How to succeed in investment Banking?
What do investment bankers who make it to managing director have in common?
If you make it to managing director in investment banking, the pressure really starts. Not only are your revenue targets much higher, but you have to navigate an increasingly political environment and lead team of highly ambitious individuals who would love to be in your job. And, if juniorisation of the ranks continues, MDs are likely to be increasingly younger.
It takes a certain kind of person to get, and remain, in the senior ranks over the long-term. According to current and former senior investment bankers, these are the habits and traits you need to adapt to succeed in the industry over the long term.
1. Successful investment bankers are adaptable
Part of ensuring your long-term survival in investment banking is knowing what sort of personalities large financial institutions look for at different phases of your career, says Graham Ward, the former head of equities at Goldman Sachs and now adjunct professor of leadership at INSEAD.
“At inception you need to fit in and be a team player, with a strong willingness to learn from all the big egos around you, ” he says. “Next you need to demonstrate a sharp commercial acumen and an innovators’ mindset. Create something unique. Finally, no successful investment banker, even in trading, was ultimately successful if they do not have an eye on the needs of clients. Once you make clients your friends you become less dispensable.”
2. You must be dogged and persistent
It’s not enough to be smart, you must back this up with clear focus and determination on bringing in new business. Most pitches for new business, despite the huge amount of work required, are destined for failure. You need to be prepared for this.
“What I lack in brains, I make up in energy, ” said Diego De Giorgi, the global of investment banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “You need to be energetic, enthusiastic, persistent and dogged. Most pitches won’t be successful and you could have spent hours working on a presentation, but so will have the competition. We don’t sell a physical product, we sell what we can do for clients and you need to show intellect, but also doggedness.”
3. You must always be more informed than the competition
As cheesy as it sounds, investment bankers must always be thinking about how they can add value during any interactions with clients. This means staying informed to the point that you have more expertise than the supposed experts, says Ziad Awad, a former Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch managing director who now boutique bank Awad Capital.
“You need to read up on everything connected to your coverage area and your clients. I can’t tell you how many first meetings I’ve had with company CEOs and chairmen where I’ve told them something they don’t know about their company or sector, ” he says. “It’s a matter of extreme discipline – read through all the company reports, news and letters to shareholders you can find. Read between the lines, make assessments and learn any way you can. Have the confidence to ask questions on issues you don’t understand to improve your knowledge.”
4. Senior investment bankers must know how to delegate
As you progress up the ranks, you must always prove that you’re better at most task than those below you. As you gain more experience, it stands to reason that you should be more skilled than junior members of the team. The challenge as you move up, says Gregg Lemkau, the head of M&A at Goldman Sachs, is learning when to let go and delegate.
“Investment banking is also an apprenticeship business, and you need to strike the right balance between doing and teaching those that work with you how to do it, ” he said. “You have to do both so that they can learn the business and provide you leverage to be able to be out serving your clients. Striking this balance as to how “hands-on” to be is a continual challenge throughout one’s career.”