- Billionaire Ken Griffin’s Citadel created a bubble for interns at a resort in Kohler, Wisconsin, renting out the entire place.
- The firm had already been operating a bubble at Palm Beach’s Four Seasons hotel since early April for its Citadel Securities trading floor, and dozens of interns went to Florida for a month as well.
- Out of the firm’s 235-person intern class, roughly 100 spent a month in Wisconsin, while 35 went to Florida.
- “There is no substitute for in-person engagement during the pivotal decision point when your career is launching,” said Gerald Beeson, Citadel’s COO, in a statement to Business Insider.
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For every college student interning this summer, their plans were drastically changed from what they were originally promised thanks to the pandemic.
Big banks went all online. Many companies cancelled their programs altogether. Instead of moves to big cities, students stayed put in their parents’ home.
Except at Citadel and Citadel Securities.
Billionaire Ken Griffin’s $34 billion fund already made headlines when it set up a bubble in the Palm Beach Four Seasons for its Citadel Securities trading floor in April so market-makers wouldn’t have to go all virtual. But the firm went a step further with its intern class this year; the firm set up an additional bubble specifically so interns could have an in-person experience for the summer in Kohler, Wisconsin, at the American Club resort, where a standard room can cost $400 a night.
The timeline went as such: The firm’s 235-person intern class started virtually on June 15, and the 135 people who attended the in-person bubbles self-isolated in corporate housing in Chicago and New York for two weeks before the firm transported them to their respective bubbles on July 19. In Florida, the only interns in attendance worked for Citadel Securities, while the roughly 100 interns that went to Wisconsin worked across the firm’s different businesses.
“There is no substitute for in-person engagement during the pivotal decision point when your career is launching — so we were determined to deliver a safe, immersive summer program enabling our interns to learn side-by-side with our extraordinary colleagues,” said Gerald Beeson, Citadel’s COO, in a statement to Business Insider.
Not all interns chose or were able to make it to the bubbles, due to personal preference, travel restrictions, or visa issues (those that could not make it to the bubbles continued their internships virtually). After self-isolating, interns were tested before entering the bubble and were able to get tested again while living there.
They then spent roughly a month in the bubbles, learning from full-time employees who were there. For Citadel Securities interns in Florida, their internship ended last Friday. For those in Wisconsin, their internship ended on Aug. 14. Both locations hosted Citadel founder Ken Griffin and Citadel Securities CEO Peng Zhao for talks.
The firm landed on the Wisconsin location due to its proximity to Chicago — it’s a little more than a two-hour drive from Citadel’s headquarters — as well as the rural surroundings, as the town of Kohler has a little over 2,000 people in it. Citadel naturally pumped a lot of resources into upgrading the resort’s technology infrastructure, as well as creating a 150-person workspace in the main ballroom, complete with company branding.
“It was probably even better than the normal work environment,” said Jordan Docter, a rising senior at MIT whose first trip to Wisconsin was in the Citadel bubble. She worked for the quant unit’s research engineering team for the summer, focusing on a project on natural-language processing.
For the interns that went, reports are that it was worth it to spend a month apart from family and friends. In both locations, the firm organized social events for after work that — because no one could go anywhere — full-time employees and interns alike took to quickly. Movie nights, pool days, and Spikeball tournaments were the norm in Palm Beach, while at the more intern-heavy Kohler location, the firm set up outdoor events like canoeing, climbing walls, and golf lessons, along with indoor game nights, karaoke, and trivia.
Read more: Billionaire Citadel founder Ken Griffin explains why he modeled his firm after Goldman Sachs’ analyst program — and says future leaders can’t expect a 9-to-5 lifestyle and a ‘great weekend’
“I don’t know of any other firm that invests in their interns like this,” said Nathan Bergman, a rising senior at Princeton who worked for Citadel Securities’ ETF market-making team in Palm Beach. He said that his friends at other financial services firms “were all super jealous” of his experience for the summer, but also noted how important it was for learning how to do his job.
“Being able to read their faces, see what they were thinking as we discussed trades, I’m just used to interacting with people in person,” he said.
“I don’t feel like I’d be able to get a full sense of what it was like” without the in-person experience.
Both full-time employees and interns said the month-long bubble stints led to much more natural conversations than at after-work events in a more typical summer.
Kelly Brennan, Citadel Securities’ head of ETF trading, is normally based in New York, but came down to the bubble in Florida for several weeks to interact with the interns on her team in person. Brennan, who spent more than a decade at Goldman Sachs before joining Citadel Securities, said she’s interacted with her fair share of interns in the past, but this year, the relationships were more natural, especially compared to a virtual setting.
“When we were in a purely virtual internship setting, the conversations felt less organic,” she said.
And there’s a benefit for the firm as well, which naturally was paying attention to the interns during non-working hours.
“You let people’s personalities come out, and you get a better sense of the cultural fit,” she said.
“It gave us a holistic view of the candidates.”
The intern class for this year was significantly larger than last year’s — 2019’s had 167 across Citadel and Citadel Securities — and the 235 chosen were out of 40,000 applicants. The team at Citadel tasked with pulling off the bubbles went from idea to interns arriving on site in seven weeks, something the college students who had been sent home from school earlier in the spring appreciated.
“Obviously no other company has put on this experience for their interns,” said Docter.
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