Statistics amount to successful consulting firm for USC alum
Albert Lee applies computer science to economic data and specializes in consulting for the government
As an undergraduate majoring in mathematics and economics at USC, Albert Lee ’91 tutored some of the university’s best known athletes, including Olympian volleyball players Nick Becker and Brian Ivie, and NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich and offensive tackle Tony Boselli. The experience, Lee said, was instrumental in helping him build Summit, his successful consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.
An expert in econometric modeling and statistical sampling, Lee founded his company in 2003. Summit now has close to 80 employees and specializes in quantitative consulting, mostly for federal government agencies. Its staff of economists, econometricians and research scientists use rigorous numerical techniques to model risk, evaluate programs and predict future performance.
“In many ways, tutoring athletes wasn’t very different from what I do right now,” Lee said. “Consulting is a lot like teaching. I tell my staff, ‘In teaching, when students don’t get it, it’s their problem. In consulting, when clients don’t get it, it’s your problem.’ You have to figure out a way to make the idea comprehensible to your audience.”
Lee, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, returned to the University Park Campus on Oct. 16 to talk to math students about his own career path.
In addition to his work at Summit, he also teaches econometrics — the application of mathematics, statistical methods and computer science to economic data — at Columbia University in New York City and has lectured on graduate- and undergraduate-level economics, statistics and econometrics at UCLA and George Washington University. Lee said he was grateful he had that opportunity to tutor student-athletes while at USC Dornsife.
“First, it gave me an appreciation of student-athletes’ tremendous work ethic. Second, it gave me an opportunity to talk about my craft, which I’m passionate about. And third, it taught me how to explain a complex idea and make it understandable.”
The secret, Lee said, was to take the student’s perspective — a strategy he now applies to his clients. “Then you’re successful. Force feeding is no good,” he added with a laugh.
A fresh perspective
Lee advised students to learn everything they are supposed to learn, because otherwise, he said, it will come back to haunt them. Second, be who you are and do what you love, and third, be true to it.
He also advised students to speak up.
In the information economy, your opinions matter.
“In the information economy, your opinions matter,” he said. “You might be coming to the problem with a different perspective. And sometimes that’s exactly what an organization needs.”
A firm believer in paying it forward, Lee admitted he particularly likes to employ interns from his alma mater.
“I like to have USC interns because I know the university trains good students,” Lee said. “Plus, I think the camaraderie and the loyalty they share is fantastic.”
Twenty-four years after graduating, Lee has clearly lost none of his passion for mathematics.
“Math is an international language that bridges generations and cultures,” he said.
“It imparts incredible clarity and precision to thinking and communication and allows me to understand technical literature across many fields, including economics, statistics and computational science.”
“And math makes a fantastic living,” he said. “Sometimes I sit at my desk and chuckle because I cannot believe that people pay me money to read math papers.”
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