Some Observations from an MD
So I'm recovering from a procedure and out of commission for a couple days, and I thought I would use the downtime share a few observations / career guidance for those people starting out in the business. Take this with a pinch of salt, as its one person's advice, but these are all things that have served me well over the years. To give you a bit of background, I've spent more than 14 years in the industry, having started as an analyst at a BB M&A group, and principally worked in BB M&A, although increasingly sector focused. I now run a sector coverage team at one of the leading firms, across all products including M&A.
1. You are your deal experience
Your ability to be an effective senior banker (or senior private equity professional or corporate M&A head or even hedge fund manager) is almost entirely an accumulated sum of the wisdom, knowledge and experience you gain doing deals. Every transaction is unique and one's ability to provide customized high stakes advice or judgment (and the stakes are always high) on tactics, pricing, counterparties, structure, etc. is a function of having been there before enough times that you know instinctively how to react. The single biggest thing you can do as analyst to guarantee your success later on is to work on as many complex transactions as possible and dig deep to ensure you really understand what is going on. I read a thread somewhere where people were saying its better to avoid live transactions since they kill you, and it doesn't affect PE recruiting. I can guarantee that the analyst who has worked on more live deals when they start at H&F or Apollo or Blackstone is going to get the best staffing and experience, and its a virtuous cycle thereafter.
2. It only gets more competitive
Its great to get that analyst job, that associate promotion, the job in PE, into HBS, etc. etc. It only gets more competitive from here. When I was an analyst, I thought the greatest thing in the world was making associate. The day I became an associate, I was not satisfied and was gunning to be a VP. Now that I'm a team head, I realize I'd really like to run the investment bank. Guess what, there are probably about 20 people equally qualified who feel the same way. You cannot let your foot of the gas if you want to make it. Out of my analyst class, less than 15% are at MD / partner level today (of course, others will make it and many do very different things). An even smaller group will make it to the real top.
3. Its a long game, stamina matters
I have never pulled an all nighter in my life. I hate it when people who work for me do. A great chunk of the battle is showing up, and you cannot burn yourself out. Its more important to be crisp, efficient and thoughtful than trying to be the hardest working person out there and burn out. People rarely care about facetime as long as you are equitably pulling your weight; output is much more important.
4. You don't have to be perfect, but you have to "get it" and be part of the team
Getting it is understanding the broader objective, and being an indispensable member of the deal team. If you "get it", we will cut you slack when you make mistakes.
5. Enjoy your personal life
You will never be successful if you are miserable personally. Everyone has different interests, but ensure your indulge them, and you are happy. Have a good group of friends, party a lot, have good sex. Its not mutually exclusive with working hard. And don't miss the big stuff (friend's weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, vacations ever). As long as you plan and are efficient, there is no excuse for missing any of this.
6. Be amongst the best in your profession at something
If you are an investment banker, know one industry or product exceptionally well. The same thing applies in private equity or public markets investing. You may be a generalist later on, but during the hard times (and there are always hard times), having core expertise is something no one can take away from you. I've been on the rocks twice in my professional career, and each time, being damn good at something got me through that.
7. Your analyst years matter
Many of my most fortuitous career moves, or pieces of business I won were because of colleagues or clients I worked with when I was a very junior banker. People have long memories in this business, and the assistant treasurer you built a model with as an analyst could well be the CEO when you are an MD.
8. Develop close friendships with your analyst class
Always be supportive and never be competitive. It is not a zero sum game.
9. Develop your professional "team"
Colleagues, former colleagues, friends, clients, who you respect and have a lot of respect for you. These are the people who you fall back on when you hit career pitfalls. Be unfailingly loyal to these people. Help them out whenever you can. Never be judgmental, and always go the extra mile for your people.
10. Influence is free
Use it to help people. Especially when you get nothing in return. Karma is real in this business.
11. Participate in team drinks
Get to know people out of the office. And learn how to drink in quantity without getting too drunk. It helps that I can drink my analysts and clients under the table when I need to.
12. Develop an international perspective and learn to think beyond the NY financial bubble
If you are offered a chance to work internationally, jump at it. The world looks very different in Sao Paolo or Warsaw or Riyadh or Istanbul or Jakarta, and this will be where the overwhelming global economic growth will be in your careers.
13. Read a lot, not related to finance
History, classics, great literature. Being an interesting person is very important professionally, and it means you're a lot less likely to be a personal douchebag.
14. There are jerks in the world
Its not personal, strictly business.
15. Enjoy NYC (or London or Hong Kong or all three)
Appreciate the great nightlife. Know the great bars, and clubs, and the great restaurants. Have a go to where people know you.
16. Travel the world
Mod Note: Best of WSO, this was originally posted November 2014.