Brandon Copeland was up late in Baltimore, staring at his screens in the makeshift basement office in his mother’s home. He read everything he could, notes scribbled to create the presentations he needed to make. The hours stretched into the early morning, sometimes as late as 2 a.m. His team, though, was counting on him.
The work, which he has completed remotely in Maryland, Michigan and at his permanent home in New Jersey, is not labor intensive, although it can strain the eyes. The work has purpose. The data has value.
Copeland needs to formulate a strong opinion, a combination of evidence and personal feelings of public companies. Those findings will be presented to his co-worker, Ron Darnowski, during meetings at Weiss Multi-Strategy Advisers when it’s time to discuss the latest IPO valuations the two have been researching. If his team is right, the firm -- and their clients -- will make money.
The 25-year-old Wharton graduate joined the financial world with an offseason job at Weiss in March as a spring analyst -- balancing training to make the Detroit Lions for the third straight season with preparing for a future following football. The gig officially lasts until June but could be around in perpetuity if Copeland wants.
Copeland is assisting Darnowski, a trader in the IPO and valuation division of the company, develop strategies that will help shape how they pitch investors and decide on prices they want to invest at. Proprietary information precludes them from discussing specific deals Copeland worked on.
“He’s part of the process and he works for our firm and with me because he contributes to the process and makes our team better,” Darnowski said. “This isn’t, ‘Oh, let’s help out Brandon and teach him some stuff and give him some work to do.’
“He’s doing work and adding to our process here. But the flip side of that is like anybody who is very new and green and learning the business, their contribution is going to be relatively small, but it is material. He’s part of the team.”
It’s a team Copeland targeted for a while.
George Weiss, the founder of the firm bearing his name, is a University of Pennsylvania football benefactor. Nick Morris, a former Penn defensive back, is a partner who runs the trading desk at Weiss and a co-founder of Health Warrior. The two sometimes chat about players Penn was recruiting. Copeland stood out. Morris thought Copeland was too talented for Penn. So when Copeland chose Penn, the two Quaker alums started to learn more about their team’s new star.
They initially met through the football program -- one often tied to postgraduate jobs in finance. After the first meeting, one thing stuck out. Copeland followed up. He did research. He asked questions. He wanted to learn, find mentors. Weiss, Morris and Darnowski all said you’d be surprised how often college students don’t do that. So when one does -- and is as personable and intelligent as Copeland -- it makes a positive impression.
“Some kids, they come in with a naiveté and think that they are going to do well academically and their future is all set,” Weiss said. “Learning to know the right people who can assist you, you know the term rabbi, in business, but it’s really somebody in business who can give you advice.
“So here’s a kid that’s 19 that’s asking questions and understanding the value that Wharton, that Penn education can do for you. So that’s probably what impressed me the most. He did it on his own. He sought us out to come up here and talk to us.”
The connections influenced Copeland’s future. He interned at UBS for two summers in college. Undrafted in 2013, he latched on with the Baltimore Ravens for training camp, was cut and landed with the Tennessee Titans. He was on the Titans' practice squad that year. He went to New York for two weeks in the offseason of 2014 to shadow Morris and Weiss. Had football not worked out, it’s possible he’d be working at UBS or Weiss full-time now.
"It's just, you're using your brain to make money. That intrigued me." Brandon Copeland
His internships, education and job shadow left Copeland enthralled. His bosses at Weiss knew they might have something more in him after Morris sent him to a brokerage house and didn’t tell him he would have to give a five-minute extemporaneous presentation. He did. Morris then received text messages about how well Copeland performed.
“That was the time for me. I understood then that the actual selling and trading and buying and selling of stocks was actually very intriguing to me,” Copeland said. “You can change your finances overnight, not that we’re trying to make bets, but for a young guy from Baltimore looking at a computer screen I’m like, ‘OK, you can change your financial, your bank account overnight and your back doesn’t hurt; you’re not lifting a weight.’
“It’s just, you’re using your brain to make money. That intrigued me.”
The pace of trading reminded Copeland of football and became his initial interest, leading him to start day trading during his time in Tennessee.
Copeland sat in meetings, nervous. On Tennessee’s practice squad, he tried to absorb as much information as possible about his new career. He needed to know what the Titans were doing that week -- and his scout team roles, too.
His phone tempted him. Trying to day trade, where the slightest change in the market could mean the difference between winning and losing, was stressful. If he bought a stock before an 8:15 a.m. meeting Central time, he’d be in the bathroom an hour later checking the progress and deciding whether or not to sell.
Tuesdays consisted of waking up early, turning on CNBC, reading news wires, consulting research prepared during the week to try to make as much money as possible. He didn’t think it was affecting his football focus, but if he wanted to make it in the NFL, he knew he had to concentrate solely on football when he was in it.
“In between reps with my trainer, I remember sitting there holding my phone and waiting to pull the trigger,” Copeland said. “I was really big into options, and they can move pretty fast, which was good. In between reps, I’m all up in my phone.
“Now I’ve learned that, ‘Hey, I need to focus 100 percent on what I’m doing.’ So that’s how that worked.”
Copeland quit day trading weeks after the 2013 season. He said he was up overall, which “makes it harder to stop.” He doesn’t blame being out of the league in 2014 on his day trading, but when he refocused for one final shot at the league, he knew he couldn’t go back.
He said he hasn’t day traded since he joined the Lions.
As Copeland created an NFL career after signing with the Lions following the 2015 veteran’s combine -- with an NFL paycheck -- he didn’t forget his first jobs: Walmart stock boy; managed expense reports at the Social Security Administration; bouncer at Smokey Joe’s in Philadelphia. So as he plans his ever-evolving investment strategy, he has become a saver.
“I’ve literally hoarded money,” Copeland said. “I’m literally stacking, stacking, stacking. Anything I can get into an account and just let sit, I’ve got to a point where I have enough, where if football is over today, I have more than enough to take care of me for a while.
“I don’t have to go right into the work world. Now, it’s time to put some money to work.”
This is less stress and fewer risks. His investments now, he said, are safe, long-term plays. He’s open to risk but is avoiding the volatility he used to have with options.
While he’s still putting together his savings and investment strategy for this year, he estimates he’ll invest close to 60 percent of his post-tax salary. He’ll save around 30 percent of the salary. And he’ll live off the remaining 10 to 15 percent. He’s quick to advise -- he has been working in the financial world, after all -- that this is his personal strategy and not recommended for everyone.
“Every check gets divided up, not necessarily like that, but I always put a limit on this year, as soon as we get back in April. Now anything that I have in my account the year previous, I don’t touch it,” Copeland said. “I put it toward investments or whatever, but livingwise I don’t touch it. I live off what I make in the spring in terms of OTA checks and all that type of stuff and live off this active season.
“I still hold myself to strict guidelines in terms of what I touch in terms of that money. It’s guaranteed football is going to be over one day. I tell kids that all the time.”
That was how he ended up back at Weiss.
When he inquired with Weiss about a potential job earlier this year, he didn’t know if he would be paid. He told Weiss not to worry about the money. He did this for education. When Weiss insisted, Copeland told him he would use at least a portion of his Weiss income (thousands of dollars) to fund his football camp for children in inner-city Baltimore, to provide them with school supplies and other community donations.
Philanthropy isn’t new to NFL players, but in Weiss, Copeland had a mentor there, too. That, Weiss said, is primarily what the two of them discuss now.
“Brandon is an incredibly talented kid, not only as an athlete, but as a human being and what he does for society and the programs that he’s set up in Baltimore for inner-city kids,” Weiss said. “He’s got talent, and I know this because we’d hire him in a second when his NFL career is over.
“So it’s really trying to help him get his future in line after he’s done playing football.”
Copeland often thinks about his future, from financial planning to football to what he’ll do when it’s done. Copeland is trying to learn enough to eventually work for himself. Weiss is an option. Morris and Darnowski, understanding his schedule and desire to make football last as long as possible, purposely gave him assignments with flexibility to fit in with his training schedule so he can do both well.
They’ve given him tasks that can broaden his financial education. After assessing interests and personalities, it’s why Morris paired Copeland and Darnowski. Much like how coaches developed Copeland on the field, Morris and Darnowski are trying to bring along an asset they believe could be a future Wall Street star.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get him to develop the financial skill set in kind of valuing companies, valuing industries,” Morris said. “You tie that into his personality and there is a lot of opportunity for him on Wall Street. Those characteristics, there’s a lot of opportunity.
“I sent him out to these brokerage houses just to meet people and network. While he’s on his way back, these people are calling me, like, ‘This kid is a superstar.’ So it’s not like I have some special talent of picking people out. He just has that kind of ‘it factor,’ and there are many opportunities for someone on Wall Street who has that.”