including dinner, is $10.

The other winners:

Brandon Andrade, who founded World Wide Technology LLP with three partners in October 1999. The company has developed software for the health care industry.

Joel Yarmon, who is a partner in Iceware Technologies, a business that provides computer consulting to small- and medium-size businesses in the West.

Luke Collova, who arranges freestyle skiing competitions and had secured an agreement with the St. Paul Winter Carnival to stage a ski show next February.

 C.R. Roberts, The News Tribune