Balancing the Equation
Although she has established a life in New York working in economic consulting, Faten Sabry ’88, ’91 has many distinctions in the AUC community. In addition to being an alumna who was awarded merit scholarships and the President’s Cup, Sabry is former assistant professor of economics and a donor who established a Public School Scholarship to support talented Egyptian students. Looking back, she cherishes her moments at AUC, which she describes as a second home.
Faten Sabry ’88, ’91 is senior vice president and partner in the Securities and Finance Practice, as well as chair of the Bankruptcy Litigation Practice, at National Economic Research Associates (NERA) Economic Consulting in New York, where she has been working since 1998. She is a member of the American Finance Association and the American Bankruptcy Institute. Her economic research has been published in The Journal of Structured Finance, Journal of Investment Compliance, Business Economics, The Journal of Alternative Investments and The International Trade Journal, among others. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s in economics from AUC, Sabry received her PhD from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where she was awarded the J.M. Olin Graduate Fellowship, the Graduate School of Business Fellowship and a Ford Foundation Fellowship. She was also a postdoctoral fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Faten Sabry ’88, ’91 shares her path to success, from economics at AUC to economic consulting in New York.
What was your experience at AUC like? What drew you to the University?
It was a dream all throughout high school to join AUC. There were not that many universities in Egypt at the time that would give you the option of exploring various areas of study before deciding on a major. It was, and in my opinion remains, the best liberal arts University in Egypt and possibly in the Middle East. I have very fond memories of the University, and many of the people I met at AUC remain longtime friends and acquaintances.
What is your favorite memory from AUC?
Too many to name just one. Although one example has to be Dr. Galal Amin’s lectures, where he heeded us not to accept premises as presented and asked us to challenge what others call conventional wisdom. I remember vividly a discussion with him about the priorities in economic development. I am sure he does not recall the discussion, but it is one of the main reasons I decided to major in economics. I remain curious about the reasons why some countries manage to succeed and make the leap to growth, and even development, while others fail to do either. It all started with his lectures in my freshman year.
Other fond memories are the endless discussions I used to have with friends near the library steps. We used to hang out on campus after classes. Campus was like a second home. I cannot recall what we used to argue about, but I do remember the laughter, the air of optimism and hope. And the best memories of all are the friendships I made as an undergraduate. We may not meet often, but when we do, it doesn’t feel like we have been in different countries, let alone different continents, for years.
How did your time at AUC influence your career path?
Research has always been interesting to me, and AUC encouraged my interests in doing research. I had the good fortune of learning from great professors at AUC, including William Mikhail, Adel Beshai and others. I decided that I would like to get more specialized in the field, and that started at AUC. I also had great colleagues. I do my best to remain in touch with the alumni in New York.
At AUC, you established a Public School Scholarship in your name in 2007. Why is supporting public school students important to you?
Great people are the key to the success of any organization. Nice buildings and fancy labs alone do not make a university great; you want the best students and professors. AUC should be able to attract excellent, top-notch students from Egypt, regardless of language issues or income levels.
What have been the most significant milestones in your career?
My PhD from Stanford University is an important milestone in my career. It was a lot of hard work. The day I became a partner at the firm was also memorable. I work very hard, and I am grateful to all the people who supported me, especially my parents, husband and kids. I have also been very lucky to have academic and professional mentors who were gracious enough to open doors for me and for others.
What do you find rewarding about your work?
I work for a firm of about 500 people. Most of them are economists, and all we do is apply economics to solve real-world problems. I enjoy what I do very much. Working in corporate America is challenging, but rewarding as well. I am on the board of a nonprofit organization called Arab Bankers Association of North America, which seeks to provide education and mentoring for Arab-Americans who are interested in the financial industry. At NERA, I am a member of the board of directors and chair of the investment committee, and I also continue to conduct a lot of research.
As senior vice president at NERA, what is your typical workday like?
My job is to provide quantitative, evidence-based research on economic and statistical models to assist clients in regulatory investigations, litigation, internal investigations or advisory assignments. I employ various econometric models to evaluate questions of possible market manipulation or investors’ losses. My clients include financial institutions, regulatory agencies and boards of directors of large corporations, among others. It is a lot of fun to apply economic theories and empirical tools you learn in graduate school to assess whether a given market was being manipulated, for example. I present the results of our analysis in courts as an expert witness. Each side in an arbitration or litigation has an expert, and you provide the opposing side your results and all the work and data that went into it so that they can replicate your work and critique it. Our reports and analyses are subject to more scrutiny than a referee process of academic journals. It is a rigorous, contentious process, and you see economics at work in the real world.
What is the biggest challenge facing the Egyptian economy right now?
I remain optimistic despite the increasing list of economic challenges in Egypt. The biggest challenge and impediment is education policy, or the lack of it. A closely related serious problem is the alarming rate of youth unemployment, the underemployment of the government sector and corruption. If we cannot name our problems, we will never fix them.
What can be done to address these problems? A systematic overhaul of the entire education system is the only solution, starting from kindergarten through college and beyond. There are no alternatives. I would look East for solutions, not to Western countries. Most developing countries face problems similar to Egypt, and some have found ways to resolve them. Education is the basis for countries like India — a rising power, no doubt — and the same is true for South Korea, China and others. I’d forget about these international organizations with the one-recipe-fits-all approach. They make policy recommendations with complete disregard to the social implications on the lower income groups, who usually get decimated by these policies. You need property rights and strong legal and legislative institutions for free markets to work for everyone, not just the few fortunate ones.