The Wolf of O Street
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Sunday, February 23, 2014 22:02
Finance involves projecting the rate of return on an investment over a period of time. Javier Arguello, a fourth-year junior in the McDonough School of Business, has a 20-year plan.
That’s how long Arguello expects it will take him to make his first billion.
With such audacious ambition and a penchant for showmanship, Arguello has been hard to miss for anyone who has crossed his path from O Street to Wall Street. The 20-year-old has a mononymous brand of sorts — residents of the Hilltop often recognize his first name, but far fewer people know his last. Arguello is a prolific businessman with an enigmatic backstory, yet many students say they haven’t seen or heard of him as frequently they once did during his freshman and sophomore years. It’s as if his stock has cooled off a bit, perhaps from overexposure and overexertion as an underclassman.
“I’m very, very cautious and I keep more to myself,” he said of his lowered profile. “I’m not that outspoken, crazy kid anymore.”
But there’s much more than meets the eye with Arguello, and he still has his eye on the prize, whatever that may be. If the next 20 years for Arguello are about rising to the top of the financial world, the first 20 have already taken him around that world, in a rocky but resilient ascent.
Aside from a subtle Latino accent and the occasional cheek-kiss greeting, Arguello could be mistaken for one of the countless wealthy New Englanders who come to Georgetown to study business. However, as Michael Cho (MSB ’16), his freshman roommate in Darnall Hall, explained, “Not many people know where he’s from, what he’s been through and how he ended up here.”
Arguello was born in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. He lived there briefly in comfortable circumstances with his single mother and a brother who is 20 years his senior. His father was never in the picture. A banking crisis in the country prompted his mother to emigrate from Ecuador to the United States and prepare a life for Javier, who joined her at age 8 on Oct. 8, 2001 — a date he recites instantly from memory, in part because it was less than one month after the 9/11 attacks.
The mother and son lived in Ansonia, Conn., near New Haven and 10 minutes from Yale University. Arguello’s mother worked two cleaning jobs, and he would spend late nights helping her vacuum and dust office buildings. By then, the 12-year-old Arguello had skipped a year in school and was managing most of his family’s accounting.
“At the time it sucked,” Arguello said, recalling evenings spent cleaning the offices of a bakery and a golf course. “But as I grew older I realized it helped me build a lot of character. I knew then that this is a means to an end — that one day I could work there.”
He attended Ansonia High School, which has a graduation rate of 70 percent and one of the lower evaluations in the state. Kenneth Firmender, a guidance counselor there, recalls that Arguello initially was “kind of quiet and observant, but not overly outgoing.” After success in Advanced Placement courses and a better command of English, things began to change.
“He learned that he could achieve quite a bit with hard work and diligence,” Firmender said. “Going into senior year, he felt like anything he tried he could be successful at.”
A photograph on Firmender’s desk of Georgetown’s campus brought the university to Arguello’s attention, and within days of researching the school’s international business program, he was eager to apply. A full-ride, need-based scholarship, granted in the beginning of 2010, made that dream possible.
As Arguello prepared for college, Firmender saw in him “a high degree of motivation and huge amount of confidence. Some people could have seen him as arrogant, but I knew that it was just confidence.”
That confidence drove Arguello to immediate success on the Hilltop. It also became his Achilles’ heel.
Finding himself in a profoundly unfamiliar environment, Arguello was determined to blend in.
“A lot of my success came from living kind of a fake-it-’till-you-make-it life,” he said.
Arguello was outgoing as a freshman, with a colorful personality and a wardrobe to match. His hunger for success made him unfazed by a full plate, which included intensive Chinese (the reason he now needs five years to graduate), the Georgetown University Student Investment Fund and a spot on the crew team.