Carrie Farley ’00 arrived at NC State expecting to graduate as an engineer. But instead of sitting in front of a computer screen writing code, she’s traveling the world.
A computer science and business management double major, Farley decided to broaden her focus after an “amazing” study abroad experience in France as a sophomore and a Park Enrichment Grant-funded research endeavor in Île de la Réunion as a rising senior. Unsure of what she wanted to do upon graduating, Farley earned a master’s degree in finance from Imperial College London. While she still didn’t feel as though she’d found her calling, her time abroad made her certain of one thing: she wanted to travel.
Farley returned to the States and landed a position with the U.S. Department of Commerce, investigating international trade cases.
“It was a great first job – I got to go to Italy every year for a few weeks to investigate pasta manufacturers!” she said. “But after about 18 months there wasn’t much more to learn and I started to get bored.”
One day at the office, Farley attended a presentation by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) about the infrastructure projects they finance. She had not previously considered a career in project finance, but she was instantly hooked. It required knowledge of how things such as trains, airports, and power plants work in order to understand the financial implications of building and operating them – a great match for Farley’s skill sets. She spent the next four years working for a small, Washington, D.C.-area consulting company that focused on infrastructure. There she found her passion. She traveled extensively – mostly in Latin America – and, from the outset, was afforded opportunities to manage projects.
“By the time I left, I was managing some of our largest projects – like advisory work on a $60 billion high speed rail project in California,” Farley said. “This was helped considerably by having a great relationship with two of the vice presidents. They were truly kind people who looked out for their staff and not just the interests of the company.”
Through a joint project with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private sector arm of the World Bank and gold standard of project finance in developing countries – Farley met a woman in a high-ranking position who became her mentor and role model. She helped Farley secure a position with the IFC and navigate the institution. During her seven years with the IFC, Farley moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She spent significant time on projects in Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine, and even traveled to Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Most of her worked centered on advising governments on infrastructure transactions.
“This still touches on how infrastructure works and what that means for financing, but it introduces a whole new level of challenge when a country has relatively restricted resources,” said Farley. “I really loved the work, but after a while I started to get itchy feet.”
For her next career move, Farley decided to start her own firm – Iris Advisory.
While Farley has come to know both the pros and cons of business ownership, she loves the challenge of using the skill sets and relationships she’s built over the years to solve the problems she encounters. And those problems vary widely: in Ethiopia, she’s helping to write laws that will set the stage for infrastructure projects, and in Somalia she’s advising on a number of small transactions on everything from ports to khat tax collection. (Khat is a somewhat hallucinogenic plant chewed in that part of the world.) There’s also the work of creating and running a company – from determining how to store and protect data, to designing a logo.
Farley said having to do it all herself is both the best and most difficult part of having her own firm.
“Some of my travel is to quite difficult places,” she said. “Eating french fries for the third night in a row – because the food at your dodgy hotel in Kabul is awful – is marginally more fun when there’s someone to laugh about it with you. It’s a different challenge and one that I’m still learning to manage.”
She is beginning to partner with other firms and is considering taking on staff in the future, but for the moment, Farley is embracing the freedom and flexibility of entrepreneurship.
Freedom and flexibility are also benefits Farley gained from her Park Scholarship. Like many Park alumni, she is grateful that she did not need to hold a job to fund her undergraduate education. Instead, she was able to focus on her coursework, comfort zone-expanding experiences abroad, and playing on the Wolfpack women’s club soccer team.
Farley continues to play soccer today, and has also gotten involved in photography and sailboat racing. Though she initially moved to Dubai on a two-year contract, she has lived there for nearly seven years and enjoys its weather, beaches, and international atmosphere – the city’s residents hail from all parts of the globe, and Farley has found most people are as eager to travel as she is. Her most recent adventure was a half-marathon on the great wall of China with friends from Kenya, France, and England.
Farley credits her openness to diverse people and experiences, in part, to being a part of the Park community.
“Having the opportunity to focus on what leadership is and what you can bring to the table in the context of an amazingly bright and diverse community is something that really sets the stage for the professional relationships that you have later in life,” Farley said of her time as a Park Scholar. “It helps us begin to realize how many amazing and interesting people are out there, and what it is like to be lucky enough to work with them.”