My Biggest Career Mistake to Date: Prestige
Mod Note (Andy): #TBT Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted on 10/1/12.
I occasionally get PMed by people at colleges I've never heard of before, asking if they have a shot at IBD.
Folks, why IBD? The finance world is broad and varied, and there are a million ways to make a buck. Why pick the one that's going to be hardest for you in your situation? There are mutual fund companies, asset management companies all over the damn place. Hedge funds. Auxiliary businesses. Those folks will look beyond the name of your institution and your GPA in the hunt for quality. Why knock on the door of the one section of the industry that has built a massive recruiting machine designed to keep you out?
Time for me to share what is potentially the biggest career mistake of my life.
I'd been working for a small asset management company (~40 employees) during the school year in undergrad to pick up some spare dough. Reasonably laid-back place. Kind of place that's run by a bunch of guys from state schools and hires all sorts of strange people.
So I get a full time offer from the bulge bracket I've been angling for. I go to the owner of the little asset management shop I've been working at and say:
"Hey, [BB] offered me a full-time IBD analyst role. I like it here and the idea of moving to New York is not a big plus. What can you offer?"
Guy thinks about it.
"Okay, what are they gonna pay you?"
"$55k salary and about the same bonus"
"Like hell they will. You got no control over that bonus."
"I'll take my chances."
Guy thinks it over. Says,
"Okay, kid. I like what you've done for me so far. I'll pay you $75k."
"What's the bonus?"
"Kid, that's $75 guaranteed comp. I'll give you the same $5k bonus I give everyone else out of undergrad at the end of the year. And I'll let you buy an equity stake, up to a tenth of a percent. Now that's an offer I've never made any kid out of undergrad."
"I just told you I'm gonna make $110 next year in New York."
"New York? You're crazy, kid. You're gonna starve on $110 in New York. You work for me, you'll be in the same place financially in five years you would have been in New York , maybe better. Run the numbers. You stay here, you don't pay $2k in rent, you don't work 100 hours a week. In five years you'll be running your own chunk of the business. No bullshitting with clients or kissing banker ass. Sky's the limit on how much you can make."
"Well, I'm gonna be a managing director some day."
"You could also run this shop some day and do better than 90% of the managing directors at that shitty bank."
I folded my arms and waited....
"I'm done here. I just made you an offer that in my opinion is ridiculous for a kid still finishing up her senior year and I'm already starting to regret it. You want to go chase the name, go chase the name. Get outta here. I assume you'll let me know if you want to work for me."
I walked out. And I signed the bulge bracket IBD offer.
And honestly, I did it because I didn't understand the way the world worked. I didn't believe that some crazy guy from the middle of nowhere with a no-name education could build me as solid a career as the hallowed bulge bracket bank. I was worried he'd be out of business in a couple years. I wanted people to recognize the name of the firm I worked for. I wanted to be able to go to HBS. I wanted to do big deals that landed on the front page of the WSJ. (Ironically, my deals have had a history of never front-paging unless they die a grisly death and the front page is the death notice.)
That's not to say I'm displeased with how my career has unfolded, and of course, the ride would have been bumpy either way. Just saying the decision itself was based on shoddy assumptions.
A better decision metric would have been: Fuck prestige, get money.