Montana State University

Mountains and Minds

Lies and Pulfrey's MSU educations help engineer success in corporate world November 24, 2009 by Carol Schmidt • Published 11/24/09

Mark Lies and Cory Pulfrey are two former Montana boys whose careers shot them to the top of the country's leading financial institutions.
Photo by Kelly GorhamMark Lies, left, and Cory Pulfrey joke while on a fishing trip this summer. The two were roommates when they graduated from MSU with degrees in chemical engineering more than two decades ago, yet both went on to successful careers in corporate finance.
Photo by Kelly Gorham
Mark Lies and Cory Pulfrey are two former Montana boys whose careers shot them to the top of the country's leading financial institutions.

Yet, neither man would have ended up in the rarefied levels of corporate America had he not started his journey 30 years ago as a chemical engineering student at Montana State University.

"MSU trains people who can compete with anyone from any school in the world," said Pulfrey, 49, who has, in fact, competed with the world's best business minds. He recently semi-retired as head of Morgan Stanley's Alternative Investment Partners business.

"I had success with the education I received at MSU. Without it I would not have gone where I did," said Lies, also 49, who semi-retired four years ago from global head of high yield and leveraged finance for Lehman Brothers in London.

Their paths from engineering graduates to financiers might seem unlikely to anyone except the former classmates. They say their success was logical given the academic rigor and work ethic instilled at MSU.

Pulfrey and Lies' separate yet parallel journeys began when the two were freshmen in 1978, both recruited by the late Lloyd Berg, the former head of the MSU Department of Chemical Engineering.

Pulfrey, who came to MSU from Great Falls' C. M. Russell where he played on two state championship football teams, participated in five sports until his sophomore year when he discovered both a talent and interest in chemistry. By his senior year he'd won the school's chemistry prize.

"My plan always was that I was going to college," Pulfrey said. "I never considered going out of state. I wanted engineering, so I didn't consider any other college except MSU. It turned out to be a great decision."

Lies, from Helena, was on his way to the U.S. Air Force Academy, but at the last minute applied to MSU. He said it turned out to be a good fit from the beginning.

Both were competitive, excellent students who were courted by big firms upon graduation. Each took jobs with different divisions of Chevron in the San Francisco Bay area. Even though they didn't know each other well, they were roommates their first year with Chevron before their lives and careers diverged.

It was with Chevron that both men say they realized that MSU had prepared them to compete with anyone.

"I regularly worked with kids at Chevron Research from Princeton, Harvard and other similar schools," Pulfrey said. "I never felt that I had to defend myself because I came from MSU."

Within three years, Pulfrey was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, one of the top business schools in the world. "My education at Montana State prepared me very well for my experience there," Pulfrey said.

Lies, who worked for another division of Chevron, was also encouraged to get his MBA. He enrolled in the graduate program at UCLA, where he also excelled.

"Frankly, after (MSU's) Chem E, it really was not that hard," Lies said.

Photo by Kelly GorhamMSU Foundation's Johnson Ranch near Absarokee.
Photo by Kelly Gorham
Both men said they thought they would return to engineering jobs after graduate school, until they were recruited into financial careers.

Lies took a job with Bank of America in San Francisco. He worked his way up the ladder with stops in Chicago and New York. He eventually was recruited to Bear Stearns as global head of leveraged finance. Later he joined Lehman Brothers in New York and London, where he was the global head of high yield and leveraged finance.

"Then one day I asked myself what I wanted to get out of life. It occurred to me that I had done what I had set out to do," he said.

Lies semi-retired in 2005 at the age of 45. He and his wife, Donna, and their three sons moved to Denver, where he still consults. The family lives part time in Montana so that Lies' sons will learn Montana work ethic and values. Now that he has more free time, he volunteereds to share his expertise with MSU.

"I've been fortunate and wanted to give something back," he said. "Part of being successful is reinvesting back in society."

Lies works with the MSU College of Engineering and the MSU Foundation, where he sits on the board of directors, specifically advising the foundation on its investments and he also serves on the Johnson Ranch Family Foundation Board of Directors.

"The endowment is clearly the most important part of advancing (MSU) and its goals," Lies said. "If the school is going to compete (with other institutions) it will only be able to compete at the level of its (funding)."

After Pulfrey earned his MBA from Wharton, he joined the Weyerhaeuser Company in the Seattle area, working his way up to managing director of the Weyerhaeuser Pension Fund Investment Group. He joined Morgan Stanley in 2000 as head of their private equity funds group. In 2004 he was promoted to head the company's Alternative Investment Partners group, a business managing about $18 billion in private equity funds, hedge funds and real estate funds globally.

In July he stepped down as business head, moving into a part-time role as a portfolio manager on the private equity funds team. Now that he has more time, Pulfrey volunteers it to causes he cares deeply about.

"My goal now is to help with things that are important to me," said Pulfrey, who now lives full time in Montana. "I want to give back to the Bozeman community generally, and MSU specifically based on how much both helped me."

He and his wife Diane, also an MSU graduate, have started the Cory and Diane Pulfrey Family Endowment. He sits on the MSU Foundation Board of Directors with Lies, with whom he rebuilt connections that had been lost long ago.

He also volunteers his time to mentor MSU students. Recently, he hosted a group of MSU College of Business students to a day at Morgan Stanley in New York.

"Through his actions and his demeanor, Cory has helped our students to dream big about the possibilities that await them after graduation," said Dan Moshavi, dean of the MSU College of Business.

Barry Remely, chairman of the MSU Foundation Board of Directors, say Pulfrey and Lies' presence on the board has already paid dividends.

"Mark and Cory bring to the board a great deal of enthusiasm and energy, but even more important is their diverse worldwide experience," Remely said. "This experience is absolutely critical to helping move MSU forward in this global financial and educational market."

While both men are also active in the larger universities where they earned graduate degrees, they say it is gratifying to see the rewards that come from time devoted to MSU.

"There is just such heart and soul at a school like MSU," Lies said.