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Q&A with Mark Leong: From internship to career

Mark Leong received his bachelor of arts degree in economics from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. When he was in search of a college internship to fulfill his degree requirements, a friend suggested he look into Northwestern Mutual. Not only did he end up completing his internship there, but nine years later he is now a financial advisor for the company.

How has your UH education helped you in your career?

My UH education has helped me through the connections and relationships that I built during my time there. These relationships have helped me to build my business through networking, recruiting, and business development. I also apply a lot of what I learned through my economics degree to the financial planning conversations that I have with my clients regularly.

Describe your career path. How did you end up doing the work you’re doing today?

I needed to find an internship as one of my requirements for my economics degree, so I started asking around for suggestions from friends. While on a hike, a friend who went to UH with me suggested that I look into Northwestern Mutual because she heard they had a really great internship program. That day, I went online and applied for the internship just based on her suggestion. After a few interviews, I got accepted into the program and the rest is history!

What do you love most about your work?

I love the impact I have on families and businesses the most. Through our unique and comprehensive financial planning process, we are able to positively change outcomes in lives, businesses, and future generations to come. I feel an incredible alignment in my life with my faith, family, mission, values, and career. This life changing impact on our clients is truly the reason I get out of bed every morning with so much excitement for each day!

Who would you say was your most influential mentor while in college?

I would say that my most influential mentor in college was one of my economics professors, John Lynham. I appreciated his style of communicating and his ability to connect with his students. He was very approachable and he was able to create interest in what could be a dull topic through his enthusiasm. These are all traits that I continue to try to emulate in my business today.

What advice would you give students to help them prepare for their career?

The advice that I would give current students is two-fold. First would be to take an educational path towards your interests and not just what you think the best-paying career would be. In reflecting back on my time in college, I didn’t actually have much perspective on the job market after college or what different occupations would pay. I thought I had an idea at the time, but now I can see that there are so many different ways to turn your passion into a career.

Second, once you are taking classes that are of interest, start applying to internships early. Try to get as much experience that you can in order to figure out what types of careers you could potentially see yourself in. By doing this you are gaining a lot of knowledge about the post-college workforce in general. I was blessed to have stumbled on an internship that happened to be one of the top programs in the country and I just so happened to love it. It’s not realistic to think that everyone will have that same experience, so start early!

To connect with Mark, log-in/sign-up for UH Connect at connect.uhalumni.org.

Mark (second from the right) pictured with colleagues at Northwestern Mutual's 2019 Annual Meeting in Milwaukee.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni