THEN and NOW: @CompBankerSubscribe
Hello WSO! It has been really fun to re-engage with the WallStreetOasis these past few weeks after a long hiatus. Below is my contribution to the THEN and NOW series started by @WallStreetOasis.com" a few days ago. As always, comments and questions are encouraged!
When did you first join WSO?
I joined in the Fall of 2006 as member #3119! Fun fact, you can see which member you are by looking at the number in the URL when you go to your own profile page. Now here I am, 60 new topics and 3,650 comments later.
Why did you join? Where were you in your career then?
I had just accepted a full-time investment banking job and knew very little about what I was about to embark on. Information on the industry was super limited. I didn't have a single friend in the industry. In order to learn as much as I could about the job, I was just aimlessly googling and encountered the forums. I spent a few months browsing the forums before actually signing up. At the time, WSO itself was barely more than an online forum, known as www.ibankingoasis.com. It is very impressive to see how WSO has grown since those days (huge kudos to the team). The amount of content available today is incredible!
During this time I actually made a post about my experience breaking into the industry (November 2006). It can still be found on the forums here, as much as it makes me cringe reading posts from myself 15 years ago: How I Got Into Banking
I have always found WSO to be a very valuable resource and the first thing I suggest to folks that network with me is to review this site! In fact, I just did some digging and found a post from six years ago reflecting on it. For those that care: How WSO has Enhanced my IB/PE Career. But more than just helpful, it has been fun. I have always enjoyed teaching (potential post-PE career!) and this is a great method of providing impactful advice to a broad audience. I also really enjoyed meeting a number of folks from WSO at the conference in NYC (2013?) and at meetups.
Funny story: I went to a few local meetups a couple years back. While I am in my 30s, I look rather young for my age. I would go to the meetups and just sit there casually listening and socializing with the rest of the crowd. Usually it takes about an hour for people to figure out my background, at which point the dynamic changes and I convert to giving advice. I'm going to try to get to more WSO meetups in the future once we start easing off the social distancing.
Where are you in your career now?
My career has been pretty linear in the grand scheme of things. I completed my two years as an analyst before moving to private equity in 2009. The next 11 years I spent working at two different PE firms, as well as took a pause to get my MBA full-time. I have received promotions along the way and continue to be in a traditional investment role. My core responsibilities have always been execution oriented (acquisition, investment monitoring, exit), although I've spent some of that time on deal origination and firm administration. Personally, I have either served as a director or participant on the Board of Directors for 10+ companies.
What can you share about your personal or family life?
I am not married (by choice, I swear!!). While I have had a few serious girlfriends, I have always prioritized my career and enjoyed the freedom that comes with being able to make major life decisions on my own. Many people don't understand this, but I think it is paramount that one takes the time to understand oneself and pursue a life that fits their own mold and not others'.
For me, the focus of my personal life has always been on professional and personal development. I view time as a precious resource and always try to allocate my time in a way that improves me. More specifically, I have a set of personal goals that span major categories including intellectual, physical, and skills-based. I try to balance out the three so that I don't get burned out from a single category or deteriorate to much in another! While I derive enjoyment from these activities, I do have a handful of purely fun activities as well!
Looking back on your career, is there anything that you thought you knew starting out which turned out to be wrong?
I was pretty naive when I started work. I have always taken the approach that as long as I deliver top quality work, I will be rewarded appropriately. While this is certainly important, I vastly underestimated the influence that "office politics" has on ones career. I have learned to navigate the complexities of the office environment ... whether it is communication style, when to step in, when not to step in, who to build allegiances with, you name it. However, I was oblivious to this in the beginning. As unfortunate as it is, this is a critical aspect of ensuring an accelerated promotion track or that you're brought into the loop on important decisions.
Similarly, eliminating biases is impossible, and consistency in the workplace is equally impossible. I started managing pre-MBA PE analysts/associates nearly 10 years ago and it really opened my eyes. I couldn't help it ... people who I liked got better treatment. I was more willing to invest in their personal development, approve their vacation and cover for them while they were on vacation, or trust them to work from home. I am almost embarrassed by the difference in behavior that the same person can display to two subordinates in the exact same role. This works all the way up the chain to the partner level as well as with service providers, limited partners, you name it. Whatever you do, make sure you're viewed favorably by your superiors. First impressions go a LONG way here.
Were there any opportunities that presented themselves along the way that you didn't take? With the benefit of hindsight, do you wish you had taken one of them?
This is tough. My career has gone so well that it is hard to have any regrets along the way. However, there were two pivotal moments in my career that could have really taken me down a different path.
About five years into the job I was really frustrated by the office environment. I wanted to run my own business, my way, and I wanted to run it remotely. I read the four hour work week by Tim Ferriss and started exploring small business that I could buy or start as a side project. I did a bunch of research and came up with a handful of ideas. I even created a website to get started. For better or worse, I was never able to pull the trigger. Instead, I went off to business school and elected to focus on my academics and personal interests over starting a business. In hindsight, it was the right decision, but the mental struggle was intense at the time.
The second pivotal moment was evaluating what I wanted to do out of business school. Permanently moving/working abroad had been a dream of mine for many years (I was going to run my business above abroad!). I went into my MBA with the express intent of securing a PE job in an international market. Unfortunately, I never really got the chance. I secured a full time offer before even starting my 2nd year of the MBA. Recruiting for a brand new geography, with no local deal experience, no connections, and nothing to differentiate myself seemed daunting. The market for PE jobs wasn't phenomenal at the time either. I elected to go with the bird in hand rather than risk graduating jobless.
What do you think has made you successful in your career? Are there any particularly interesting or unique challenges that you've faced along the way?
There are many different ways that a PE person can "add-value" beyond the base expectations. For me, I think the two things I do exceptionally well are (a) establishing relationships that are truly based on trust and a desire to work together, and (b) being smart, although not knowledgeable. It has frustrated me immensely the way that a lot of people in the industry treat others. Whether it is an investment banker hierarchy, PE hierarchy, dealing with third parties, you name it. When you're the client, it is very easy to mistreat a service provider as they are very likely to keep coming back for more. I have always made a very sincere effort to be respectful to everyone, be it subordinates, service providers, business owners, you name it. I have never tried to obfuscate information and even when negotiating against people, I advise them if they are misunderstanding a key point so that they aren't surprised and unhappy later. I view this as fundamental to good business to the point where former owners have asked me to sleep in their spare bedrooms, spend time with their families, or advise their children on career paths - well after our business relationships have ended.
In terms of (b), the majority of the people in PE know more than I do. They have a perfect mental map of all the key players in an industry, know who the key bankers are in each sector and which deals they worked on, and a plethora of other things that I just don't know. Combating this has been difficult, particularly as I've risen through the ranks and this sort of knowledge is utilized on a daily basis. Fortunately, I have been able to overcome it with "smarts" or "logic-based decisions." Logic, math, intuition, and probably a truckload of luck have really enabled me to make accurate predictions even if I fail to articulate the precise market dynamics amongst everyone in the supply chain. I know this sounds dumb - but identifying this as my competitive advantage and exploiting it as much as possible has been critical to my career progression.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Find balance. My job performance is at its peak not when I'm cranking away at night or on weekends trying to get a deal done. It is at its peak when I'm happy. For me, that means having the opportunity to pursue the extracurricular activities that interest me such as playing sports, reading books, and traveling. Fitness is also a key aspect. If you value your fitness, do everything you can to maintain it. I managed to fall into a rut immediately following my MBA and it hurt my mental state. A year later, I started aggressively exercising and was in the best shape of my life through my early 30s. It can be done and makes an immeasurable difference if this is something you derive happiness from. If you don't know what makes you happy, do some soul searching. Think about what you're really excited to do each week and focus in on that. You will thank yourself in the long run.