An online publication for the staff, faculty, students and friends of Community College of Philadelphia
Volume 18, Number 2
December 10, 2009

Alum’s Joy is Helping Clients Achieve Financial Goals

Michael A. Burns, a 2006 graduate of the College, developed an interest in stocks and the financial markets while an honors student at South Philadelphia High School. But he was not interested in going to college to earn a Business degree.

“I didn’t understand why I needed to take biology to get a Business degree,” said Burns, now a 25-year-old investment adviser with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Philadelphia. “I thought I should be able to just take some financial and business classes and get a certificate.”

Michael Burns photo
Michael Burns

He quickly found out a career in business was not easy. So, he briefly flirted with the idea of becoming an electrician. He even attended a trade school orientation, but decided against entering the trade.

Burns’ career aspirations did not come into focus until his senior year of high school, when he attended the Career Exploration Program run by the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition. The program places young people in short internships related to their desired careers. “I told them that I wanted to be a stock broker or in real estate sales,” Burns said. “The closest they came was an internship at Wachovia Bank.”

It was a surprisingly good fit. He did well, and after graduating high school, Wachovia Bank offered him a full-time job in data processing. About a year later, with the help of tuition reimbursement from his employer, Burns enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia.

Burns, who had good grades in high school, took advantage of the College’s dual admissions program with Temple University and enrolled in the College’s Business program, which would allow him to transfer to the four-year university as a Business major. It took him four years to earn his associate’s degree in 2006. “That was longer than I wished, but I worked the whole time,” Burns recalled. “It was tough. There were at least two semesters that I took a full-time roster.”

His time at the College provided a “solid foundation for Temple,” Burns said. He graduated from Temple cum laude in August 2008. The timing could not have been worse for a newly minted college graduate to seek entry into the financial investment field. Stock markets around the world were in a free fall. Many brokerage houses and banks were closing their doors or being taken over by larger firms. Burns beat the odds, and after a grueling interview process that lasted more than six months, he was hired as a financial adviser by the Philadelphia office of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. The job was contingent on the young broker passing several certification tests before he could begin advising clients on how to invest their money. Burns passed the tests and is now working to build up his client list.

It has been a busy year for Burns. Today, he is poised on the brink of what could be a successful financial career. “I am blessed,” he said. “I got here with a lot of prayer and the support of my family.”

He is tremendously grateful for the base provided by the College and Temple, where he met his wife Sara. “I believe in Community College of Philadelphia and I tell everybody I know that starting here is a good idea,” Burns said. Two of Burns’ four brothers have taken his advice and are currently attending classes at the College.

Burns also has referred friends to the College. One friend is a high school dropout who enrolled in Gateway to College, where he earned a diploma and college credits that he has since transferred to a four-year school, Burns said. Another friend, who lost his job, took advantage of the College’s Opportunity Now program, which offers recently laid-off workers one semester of up to 12 credits at no cost. He is a contributor to the College Foundation’s fundraising drive and has volunteered to speak to some Business classes and at the fall Career Fair. “I am very grateful for the opportunity that Community College of Philadelphia gave me,” Burns said. “This school gave me a second shot.”

Eventually, Burns plans to return to college to earn a master’s degree in Business Administration. But in the short term, he is concentrating on solidifying his position at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and guiding his clients through the financial mess created by the national recession. “I get joy out of helping people realize their dreams and goals,” Burns said.