Alumni Spotlight: Denis Openlander (BA, '06)

Denis Openlander graduated from WashU with a BA in history in 2006. He currently works in investment management as the principal and partner of Ten Peaks Partners, which he founded in 2013. He agreed to do a Q&A with us as part of our series on Alumni Stories.

Denis Openlander

Why did you originally decide to major in history? 

Curiosity led me to study interesting people and events from our past. I have always been interested in people and leaders. History was a great way to understand the triumphs and tragedies of amazing individuals who took a risk and shaped our world. It provides a context for life and current events.

Describe your current career. What do you do, and what do you love about it?

Several years ago I founded Ten Peaks Partners, an investment management and planning company focused on managing corporate retirement plans for midsized businesses and pools of capital for non-profits, endowments, and family office clients. Essentially, we serve as an outsourced Chief Investment Officer for these small and midsized institutions in 22 states. I enjoy the fantastic people I meet, CEOs, CFOs, professionals and other investors. Since I am endlessly curious, I find the research, technology and reading interesting as well. Investing can have a very positive impact on organizations and individuals, and I enjoy seeing those results.

What was your career path after undergrad, and in what ways did a degree in history prepare you for your current life/career?

After graduation I worked on an institutional sales and trading desk for Citigroup, trading government agency bonds with a number well-known investment companies. From there I worked in institutional and intermediary consulting for Janus Henderson, serving well-known corporations and insurance companies. I was fortunate to make it through the financial crisis without losing my role, but seeing the crisis play out taught me to bet on myself rather than a large organization.

Ultimately my college education and life experiences taught me to genuinely question everything. I think it helped me to go deeper for the real source of information and ideas, and then challenge those sources of information.

Can you remember an instance when your background in history came in handy or helped you make an unexpected connection?

I love the idea of being the master of your own destiny. I love ideas and curious people. When you study history, it reminds you that it was the “doers” who really inspired others and made a difference. Whether your impact is big or small, there is no substitute for engaging in the full contact sport of life. It is fun, challenging, and rewarding. There are so many amazing individuals in our past and present to remind us of our ability and obligation to make a positive impact in our communities.

What is your advice to current WashU undergrads?

Everyone is so unique that I would not presume to have great advice, but here are a few things that have been helpful for me along the way. Align your interests and personal values with other individuals, communities, and companies that share those values. The fit is never perfect, but when there is enough overlap you will feel that connection. When it is time to move on because your interests or values have changed, you will know it. When you are ready to go deeper into that interest, remember that 10+ years of work and study in that field are likely required to have some level of credibility, and many more years before mastery. That journey of challenges, humbling moments, mentors, friendships and victories is the reward. Reaching goals may be anti-climatic, but taking on meaningful challenges with like-minded individuals is not. Lastly, have faith that your journey will work out for the better.

ready to learn more?

For more information about majoring in history, contact the director of undergraduate studies, Cassie Adcock.

Contact Cassie Adcock