Cetera CEO Sees SDSU Student-Athletes as Assets

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As seen on the SDSU NewsCenter

Adam Antoniades is the chief executive officer of San Diego-based Cetera Financial Group, a wealth hub and financial services provider that manages half a trillion dollars in assets in association with more than 12,000 wealth advisors. As his title might suggest, Antoniades is uncommonly astute, but it wasn't the stellar reputation of the Fowler College of Business that first attracted the CEO to SDSU. 

No, his initial encounter with the university was more serendipitous. Antoniades was invited to a men's basketball game by his good friend and SDSU alumnus Chris Hughes ('93), a former Aztec men's soccer player.

But this was no ordinary game. It was the 6th-ranked Aztecs' Feb. 26, 2011 game against No. 7 BYU: Kawhi vs. Jimmer in a nationally hyped showdown. 

Students had camped out for days to claim a seat for the spectacle. By game time a sold-out Viejas Arena was wired to explode. The Show was almost louder than the PA system. 

That's what Adam Antoniades walked into. A native Cypriot, he had spent his formative years in London, where he had seen his share of rowdy crowds at soccer matches.  

"I grew up going to soccer on the terraces (stadium standing-room areas) and professional clubs," Antoniades recalled. "I've never been able to replicate that experience in the same way. The closest I've ever come to it was with The Show."

Although the Aztecs lost, Antoniades was hooked on the energy in the arena and has been a "staunch supporter" of SDSU ever since. "That's the affiliation, the sporting team that I'm most passionate about," he said. 

"My wife and I love all sports, and we've built a real affection for San Diego State. It has filled a major gap that I had in my life."

High energy

Through the years since that initial campus visit, Antoniades has become a major contributor to SDSU Athletics. One of his biggest contributions in terms of student success is an innovative internship he and the Cetera Financial Group initiated through Aztecs Going Pro, the four-year student-athlete development program that emphasizes personal growth, career development, and civic engagement.

After graduation, the majority of SDSU's student-athletes will pursue careers in fields other than professional sports. The goal of Aztecs Going Pro is to help provide them with the tools they will need to succeed in their chosen career.

Three years ago, Antoniades pitched to athletics administrators his concept for an eight-week  paid summer internship program that would go beyond the traditional setting of his company's corporate offices. It would also bring Cetera's experts from different finance-related backgrounds to the SDSU campus to help reduce disruption of the student-athletes' physical training and practice schedules, which can be a barrier to conventional internships.

As Antoniades laid out his plan to expose students to an array of opportunities and actual assignments in the finance industry, the administrators liked what they saw. Among those in the room was SDSU Senior Associate Athletic Director of Student-Athlete Support Services Danielle Kelly.

"Adam is super high energy and he was extremely passionate about helping our young people," Kelly said. "He's really special and a guy who wants to create flexible opportunities for student-athletes to thrive and prepare for life after sport."

Three students were selected for a pilot program. The second year had seven and this year there are 13. 

Career clarity

So far, Cetera has hired four alumni from its first two Aztecs Going Pro internship cohorts. Among them is Jeweliana Perez, a softball outfielder from Merced who graduated May 12 with a 3.2 GPA and a degree in business administration with an emphasis in management information systems.

Playing for an Aztecs team that has won multiple Mountain West Conference championships made her student experience "a lot different compared to normal college students," said Perez. Even in the off-season, she devoted half her day to weightlifting and softball practice while the other half was consumed by classes and studying.

It's tough to fit much else into a schedule like that. An internship? "You don't even have time for that," Perez said, but she took the opportunity that Antoniades and Aztecs Going Pro created to shift her focus, however briefly, to her career.

Although she was an internal audit intern last year at Cetera, Perez worked with the company's information security team testing applications controls for its databases and network. In July she starts her new position as an IT controls tester with the firm.

"I've always loved tech," said Perez, who considered the field after a professor's recommendation. "It's so innovative and you're learning new things about it almost every day, so I thought it would be a good route for me."

"We basically did a full-time job while we were there and I can honestly say I learned so much more in my eight weeks there than I have in my four years in college," Perez said. "It was awesome to see how all the classes I took transferred over to the work world, but it's so much more complex."

Different disposition

Having grown up playing soccer with his brothers, Antoniades understands the dedication athletes bring to their sports. It's a type of commitment he looks for in employees.

"The difference with athletes is they have the disposition of essentially building a road map in their mind of how to accomplish a goal, and professionally we can help them create that sort of road map," he observed. "They're used to working for everything, used to earning it, used to committing the hours to it, and I think that's a constant."

Cetera's partnership with Aztecs Going Pro is a win-win-win: Students launch careers or, at the very least, gain some experience and open themselves to new possibilities; the university places more of its alumni in professional positions; and the wealth management field, including Cetera with its expanding and increasingly diverse client base, gets a much-needed infusion to its workforce of youth, women, and members of underrepresented communities. 

In fact, the CEO's moment of clarity for a new opportunity came at – where else? – an Aztecs basketball game. "The light bulb went off and I thought, 'Where do I find potential employees who are underrepresented in our industry with a high probability of success because of their conviction to win?' And I went, 'student athletes!'" Antoniades recalled. "It seemed so simple."

At first, Antoniades admits, he was hesitant to propose the internship program "just because Aztecs Going Pro is something that we haven't seen in other schools." But they liked it and forged ahead.

Kelly describes the resulting internship program as "invaluable," but says its success is hard to measure.  "We look forward to growing our metrics this summer," she said. 

In the meantime, Antoniades looks forward to a new, larger group of interns in this year's cohort. He encourages other corporate leaders to create internship programs through SDSU or merge existing ones with Aztecs Going Pro.

"You've got to connect to something and I have a real love for the school and what the school does," he said.