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Lies and Pulfrey's MSU educations help engineer success in corporate world

Mark Lies, left, and Cory Pulfrey joke while on a fishing trip this summer
Mark 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

November 24, 2009 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

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.