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French and Italian

Antoinette L. Seaberry ’05

Director, Business Development and Finance, Comcast Corporation

Sophomore year at Princeton was a difficult one for me. The daunting task of having to choose a major was really difficult because I knew I had a passion for French literature and culture, but practically speaking I also knew I wanted to pursue a career in international business. The thought of choosing between the French and Italian department and economics was overwhelming. 

Fortunately, after speaking with Professor Suzanne Nash, the departmental representative for French and Italian, and sharing my dilemma with her, she suggested that I reach out to one of her colleagues, Professor André Benhaïm, whose specialty is 20th-century France. Professor Benhaïm and I ended up spending a couple of weeks talking about my interest in international business and crafted a curriculum comprised of senior undergraduate and graduate courses that spanned a few departments and programs: political economy, French, economics, and finance. By the end of my time at Princeton, I had a well-rounded perspective on international business with a specific focus on France in the new Euro economy.

The Princeton faculty did a terrific job at advising and giving pointed direction. From the very beginning of our discussions, Professor Nash made it clear that they wanted me to be in the department but they were committed to helping me cultivate the right experience. By definition, I received an A.B. in French and Italian, but more practically speaking, I took courses that spanned French literature of writers such as Molière and Voltaire to classes that focused on the rise of the Euro and 20th-century French politics. I chose the French and Italian department because its members wanted to help their students craft the best possible experience and were committed to helping us through the process. I am happy to report that I fervently believe that was one of the best decisions I ever made.

On the move

After Princeton, I did end up pursuing a career in business. I began my career in investment banking, working for UBS Warburg, a Swiss-based investment banking organization, in the New York office. After UBS, I spent a couple of years living in Los Angeles working for the Gores Group, a mid-market private equity firm focused on distressed buyout and turnaround assets. At Gores, I oversaw our portfolio of investments from a budgeting, management, and operations perspective. After Gores, I came back East to work for Comcast Corporation as manager of strategic and financial planning. In that role, I prepared investment models, prepared business cases for product deployments, and conducted due diligence on new investment opportunities. 

I still work for Comcast but I now work out of our Chicago office. I am overseeing the integration of a small Chicago-based competitive local exchange carrier called CIMCO that we purchased in 2010. I am responsible for managing how CIMCO gets absorbed into the larger Comcast environment, which means I oversee all finance and general administration, capital budgeting, personnel moves and hires, and management of integration initiatives across several business areas (e.g., operations, care, service delivery and assurance, billing).

My studies have helped me tremendously in my professional career. On a practical level, when I worked for Gores and UBS, I worked in and with our international groups on deals based in Paris and London. Having the ability to speak the language was a great benefit to me. When my manager needed someone to go to London to help with a Parisian deal, everyone agreed that I was the best person for the job because I understood the culture, the people, and the currency. I had to read balance sheets, vendor contracts, and operational dashboards, written entirely in French. There were many days when I revisited my textbooks from Princeton, especially from my French 201 class on the French economy.

Principles and perspective

On a more philosophical level, my studies at Princeton stretched me in ways I didn’t expect. By having taken classes on Molière and Francophone literature, I learned about France’s history and sociopolitical perspective. The literature spoke of the country’s rich history and love for culture, family, and life. These are the same principles that impact the French way of life, government, and certainly the economy. Even today, there are some people who cannot understand why there are riots, bus boycotts, and protests in Paris. Because of my French courses, I have a much broader lens and can empathize with the situation. For the French, love and life are not divorced from politics. On the contrary, French economy and politics are cultivated by these principles.

I say all this to say that my studies have given me perspective and context. I think my studies have taught me an even greater lesson in business, in that you must understand context if you are to make any progress. Life is not static; it is fluid. The more we contextualize what is happening around us, the more connected we become to the outcomes we believe will drive change. I believe this principle sits at the core of effective leadership. I am grateful to say this knowledge is the byproduct of my studies in Princeton’s French and Italian department.

Seaberry-Toni