The Work Always Gets Done

This is the kind of BS that MDs absolutely LOVE to tell themselves: "I am hardworking and tough, sure, but I'm also really fair and I let people have lives when they tell me about it. This would never be my analyst."

I've seen the latest sad news posted in this forum, and I've felt the need to comment again. Unfortunately, these are well publicised stories, but I've seen it happen too many times in my career.

As some of you know, I'm an M&A MD in my mid 30s and have effectively worked my entire career in investment banking since I was a first year analyst, so I think I have a good perspective on workload issues. I also consider myself one of the hardest working people in the industry, so I approach these issues from the perspective of a tough SOB, but I will give some advice that I hope will help some people.

1. The work always gets done.

I mean the real important work of giving the client the right advice. My job as an MD is to deliver that advice, and while i rely heavily on the analysis and presentation work that you do as analysts and associates, I'm experienced enough to do my job without perfect presentations or analysis. So rather than drive yourself to exhaustion creating the perfect work product, discuss with me (or whoever your MD is) how most efficiently to use the time that we have.

2. Exhausted junior people are not useful junior people.

Go home, get some sleep, take the weekend off. Never let yourself burn out or let us burn you out. Raise your hand when you need a break. We do complicated and challenging work, and it gets done badly when you're exhausted.

3. Plan, coordinate and communicate.

Good reviews are not about how many hours you work, it's about how well you communicate with your deal team and coordinate work. The best people I've worked with were responsive, creative, efficient and communicative, not grunts.

4. Never equate your personal self esteem with your professional success.

I've been laid off, I've been passed over for promotion, and was able to bounce back up even higher because I never took it personally or felt it was a reflection on me. This industry is equally exhilarating and cruel but you have to detach yourself personally from the successes and failures

5. Don't miss the big ones.

Weddings, family events, etc. I never understood why someone would miss a big personal event for work. There are always better solutions.

6. Your family, friends and partners are very important.

Don't take them for granted.

7. Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

If you're unappy at work and it persists, find another job or something else to do. There are many paths to happiness and professional success, and there's no reason to make yourself miserable.

8. Communicate.

This isn't the 1980s. The industry is a kinder, gentler place and that's a good thing, If there's a problem, there are a lot of resources that can help.

9. Don't forget how much we rely on you.

I was discussing last weekend with another senior MD how valuable a good junior team member is. You have leverage. Use it carefully when you need to.

Hope this gives some perspective.

 

While I think this is very reassuring to hear, a lot of MD's don't have this attitude. Higher up's view analysts as a commodity, i.e. they can easily be replaced. And the counter to that is probably something like 'well, you're not working for the right people', but then the question as an analyst/associate becomes 'where do I find the right people'? And really, that just seems like luck. This is the first time I'm hearing of an analyst having any sort of 'leverage', but maybe I only have interacted with douchebag MD's. Nonetheless, great advice + post.

 

In the ordinary course, I may well be the douchebag MD. I'm focused on delivering for my clients and making money for the firm and my team. My team works very hard, and they are expected to deliver high quality work under pressure. Everything needs to be done on a fast deadline.

But that doesn't mean if there is a problem, I won't be sympathetic.

I think this is true for a lot of the "douchebag" MDs you may deal with. Even if they are 100% focused on delivering work, they are likely to be cognizant of real problems with their team members, including exhaustion. And even if they are real assholes, they operate in an institutional framework. No one wants to be the MD explaining to management why their turnover is unnecessarily high, or why people on their team have medical problems, or other HR issues. I've seen promising MD careers go sideways because of this. So even if they are not particularly nice people, they have real institutional incentive to behave properly.

And if some MD is being truly unreasonable, and its affecting your health / personal wellbeing, you have to be able to tell them to go pound sand. Trust me, you will be better off for it, and your career will recover.

NESCAC:

While I think this is very reassuring to hear, a lot of MD's don't have this attitude. IHigher up's view analysts as a commodity, i.e. they can easily be replaced. And the counter to that is probably something like 'well, you're not working for the right people', but then the question as an analyst/associate becomes 'where do I find the right people'? And really, that just seems like luck. This is the first time I'm hearing of an analyst having any sort of 'leverage', but maybe I only have interacted with douchebag MD's. Nonetheless, great advice + post.

 
Best Response

This is the kind of BS that MDs absolutely LOVE to tell themselves: "I am hardworking and tough, sure, but I'm also really fair and I let people have lives when they tell me about it. This would never be my analyst."

Maybe you are as good a guy as you claim. Maybe you're not. Either way, you are the senior executive in charge, and it should be YOUR responsibility to ensure that your team is having a sustainable life. Your entire missive is basically telling 22-year olds: 'hey guys, we know that we're trying to destroy your life, this is your first job and you have basically zero social capital and if it doesn't go well you can kiss the career you've been dreaming about goodbye, but stand up for yourselves! have some self respect!" Seriously, it's like watching some sadistic shit out of game of thrones. "The work will get done" -- what the fuck does that even mean? Does it mean that you won't ask a really passive aggressive comment about why the presentation was fucked up, that the VP won't go ape-shit on the associate who will then go ape-shit on the analyst and crap all over them during review season? I mean, one of your pieces of advice is "if it's not working go find a new job".

The reality is that most of you guys are self-deluded pricks who genuinely don't give a fuck about the people who work for you, and only tell yourself that you do so you feel like slightly less of a dick when you go home to your family and vaguely remember in the back of your mind that your 2 year old toddler may one day go through the same thing.

You sound just like the rest of them. There's a reason that banking can't hold on to any of its analysts these days and loses tons of talent to tech...and it's because of people like you.

 

xqtrack's comments may be brash, but he makes a valid point here.

Analysts fresh out of college/university don't really know how to say "no". Everyone who's ever been in that position (myself included) can testify to that. For a bright eyed bushy tailed fresh grad who's keen to impress, it is hard enough to turn down capacity requests let alone "tell an MD to go pound sand".

Hence I don't think it is enough for senior bankers to simply say "I'm tough but fair, if you have a problem come and find me and I will be sympathetic". They must actively try to improve the work-life balance for analysts. It is their job (as much as it is the VP/assoc/analyst himself's) to know when an analyst has pulled consecutive all-nighters and is on the brink of collapse.

Yes, analysts need to learn to stand up for themselves, but that takes time. So please be pro-active in the meantime and don't work them to death. Otherwise, simply saying "you would have been sympathetic had they approached you," will not wipe their blood off your hands.

 

No matter how good of a boss you are, most people who work for you won't like you. Most will think they could do your job easily, even if they can't. Most will think you're a dick because you want them to do certain things to a certain standard. Even if everyone could leave the office at 5 pm (as in most jobs), people still hate their boss. It is absolutely universal. I wasn't exactly Mr. Popularity myself, believe it or not.

That being said, everyone is still human and most bosses will be at least somewhat understanding of someone who is nearing some sort of breaking point.

Reread this post in 15 years. If you're honest with yourself (most aren't), you will probably see that the OP is correct (maybe you are as well, if that's even possible) and most junior people will think of you the same way you think of him.

 

Nope. I work in a job right now where I love all of my bosses. Are there things that annoy me about them? Sure. But they are genuinely good people who make sure that both I and all the juniors below me have sustainable lives, and I do the same for those junior people under me as well.

Saying that bosses are going to have characteristics that people dislike is totally irrelevant to the discussion at hand; to wit, I would remind you that we are talking about an industry that has had 2 suicides in the past 2 weeks, in a very public manner. No matter what self-rationalizing craziness you may indulge in, that is not normal.

 

I must admit, I was on board with mergersandacquisitions78 post before reading xqtrack's follow up.

Now that I think about it, what good intentions MA78 had, he post is really clueless to the realities of being a jr banker - too much time has passed. Furthermore, this in all likelihood leads to being a bad manager, which is probably even compounded by assuming he is a good one. Even if you remove MA78, because really who know about him specifically, the underlying mentality is at issue. Being in MD shouldn't being just about getting clients its also about being a good leader/manager. These bullet points shouldn't be on an anonymous message board but in the bullpin. Maybe they are for MA78 but they definitely are not across the board.

A good manager creates an environment where the subordinate is "protected". A good manager has a pulse on his staff and knows who is over worked and who isn't. Under no uncertain terms should the ownness of this responsibility be placed on 22 - 24 year old kids who don't know up from down and are constantly paranoid of under performing. I remember having a medical emergency when I was an Analyst - my first though was what is my MD gonna think not how will this procedure will turnout. That is fucking insane. Yet its the mentality instilled into jr bankers by the culture that is created and perpetuated by senior bankers. It is crazy to expect in an environment of massive power imbalances that the weakest one is going to stick up for his/her self. This is why finance is losing to tech. Why the most talented kids flock to the buyside. Brain drain in banking is a real thing. Sr bankers and their culture are at fault.

Think sports, it's the coach that benches thestar qb that is slightly injured despite saying "no coach I can play". The star pitcher dominating through the 7th with a high pitch count is taken out by the coach despite wanting to finish out the game. It's on managers to make these calls not the players.

All Analysts want to do is please and its is naive to assume otherwise.

 

In my experience, those with authority that proclaim themselves as the Work Hard/Play Hard type, are usually just Work Hard/Work Hard. Nobody works through weddings, family events, etc. because they got denied the time off, they do so because there is pressure among their peers and higher ups that you can't miss time no matter what. You have to remember that most of these kids are 21 years old, and have never had a real job - when faced with pressure at a job they worked impossibly hard to get they aren't just going to risk their reputation, recommendations, bonus, and rating on a day off. Obviously, they aren't going to be fired, but when you're less than a year into the job it feels like it.

This happens all the time in different settings. In my opinion the bankers that push kids to this extent are no different than a psycho middle-school football coach giving a player heat stroke, or a senior in a fraternity sending pledges to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. Theres a certain psychological limit people reach and symptoms of them reaching it. If there are analyst walking around the office in a daze, having been up for days, and you as a MD don't do anything about it - your probably not a "tough MD that understands you have a life" your just an asshole draining every ounce of life you can get out of them for your own benefit.

As you say, "The work always gets done", and it certainly doesn't get done by the MD with a wife and kids, even when hes being "chill".

 

Firstly suicides are not caused by too much work they are caused primarily by genuine mental illness or addiction. Further, I have seen no evidence that suicide is more common amongst investment banking analysts then amongst the general population, and if I had to bet on it I would bet that suicides amongst banking analysts are rarer then in the general population. So I am not sure the issue of suicides unique to/caused by banking hours is a real issue.

On the issue of whether bosses should be proactive in monitoring their employees workload I am very conflicted. At 22-25 years old you are young, but you are still very much an adult. The analogy of a crazed high school football coach or freshman hazing in college do not apply. Those are children as defined by law and common sense. Of course in a perfect World everyone's boss would go out of his/her way to prioritize their employees' mental health, but in the real world the truth is that if you don't stand up for yourself you often will get railroaded in all facets of life. Also, I am not a banker, but as someone in a production role in finance I can tell you that your 32-50 year old MD boss is most likely just as crazed about results as you are about being "top bucket"...otherwise he wouldnt be there.

I think a lot of people here need to realize that your own mental and physical health are your own responsibility in the real world...nobody is paying 50k/year to make sure you are safe like in university. Your parents and teachers should have taught you that a long time ago.

 

It's interesting to see how practically nothing has changed in investment banking since I was an analyst back in the mid-1990s (yes, 20 years ago!). And even back then, from what some of the more senior bankers mentioned to me - the life of an analyst/associate in the 1980s wasn't all that different. The only difference was the technology: from using slide rules before spreadsheets, to pre-Internet (Windows always crashing/blue screen of death), to now. But the org dynamics are the same.

And to what another poster alluded to, what's broken is the incentive system and org structure.

Simply put, MDs are salespeople. They are paid by their sales (bringing in deals) - and not paid to manage people. And yet, they are given a team to manage. Oftentimes, deals get staffed on a deal by deal basis so you don't always have the same team of people from one deal to the next: analysts/associates/VPs get staffed like slaves at a market, with MDs picking over who they want (or who they can settle for, given that MDs also have their pecking order a la Glengarry Glen Ross; some are closers, some are chumps)

Ultimately, whether an MD manages a team well or not becomes secondary to the MD as long as there is no incentive for them personally to do so. Under the current system, whether they burn through their staff or not has little to nothing to do with their performance (hitting their numbers). And the junior staff are like slaves, because the more prized they are by the MD, the less leverage (paradoxically) they have, since the most powerful (rainmaker) MDs have the most say in terms of whom they want, and the most prized slave would be even more afraid to speak up, since no one wants to churn pitch books all day for a lesser MD. It's all about deal flow, from top to bottom.

The more dealflow an MD has, the more power at his/her disposal to staff their deals how they choose, without worrying about the consequences. If the kids get burned out or complain, you the MD can always pull staff elsewhere.

Now, you can say "well these kids can just leave." That is true. But remember when you're working 80-100 hour weeks, your entire world and bubble is that office. It's like leaving a cult in some ways - if you leave, there is this deep seated fear of heading into an abyss, being ostracized, and this pressure (spoken or unspoken) of being seen as a loser, quitter, apostate, etc. You are part of a highly structured and rigid system that while it's theoretically easy to just leave, psychologically there is a huge chasm if you are knee deep in the bubble. You hate your world, but it's the world you know.

Like Reek/Theon in Game of Thrones being under the thumb of Ramsey. It's not easy to simply go back to being Theon if you can no longer envision what that kind of life will be. But as Reek you have learned to cope with Ramsey long enough to be afraid to just leave.

I know that's hyperbolic, and plenty of bankers just pick up and leave, but simply quitting your job isn't as easy as it seems, especially if your identity is tied to what you do for a living, even to some degree (it's a career and not just some summer job stocking shelves at Target). While it's nowhere near the same as being in an abusive relationship, there are similar dynamics at play.

This isn't to excuse bad MD behavior at all. But that systemically, there is little incentive given how banks are structured for MDs to give a shit about managing people when they are ranked and paid according to their sales.

In my experience, what I found essential was the VPs (or senior associates). They are often the only people who can protect you, as they help manage the day-to-day on a deal (at least with larger deal teams). And yet, like the head slave, they can also be the most abusive if their ambition and fear get the best of them. It's harder for bad news about analysts and associates to filter up to the MD if the VP is trying to cover his ass, saying that everything is fine.

Alex Chu www.mbaapply.com
 

If you care about your employees, mergersandacquisitions78 , prove it. Institute a 6-day workweek policy, regardless of the situation, and fire any SVP, VP, associate, or analyst who violates it or asks someone else to violate it. Or (my ideal policy) have security show up at 10 PM on a Friday night, have them confiscate blackberries and shoo everyone out of the building, and refuse to allow anyone back in until 5:30 AM on Monday morning.

The goal of every company is to maximize profit. But where does that end? And when do the short-term objectives of this optimization come into conflict with the long-term ones? What are the constraints on that optimization? As the MD, you have the ability to set the constraints on that optimization- the employees really don't- some will do anything to work more and advance, and that's actually bad in the long run. One option is a six day or five day work-week. People can work 24/5 during the week, but everyone gets the weekend to rest and recuperate.

 
IlliniProgrammer:

If you care about your employees, @mergersandacquisitions78 , prove it. Institute a 6-day workweek policy, regardless of the situation, and fire any SVP, VP, associate, or analyst who violates it or asks someone else to violate it. Or (my ideal policy) have security show up at 10 PM on a Friday night, have them confiscate blackberries and shoo everyone out of the building, and refuse to allow anyone back in until 5:30 AM on Monday morning.

The goal of every company is to maximize profit. But where does that end? And when do the short-term objectives of this optimization come into conflict with the long-term ones? What are the constraints on that optimization? As the MD, you have the ability to set the constraints on that optimization- the employees really don't- some will do anything to work more and advance, and that's actually bad in the long run. One option is a six day or five day work-week. People can work 24/5 during the week, but everyone gets the weekend to rest and recuperate.

Just got back to my apt after a weekend in the sticks so will respond.

This is a pretty ill thought out post for a number of reasons, not least that M&A transactions are most often announced before start of business on Monday morning. Not to mention that everyone has different work dynamics, and I'm not going to be the one to impose a certain set of work patterns on other people.

But the overarching point that I have come off as self-serving and hypocritical in the thread is noted. My initial thinking was to just walk away and chalk it up to a hastily written post, but I have derived a lot from this site (its like reading an opinion poll of junior bankers with context - very valuable to know what people are thinking in anonomity), and I'd rather provide some value.

I do happen to think that I run a pretty tight ship as far as my junior bankers, so I thought I would put out how my team works, because I think its a good, albeit imperfect model, for how the business should run. I have felt that banking has become a considerably worse environment since I started; the lifestyle hasn't changed, but analysts are far more disconnected from their teams and senior bankers and it is a more bureaucratic, less functional environment. I'm doing what I can to address that within my team and the firm more broadly. So here are some things that about my group that seem to work well, and a few that don't. Maybe this is a useful template.

  1. It helps that we are highly profitable (probably the second in investment banking at our bank on a per head basis), and that in the market in which we operate, we are seen as the leader. This means that a) we can be selective about the deals we decide to do; b) we rarely have to pitch for new business; c) most of the time is spent in live deals; d) we have internal leverage on compensation and promotions.

  2. Everyone associate and above has worked with me at this or previous firms for at least 4 years and some much longer. Each of the associates, VPs and Directors have investment banking analyst experience (a couple did PE or got their MBA along the way). This means that there is a very high degree of camaraderie in the team and that we all know each other's work styles. There's very little ambiguity in communication, and people know exactly what they have to do. The key to getting there is retention, which means that you have to run a team that people want to stay in. And I think there are a few steps to achieve this.

  3. We get our people well reviewed and paid. Before reviews, I make sure a plan is developed for each team member to get them top bucket. A story is created, and key messages for each individual are sent to each stakeholder. We ensure that we get to our people on the committees. And we call in all the favors we've built up at other teams over the year (since support from "neutral" parties is the key to top bucket rankings). It works.

  4. I keep a parallel team only system of reviews, so people know how they are actually developing. But we have a rule that however tough we may be on each other, in the external review process, there is only positivity.

  5. We manage our people's careers carefully. I have an unwritten compact with my team that if they want to leave, they should talk to me first. In return for giving me the advance notice, I will go to bat for them at all my top contacts. There is a great track record of exits so its worth it For the ones that want to stay, we make sure (as above) they are well ranked and have a fast track career. About 50% of the analysts who we want to stay do stay. The others are very valuable sources of insight and business. At least one deal a year is sourced by a former analyst.

  6. We try to limit BS work to the absolute minimum. We simply don't have time for it. So I've set the following principles.

(i) No presentations for general marketing, unless there is an exceptional reason. We do books on live transactions and for bake-offs, but I don't need a book for a general catch up with a CEO or CFO.

(ii) All presentations have a pre-agreed outline. No changes without exceptional reasons.

(iii) No internal memos unless required for compliance or committee purposes

(iv) Presentations limited to 20 pages unless there is an exceptional reason

  1. We give everyone on our team including the analysts very significant client exposure. There's no room for junior people whose only job is to sit in the office cranking out models and presentation work.

  2. Everyone is actively expected to develop idea generation and presentation skills. If you do the work, you are expected to present the work.

  3. We do try and have fun. There's not always a lot of time but I'm thoughtful about when it can happen. For example, I was in Hong Kong a few weeks ago on a deal with an analyst. I had to fly back I insisted that he take a day off and spend the three day weekend enjoying the pleasures of Lan Kwai Fong (I am led to understand he also enjoyed the pleasures of Wan Chai instead, but that's a different story). I also got the majority of my team

  4. We fire people who don't cut it. The high performers like being part of our team, but its in everyone's interests that there are no low performers. I've fired analysts, associates and VPs in six months, and I don't regret it.

  5. We are sympathetic to personal lives. One of the benefits of being a very close knit team including the analysts is that its hard for things to slip out of view, and we make it appoint to keep things sustainable (retention is very important). We've also instituted a system where if people need to take time off, others will cover and vice versa. That way, vacations are never cancelled and important life events are never compromised.

I don't think our culture is perfect. I think we can be a sink or swim environment, and I think we can be overly harsh on those who don't swim (btw, I try to be sympathetic but its my senior analysts and direct promote associates who are the worst). I also think there is a wariness of outsiders (again, most heavily perpetrated by the junior bankers). But I think that for the good performers, its as good a culture as you can get as an analyst.

 

Ehh I don't know.. Xqtrack did make an interesting post early, one that I think helps explain a lot of what's going on in this thread.

I see an MD talking up how well he treats his employees. Meanwhile he brags about his weekend vacation and shoots down an idea that can make life better for his analysts by potentially giving them the weekends he enjoys... only for a better-managed firm to experiment with it a week or so later. Honestly all I see from this guy are a bunch of vague assertions with little to back them up.

So that's the MD. And then there are all of the predictable investment banker responses- seeing someone with money and power and sucking up to him. Which is probably why the MD is the way he is and why anyone with an ounce of wisdom would stay the heck away from this guy. And stay the heck away from the suck-ups too.

There are a lot of things wrong with this thread and the culture in banking. I'm glad people are trying to make at least a few small changes to make it better. And GS is proving that it cares about its employees.

There are clearly honest people in this business who care about the people working for them. I don't think this guy is one of them. He gives a smooth party line but the details either aren't there or perhaps paint a very disturbing, contrary picture when you put the pieces together. At the very least, my own personal rule as a stat arb quant (as well as my boss and his boss) is that if people are working on a project for me, I'm there, too. This guy doesn't seem to follow that rule.

 

Its a bit ridiculous discussing this with some guy who has never worked in investment banking and has no real clue about the industry, but why not.

  1. The GS intern announcement was foolish, basically just a PR move. Interns aren't really necessary to do the work, so its easy to do.

  2. GS doesn't pay its junior people particularly well. They can afford to overstaff situations. I am 100% certain every single person on my team gets paid more and learns more than their respective counterparts at GS. You don't become an investment banker for the lifestyle, you do it for the exceptional work experience and for the compensation.

  3. My compact with my team isn't about lifestyle; I expect them to work very hard, and they expect to work extraordinarily hard. In return, I ensure:

- I bring in the business and make sure it is executed well. This is my job. Everything else is gravy. - I get them paid at the very top of the street and I invariably get them promoted (in multiple cases, early). - They close a lot of deals. Everyone analyst on my team will close a minimum of four M&A deals plus financing transactions this year. And these are transactions they are the sole or lead banker on, so they are doing the real work. - They learn a ton. Any single member of my team could walk into any relevant buy / sellside shop and perform very well. The fact that there is about 50% turnover at the analyst level and 0% voluntary turnover above, and that they followed me when I joined a new bank is a reflection that they don't really want to. - They don't work on bullshit. We've done two pitchbooks as a team in the last three months. Everything else is live business. - They get substantial travel and client exposure. - They have a direct line of communication with me 24/7 and are not disintermediated. If there is a problem, I know about it. And yes, they do work their asses off. But being good isn't easy, and doesn't switch off on weekends.

  1. It is idiotic to suggest that I need to be in the office when they are. My job description is different. I do my job well, and expect that my team will do theirs well. Where my work gets done, and their work gets done is irrelevant. And after a decade and a half, a weekend of sport and leisure is more than justified. As it happens, it cuts both ways. This weekend, I'm far away from home in the middle of an SPA negotiation (along with a Director), and as far as I can tell, only about 20% of the junior team is working.
IlliniProgrammer:

Ehh I don't know.. Xqtrack did make an interesting post early, one that I think helps explain a lot of what's going on in this thread.

I see an MD talking up how well he treats his employees. Meanwhile he brags about his weekend vacation and shoots down an idea that can make life better for his analysts by potentially giving them the weekends he enjoys... only for a better-managed firm to experiment with it a week or so later. Honestly all I see from this guy are a bunch of vague assertions with little to back them up.

So that's the MD. And then there are all of the predictable investment banker responses- seeing someone with money and power and sucking up to him. Which is probably why the MD is the way he is and why anyone with an ounce of wisdom would stay the heck away from this guy. And stay the heck away from the suck-ups too.

There are a lot of things wrong with this thread and the culture in banking. I'm glad people are trying to make at least a few small changes to make it better. And GS is proving that it cares about its employees.

There are clearly honest people in this business who care about the people working for them. I don't think this guy is one of them. He gives a smooth party line but the details either aren't there or perhaps paint a very disturbing, contrary picture when you put the pieces together. At the very least, my own personal rule as a stat arb quant (as well as my boss and his boss) is that if people are working on a project for me, I'm there, too. This guy doesn't seem to follow that rule.

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