Afternoon, monkeys. I've got the first of a two part interview for you today with certified user Nefarious. Nefarious works in Strategy at a major Fortune 500 Aerospace & Defense company. While I know many of your are focused on banking and, I think everyone can benefit from hearing his story.
Strategy jobs are some of the most intellectually satisfying roles out there, and they've got a great work-life balance. Plus, if you're in an interesting industry, like A&D, you'll put yourself in a position to have a tremendous, well-paying career in a space you really care about. From what Nefarious told me about his role, I'd bet that he's got one of the best jobs of anyone on the site.
And for any non-target readers who want to hear about non-traditional ways to break into a tough industry, his story is one of the best I've ever heard.
Today, we cover his background, how he broke into the industry, and extensive details on his Strategy job. Without further ado, here is Part One of the Q&A:
TheKing: So, tell us a bit about your background. Where’d you go to school, what did you major in?
Nefarious: I attended a top 50 non-target and majored in Economics and minored in Philosophy. My original plan was to go to, hence the odd major and minor combination, however, I eventually decided against it. During the time I was weighing my decision I had a lot of contacts telling me it was a bloated industry with graduates from a lot of good schools only able to find jobs as clerks, pushing paper for 15-20 dollars an hour. That sounded pretty terrible so I ended up going in a different direction.
TheKing: I understand you work in Strategy at a Fortune 500 Aerospace and Defense company. How’d you get into that? Previous banking or consulting experience?
Nefarious: Correct – I work for a Global 500 firm in the Aerospace and Defense field. After I graduated I had no clue what I wanted to do. Spending four years of college preparing to go toonly to ditch that idea at the last second left me fairly high and dry and since I went to an out of state school, I financed my education by bartending, which meant staying at school during the summer to work instead of getting internships (money > working for free).
I began networking fairly heavily – my bartending gig paid extremely well so I was not worried about money and was more concerned about finding a good fit and a good opportunity. I was fortunate enough to find a strategy position with a tech firm in NY. I accepted the offer and worked there for two years before taking a role with my current company. I did not have any previous banking or consulting experience although I did have a boutique IB offer before I took the job in NY. I have always viewed the diluted hourly rate in IB to be a little ridiculous, especially when there are plenty of other opportunities out there with comparable pay and far less hours needing to be put in. Besides, most IB and consulting guys typically end up jumping ship to CorpStrat/CorpDev after most of them don’t land that PE/job they were gunning for, so I just cut out the middle man.
TheKing: What is the role of the Strategy group within your company? In my experience, companies sometimes have separate Strategy and M&A groups, with Strategy groups working more on a high-level business development projects while M&A groups focus on potential acquisition targets. Is this the case at your firm?
Nefarious: This is where big company corporate bureaucracy comes into play. Because this is a Global 500 company with literally hundreds of divisions, there is a separate CorpStrat/CorpDev team that does that type of work for the company as a whole located at our headquarters. Below that there are the individual groups at specific divisions (Example: Aerospace v. Ground & Armaments). To make things even more confusing, these can be split between Strategy and M&A divisions and to go even further, M&A can be split betweenfinance guys and negotiators and lawyers. These teams tend to run the company – I have seen M&A teams swoop into a division and take over the localized finance departments to help with their specific deal or to assist with due diligence, resulting in these people having to put their typical day to day tasks (like month end reporting) on the back burner. The corporate group is typically comprised of individuals with 20+ years experience.
I am at an actual division (although I have made contacts at the corporate level and do plan on making moves there once my wife graduates med school). Typically we will come up with ideas/strategies or identify targets and discuss them with corporate to see how this idea would interface with the global strategy of the firm.
TheKing: Let’s hear a bit about your day to day role. What keeps you busy all day? What is a typical week like? Do you have a specific sector focus or do you cover all aspects of your firm’s businesses?
Nefarious: Currently I am working at a specific division. As I alluded to earlier, I am not big on staying at the office for the sake of putting in face time. I show my value through my work, not how long I stay in the office or if I am the last to leave. I typically get to the office at 7:30 and leave whenever the job is done – sometimes this is at 6 or 7, sometimes it is at 3 or 4. It really depends on what we have going on. The last two months of the year are a lot shorter because it is really the only time of the year when people take vacation. I typically work around 50 hours a week and am usually gone by Friday at 2. I NEVER work weekends. As a matter of fact, I have only worked one weekend, it was a Saturday and we hit it at 6pm and stopped at 2am and that was for a big emergency we had to take care of.
Because my days change so often I will give you a quick summary of what they have been like for the past month:
Catch up on emails (like I said earlier, unless it is an emergency, I do not work the weekends, I get everything done during the week and leave no loose ends)
Around 9 or 10 we will have a staff meeting and catch up on old business, talk about some new stuff that is on our plate, go over projects, etc.
After that I will check in on some of the project(s) we have been working on, talk with some of my analysts/review their work, etc.
Around Noon I will eat lunch in my office (just a quick jab at some of you wall street guys, I have a corner office with four windows and it faces the water, take a second to stand up and look around the outside of your cube and ask yourself why you chose a career where they pack you into your assigned box like a chicken :-D)
Typically after this we will have some meetings with a few Directors/VPs/GMs from our division or the corporate strategy team to catch them up to speed on current projects
Somewhere in between the meetings I will sit down and hammer out some models, help some analysts with their models, help polish up some presentations and meet with clients/acquisition targets.
TheKing: What are some interesting projects you’ve had the chance to work on? What is it about your job that makes it fun and engaging?
Nefarious: Without getting into too much detail, there are two things that are going to keep the defense industry booming due to the looming Obama budget cuts.
The first is maintaining and upgrading what our military already has. R&D projects like rail guns will almost certainly get scrapped while projects like upgrading satellites and naval vessels will take center stage. The second is finding and entering markets that are not dependent upon the government and will not be affected by budget cuts. Now obviously we can’t go selling tanks and war grade optic systems to civilians, so what I mean by this is entering other markets like the energy sector.
The great part about working for a Global 500 is we are not dependent upon the US Military (although it is our biggest customer).
One of the most interesting things I have been a part of is looking at entering civilian markets, a new venture for my division. We actually bid a lot of work at a loss for 2012 to show the market not only we are capable of doing the work, but we are better at it than the current competitors in the area. Taking that initial hit in 2012 has set up a huge pipeline for not only 2013, but for an extended 5-10 year forecast as well.
The best part about it is it changes every day and being involved in huge risk strategies like knowingly bidding work at a loss to secure our future.
TheKing: Back in the day, I interviewed for’s Strategy group. I remember one of the perks of the job was the incredible exposure you could get. Even though is a giant global business, the Strategy group had legitimate access to the company’s top officers. Do you get this sort of exposure in your role?
Nefarious: Again, the level of bureaucracy might make something like this a little more difficult for others. I am fortunate to have impressed higher ups in my division as well as having a few good close friends at the corporate level. This affords me certain luxuries like an invite to the corporate Christmas party each year.
TheKing: Any other downsides to the job? Anything you don’t particularly love about it?
Nefarious: As I mentioned earlier – the levels of red tape and bureaucracy. It can sometimes take a while for big decisions to be made. Other than that, the government is a tricky beast. It is always an interesting dynamic having a customer that created the rules and laws you have to play by only to change them whenever they want.
TheKing: How’d you end up in the Aerospace & Defense field? Was it something you focused your search on while you were at the tech firm or were you simply focused on finding a new Strategy / Corp. Dev. type of position?
Nefarious: I had never really thought about it as a career – as I stated earlier I had a few close friend working at the company and we had talked about some of the work they were involved in, the various opportunities available (career development/travel opportunities/pay/bonuses/etc). I guess secretly I aspire to be Tony Stark.
Part Two of our interview will be up on Tuesday, December 4th.