J. D. Delafield '89, Founder of an investment bank
East Asian Studies
Why I chose East Asian studies
For five generations, members of my family have attended Princeton. When I got there, as part of trying to figure out who I was as an individual, I wanted to put myself in a situation that had nothing to do with anything that came before in my life or the people who influenced it. I knew I wanted to study something different. I decided to study Chinese.
Princeton's East Asian studies department was spectacular. Jones Hall (the department's home) was always filled with professors who worked with their doors open. They invited anyone in for tea and conversation. They wanted to share what they knew with students, and they had a wonderfully relaxed and encouraging style. The year I entered the program there were probably more faculty than students.
One of the remarkable things about my choice of major was that I wasn't very good at speaking Chinese. I didn't have an ear for languages. But the professors stuck with me, and were more than willing to provide an endless stream of extra-help sessions.
Finding my career path
After my junior year I took a year off to spend time in Taiwan and Beijing. I knew I liked studying Chinese, but I figured I'd better visit before trying to move there after graduation. In Beijing I volunteered at a consulting company that assigned me to study the Chinese chewing gum market for Wrigley's. I discovered that Chinese gum was mixed in cement mixers, rolled by hand with rolling pins, cut into sticks with knives, and wrapped and boxed by hand. Clearly there was a big opportunity for my client.
I moved to Taiwan after Commencement and worked as a bottler services trainee for Coca-Cola. They had decided that it was easier to teach someone who spoke Chinese how to make Coke than it was the other way around. A year later I became Coke's chief representative for northern China, overseeing the company's relationship with joint-venture bottling plants in Beijing, Tianjin, and Dalian. I left Beijing for Pakistan in May 1993, traveling by motorcycle and sidecar, and entered Harvard Business School that September.
After Harvard I spent two years working for Morgan Stanley in New York and Singapore before moving to San Francisco, where in 1998 I co-founded an investment bank, WR Hambrecht + Co, with Bill Hambrecht '57. I did lots of things as we grew from four people to 250, but I spent most of my time as chief operating officer and a member of the board of directors. In 2002 I created Delafield Hambrecht, Inc., a regional, full-service investment bank that serves local growth companies.
The value of my academic choices
By taking an untested approach through Princeton, I gained the confidence to follow my instincts and to take risks. I also developed the ability to think independently. The University and the department provided the environment that enabled me to succeed.
Knowing the Chinese language is an invaluable tool that has paid off immeasurably. But more than that, pursuing the study of Chinese prompted me to move to Taiwan and then Beijing. After the experience of living there, I learned that I could wade into almost any situation and make myself comfortable.