Zach Pfeffer has always been goal-oriented.
His knack for scoring goals helped him sign a professional soccer contract by age 15. At the time, the native of Dresher, Pa., became the fourth-youngest player to join Major League Soccer (MLS), a professional soccer league based in the United States.
These days, Pfeffer is a rising junior at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, where his career goals revolve around his interest in finance.
“This is the right place for me,” said Pfeffer, a summer wealth management intern at the Philadelphia office of Morgan Stanley. “From my first day at Fox, I have immersed myself in the culture and activities here, and it’s been a great experience.”
At 21, Pfeffer is what some might call a non-traditional undergraduate student. His enrollment at Fox in January 2017 marked the first time Pfeffer had taken courses in a classroom setting in six years.
As an upperclassman at Upper Dublin High School, in Upper Dublin, Pa., Pfeffer had made special arrangements to continue taking coursework in person and online while pursuing a career in MLS. Each day, after a first-period morning class, he would travel to Chester, Pa., for practice with the Philadelphia Union, the MLS club with which he had signed.
“I thought it would be difficult to re-acclimate to the classroom, but it’s been great,” Pfeffer said recently. “I had taken some online coursework while I was playing professionally, which helped keep me engaged and in a student’s mindset. Really, everything at Fox has been a great experience.”
The Union signed Pfeffer in 2010, during the franchise’s first season of existence. The club had planned for Pfeffer, a goal-scoring midfielder, to figure prominently into their future success. Often in soccer, teams will loan younger players who are under contract to other clubs, to allow for that player’s growth and to give him more opportunity to play. Pfeffer’s first loan sent him to Hoffenheim, Germany. The opportunity, Pfeffer said, “helped me mature quickly.”
“It taught me the parallels between careers in soccer and in business, actually,” he said. “They’re both cutthroat and competitive lines of work, and if you’re not performing well, there is always someone who is waiting to take your job. I was able to learn a new language, and it gave me a chance to be independent.”
Pfeffer’s soccer career continued upon his return stateside. The 2015 season served as his apex with the Union. He played in 21 games and scored a pair of goals, none bigger than his game-winner in the final moments of a July 25 match against DC United.
“I remember that goal like it just happened,” Pfeffer said, smiling. “We were playing a home game, I came on in the 75th minute of a 1-1 game. And in the 92nd minute, I took a touch and slotted it home with my left foot. The crowd went wild. That was my highlight moment.”
The Union traded Pfeffer to Colorado before the 2016 season and, though he had options from a number of MLS clubs for the 2017 season, Pfeffer decided to hang up his spikes and pursue a degree in finance. Around the locker rooms in his various career stops, Pfeffer said teammates often called him “the finance guy,” because of his interest in the foreign and domestic markets. A handful of teammates actually requested that Pfeffer — who at the time was completing online coursework — serve as their wealth manager.
“Before practice every day, everybody would be in the locker room killing time by looking at their phones,” said Colorado goalkeeper Zac MacMath, a teammate of Pfeffer’s both with the Union and the Colorado Rapids. “Zach was very well known for checking stocks when the markets would open, or reading the news. (Teammates) would look at him so focused on his phone and people would ask. He was obviously passionate about it.”
MacMath praised Pfeffer for his ability to complete online classes while playing soccer professionally.
“I’m taking some classes now, and I can tell you it’s a very tough task to go back to school when you’re playing,” MacMath said. “But Zach, he’s a well-mannered kid who was raised well by his parents. He was going to be successful no matter what life or career path he chose to pursue.”
Pfeffer isn’t sure of the direction in which he will take his finance degree. He has two years to decide between career opportunities in investment banking, private equity, wealth management, portfolio management, or equity research.
For now, he’s dedicated to his education and his commitments to a few of Fox’s student professional organizations.
Next fall, Pfeffer will serve as the lead analyst for the financial sector of Temple’s renowned Owl Fund Seminar, a two-semester course in which students manage real money — approximately $250,000 — in Temple University’s endowment expressly designated for this class. Students in Owl Fund are required to first participate in Fox Fund, a non-credit virtual portfolio training ground.
“That’s how I first met Zach and, in our interactions, he has shown great initiative and great potential,” said Cindy Axelrod, Assistant Professor of Finance and Director of Financial Planning programs at the Fox School. “Last semester, he often attended Owl Fund classes as an opportunity to meet other students and network with speakers.”
Axelrod added that Pfeffer, in his role as financial sector lead analyst, will be tasked with recommending three stocks for Owl Fund investment during the semester, and analyzing existing stocks from his most-recent predecessors. “These are front-line responsibilities,” Axelrod said, “and Zach is ready to meet these challenges.”
Next semester, Pfeffer also will hold officer roles with the Financial Management Association (FMA) and the Temple University Investment Association (TUIA).
Pfeffer has no plans of giving up soccer entirely. He guided the Owl Fund’s intramural team to the championship round last semester. And through LinkedIn, he has connected with fellow former players like retired MLS goalkeeper Will Hesmer, whose post-playing career is in wealth management.
“Everyone I’ve met and spoken with has been so supportive,” Pfeffer said. “Having that world and work experience certainly made for a smoother transition and it almost feels like I have an advantage. I’m a competitive person, and that translates to my past and my education.
“Those skills are transferable, and I think that’s why my time at Fox has exceeded all of my expectations.”