A few weeks ago I wrote about my experience in Investment Banking and compared it to my experience at TheLadders. I’ve spent one year in each role, which means I’ve only had one year to test the claims that I am about to put forward, so please help yourselves to some grains of salt.
In reality, is can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The truth is that in a year of Investment Banking there can be as much value for the young business-person as there is pain, and so as much as I cry freedom for the startup life, I have a hard time recommending that college grads turn down their offers to join banks like Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs.
My former Banking colleague Mike Lavalle, who left shortly after I did to start his own business, wrote a great post on the value of Banking to an entrepreneur. I won’t try to speak as expertly to the process of founding a business (because I’ve never founded a business), but I’d like to add a few thoughts on my experience in Banking that I believe have contributed tremendously to a great first year at TheLadders.
Love The Customer
At TheLadders, we live and die by what we call our First Rule: Love The Customer. Our customers are the men and women of the US and UK who earn above $100,000 per year, and we have millions of them. At Morgan Stanley, our customers were the leaders of the most valuable technology companies in the U.S. Over the course of a year in Banking, I had one-one interactions with ~10-15 customers, but the depth of that interaction, and the incredibly high level of expectations for quality of interaction, helped me understand the importance of what I now call the First Rule.
I spent two weeks on the road with the CEO and CFO of a major consumer technology company for their IPO roadshow. We flew all over Europe and US, visiting scores of investors along the way. It was an amazing experience for me, and the level of exposure to two of the most successful tech managers in the world was unparalleled. My role as analyst was fairly rudimentary. I carried the bags, collected the presentations, and coordinated travel logistics. I didn’t care – I would have cleaned the toilet in exchange for the conversations I was lucky enough to have over the course of those two weeks.
Though I added very little tangible value to the transaction, I began to realize that for these customers, for these two weeks, I was the face of Morgan Stanley. The CEO and CFO spent more time with me than with anyone else at the firm over the course of their roadshow (typically an incredibly stressful time for the management team). My behavior and the level of service to which I committed may have had a substantial impact on our payout when all was said and done.
Though the dynamics of the customer relationship are dissimilar, the opportunity to perceive a very real ROI on the work I put into Loving the Customer in Banking helped make the acceptance of the First Rule at TheLadders a natural transition.
Details, details, details
I hate details. Throughout school I followed the mantra “work smart, not hard,” and would rarely check my work after completing it. Come to think of it, even my elementary school teachers hounded me about my attention to detail. A word cloud of my report cards from grades 1-12 would probably spit out ATTENTION TO DETAIL in big, big letters.
In Banking this attitude is tantamount to heresy. I had never before faced the kind of standards to which my work in Banking was held. Yes, it was painful – move this text box one touch to the right so that it is properly aligned with that chart, at 3am on a Friday – but it was incredibly useful. After a year of pain, not only am I now a compulsive checker, but my work tends to be better the first time around.
When you’re working 80 hour weeks, it’s no surprise that time management becomes a useful skill. What I had never heard or thought about was this concept of “managing up.” When you’re at the bottom rung of an organization, you cannot manage time without managing your manager. Your manager may not say it, but they expect to be managed. As an analyst in Investment Banking, this could mean the difference between a weekend in the office or a missed deadline (and therefore a very angry MD). I’ll let you decide which is worse. There is no better way to learn a lesson than to spend a weekend in the office thinking about it.
No matter where you spend your first year after college, much of that year will be spent learning how to send a fax, write an email, and staple large quantities of presentations together in a short amount of time (I discovered what collate meant after a very long afternoon at my first summer job).
One way to make sure you that you learn your lessons quickly is to make sure that those lessons are as painful as possible. Snark aside, should you choose to learn those lessons in Banking, you’ll have a hard time regretting it. I absolutely do not.