Former Navy Seal Mike Zapata ’00 was “Professor for the Day” at the Aggies on Wall Street Investment Banking Certificate Program’s colloquium, held every spring semester. Zapata, founder and managing partner of Sententia Capital Management, shared with the Mays Business School students how the military prepared him for a career in investment management and led the aspiring investment bankers in solving a real-life case.


Each year, the colloquium gives Aggies on Wall Street Investment Banking (AOWS IB) students an opportunity to personally learn from finance practitioners. Arvind Mahajan, finance professor and director of the AOWS IB program, said the students took away a lot from Zapata’s presentation.

His presentation fit extremely well with the larger scope of the class in many ways,” Mahajan said. “He introduced students to hedge funds and did such a great job of inspiring the students and providing them with concrete skills to help them obtain a job on Wall Street.”

Zapata received his bachelor’s degree in industrial distribution from Texas A&M and in the same month was commissioned as a naval officer. For the next decade, he served as a Navy SEAL officer and was deployed multiple times during the global war on terrorism, including tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.

But in 2011, he decided it was time for a change. “I had some incredible experiences in the Teams. But at the 10-year mark for an officer, you move towards more managerial positions, away from the hands-on work I was fortunate to have in that time window. For me, it was time for a transition.”

Zapata moved out of the military to attend Columbia University’s business school. There he was accepted into the Heilbrunn Center for Graham and Dodd Investing, where he earned his master’s degree with a focus on investment management. Upon completion of his MBA, Zapata formed Sententia Capital Management, a value-based hedge fund.

Transferring skills to a new career

The learning curve to be a successful investor was steep at first, but Zapata said his military experience had prepared him well. “As SEALs we had to be good learners. There may have been better shooters, sky divers or mountain climbers than us, but we learned from them and as a result, we were better all around.”

Zapata had earlier assigned the Mays students a case study based on an experience he had faced at Sententia. The students were required to value a specific company for acquisition and had to decide what price they should offer for it. They presented their analysis and the proposed solutions during the colloquium after which Zapata explained what he had done when making an offer to buy this company.

“There are three highly transferable skills from the military to the world of investing: Analyzing behavior to mitigate risk, focusing and researching a target set, and making decisions in a dynamic and less than perfect environment,” Zapata told them. “In investing we spend most of our time in analysis. That’s where you make the money. Like in the military, if we don’t do our homework, someone or something of value could be left behind.”