From the philharmonic to finance: A violinist’s extreme career transition

Solenn Séguillon in downtown San Francisco
Solenn Séguillon in downtown San Francisco : Jim Block

Today, we launch the first in a series on “extreme career transitions,” sharing the stories of students who  came to Berkeley Haas seeking a radical career shift.

Coming from a successful career as a world-touring violinist, Solenn Séguillon, EWMBA 19, arrived at Haas with a mild case of imposter syndrome.

In class, she’d offer an opinion and promptly apologize, believing that her musician’s background didn’t qualify her as a business expert.

“I was pretty unconfident in class, I was really shy,” Séguillon said. “One of my classmates told me my comments were on point in class and that helped. We had group study sessions and the feedback I got was that I had to be more confident.”

Séguillon took the advice. And since that first semester, the same persistence that drove her success as a violinist has fueled her rise at Haas. Séguillon hasn’t stopped building confidence, through hours of studying, internships, and lots of support from her cohort and mentors. That work landed her a summer job in wealth management at J.P. Morgan Private Bank, where she starts next month.

“You have to want it”

Séguillon’s new life in the Bay Area is far from where she grew up in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower, the youngest of four. But her family remains close to her heart. Her father was the late, well-known French political journalist Pierre-Luc Séguillon, and her mother, Sylvie, worked with children with disabilities, until Solenn was born.

Solenn Séguillon began playing violin at age 7 and knew she wanted to be a professional by age 9.
 Séguillon began playing violin at age 7 and knew she wanted to be a professional by age 9.

“My parents were just so supportive,” she said. “My mom is friends with whoever she meets. She’s very comfortable with people. From my dad, I got the drive. I saw him work so hard his whole life, always keeping it very interesting. He taught me a lot about commitment and loving your job.”

Séguillon, who is 30, started playing violin at age seven, and by age nine, knew she wanted to “go pro.” That required mornings at school, followed by afternoons of intense practice at the Paris Regional National Conservatory. All the practice could be difficult at times, she said, “but I was hooked.”

In 2010, she left Europe for San Francisco, where she attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

Her career took off, with prestigious residencies, orchestra solos, and media accolades. During the summer of 2016, she performed at the Kennedy Center with one of her groups, the Hurd Ensemble. She toured China as a soloist with the American Philharmonic Orchestra, and performed Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the One Found Sound Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco and with the Venice Symphony in Florida.

She also traveled the world with her Aleron Trio, playing alongside a cellist and pianist at festivals and concert halls across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. While performing was fun, it was also intense, “like a second marriage, honestly. You travel together, play together,” she said.

Watch Solenn Séguillon perform with the Aleron Trio at the Banff Center.

Contemplating a pivot

That intensity ultimately led Séguillon, who is married to Nick Dye, a former British soccer player and coach in the English Premier League, with a 3-year-old son, Arthur, to explore a career change. A friend told her about the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program.

Séguillon applied only to Haas, impressed by its U.S. News ranking as the #1 part-time MBA program. Once accepted, she began considering a career in finance, attending every investment-related event she could, sharing her personal story, and soaking in every bit of advice from her professors, alumni, and the investment community.

“She’s really good about staying in touch, being appreciative, listening, and executing on advice,” said William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs for the Haas Finance Group.

Solenn Séguillon credits classmates with providing encouragement from the start of the EMBA program.
Séguillon credits her classmates with providing encouragement from the start.

Séguillon also worked closely with the Haas Career Management Group on resume building, finding internships, and mock interviews.

“I remember meeting her as a first-year,” said Linda Yach, an associate director with the MBA Career Management Group. “Most people don’t want to interview for internships until year two, but she was here in the spring. She was determined. She wanted to get an internship and she was finding opportunities on her own.”

At a Haas event, Séguillon met Larissa Roesch, MBA 97, a vice president and portfolio manager at Dodge & Cox, who was also a pianist who worked in arts management before attending business school. For Séguillon, meeting Roesch made her believe that a career jump from music to finance was possible. “I saw that she had done it and it definitely clicked,” she said.

To build her resume, Séguillon targeted smaller companies for internships. In the fall of 2016, she started as an MBA fellow at OpenInvest, a Y Combinator-backed startup that built a Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) platform for retail investors. There, she worked on a deal that led to a $3.25 million investment in OpenInvest by Andreessen Horowitz.

The following summer, she joined Investo as a summer intern, helping to screen and evaluate early-stage companies. That led to a fellowship at seed-stage investor Lodestar Ventures and a job in downtown San Francisco as an associate at wealth management firm Parallel Advisors.

Experience that counted

Meanwhile, in class, Séguillon was slowly realizing that the experiences she had as a musician working on a team and building something from the ground up did count as business development. “As musicians, we had to reach out to concert venues and festivals and build strong relationships with music directors and conductors to establish our own residencies and programs,” she said. “That experience is really important to me now, as I work with clients.”

Solenn Séguillon performing as a violin soloist
Séguillon performed as a soloist with multiple orchestras before coming to Haas.

One of Séguillon’s aspirations is to work with early-stage entrepreneurs on financing, which she’s studying in her New Venture Finance course, taught by Assoc. Prof. Adair Morse. She’s also deeply committed to socially responsible investing, and is a principal of the student-run Haas Socially Responsible Investment Fund.

When summer job interviews kicked off last spring, Séguillon set her sights on getting a prestigious Wall Street bank internship in private wealth management. The interview process was intense, she said, and she prepared as she would for any big concert: hours of practice with anyone willing to help with mock interviews.

Interviewing with 12 people in one day at J.P. Morgan, she never slowed down. “I liked it,” she said. “I’m a performer. In a way, my career as a musician really helped.”

J.P. Morgan hired her, and this summer she will begin the first of two rotations, exploring the best investment strategies for ultra-high-worth clients. A second rotation will help familiarize her with the role of the banker, which involves business development, identifying and reaching out to potential clients.

And there’s still the violin, which sits in its case as she juggles work and school at night. “I’m missing a part of myself,” she said, though she plans to pick it up again this summer.

Reflecting, Séguillon said she’s grateful for all the support she’s received at Haas and is looking forward to seeing where her career will take her.

“I always want more,” she said. “I definitely got that from music. Music taught me the value of hard work and not giving up. During my transition at Haas, I’d never think ‘I can never get there.’ I just thought, ‘I just have to work harder.’ “