Being A Good Leader – Lessons from investment banking

A Day in the Life of Cathy P., the leader of sales and trading group, for a publicly traded, global financial services investment banking institution.

What I Do

I market equity derivatives to our private banking clients. I spend the majority of time speaking with clients about strategies and watching the markets to take advantage of movement. Contacts are brought to us through the private banking group, so we don’t do cold calling. We’re the product people.

What I Enjoy Most

I love the fast pace and staying on top of what’s going on in the financial markets. Regarding doing what I do at this specific firm, I like the comradery and nature of the trading environment within my firm. We go out together as a group and people help each other out at work. This is important because of the fast pace. A fair number of people in this firm have ended up going other places only to return here because we operate so well as a group.

What I Enjoy Least

To a great extent, the business we do is driven by the equities markets, which are currently soft. That means the deal flow can be discouraging, and I am unable to control that directly. You can shake the tree all you want, but there may not be anything to fall. You have to be able to withstand those cycles in the market.

Why I Chose This Career

I loved the finance courses I took in the first year of my MBA. Also, I got a summer internship in finance in the Texas office of my firm. I liked the people so much during the internship; I was sold on the firm as much as the industry itself. The internship helped me realize there was a place for me because I was quantitative in orientation, and I liked the fast pace of sales and trading as an environment to pursue quantitative work. The rotations in the summer showed me where I was most comfortable. My ultimate location (New York) became essential to pursuing specific opportunities that are only available here.

Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career

You must be a quick thinker with high energy. You must be able to synthesize quantitative and even qualitative information and anticipate the next question by a client.

You also need to balance that energy with patience. When dealing with clients, you have to present the information in some different ways. Not all people receive information the same way, and often they don’t absorb numbers as quickly as you might, but you have to help them digest it. Working well with diverse groups of people is critical.

The MBA has been very helpful in teaching me to develop relationships and networks, which is critical in my business even though I am not responsible for the sale.

Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path

You must stay on top of the markets because the markets are so competitive. As a result, your firm is always changing their products, their way of doing business, their pricing models. You have to learn things fast and accept change quickly.

As a career switcher like me, you have to be prepared to answer questions like why you made a change from engineering to finance. I was able to show the natural progression because the thought processes in this field are similar to engineering.

To get a position like this, you have to be persistent but remain polite. Be aware of the other person’s time. When the markets are open, people won’t have time to talk to you, so don’t call someone in sales and trading after the opening bell.

What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)

During my senior year and after graduating from college, I worked at an environmental consulting firm that was very project driven. I worked on air quality, Superfund projects, and underground storage tank projects. This involved a lot of field work and computer modeling. Every summer in college, I had also interned in an oil company in Houston that was a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, and I did engineering internships at small firms while in college.

I started to see, after several years in engineering, that I needed to be better- rounded in business, particularly as a woman in a male-oriented field. I saw more prospects for upward mobility—even had I stayed in my field—with an MBA.

However, I didn’t have financial industry experience when I started business school, so I tried to carry over certain skills I thought were relevant to finance, including project management, technical/quantitative skills, and the ability to work with diverse groups of people. With these skills and the first year of MBA coursework, I was able to secure the finance internship with my firm in Texas, and later, the permanent offer in New York.

Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)

  • MBA, Tulane University, A.B. Freeman School of Business, concentration in Finance, 2010
  • Bachelor of Engineering, Vanderbilt University, civil engineering, 2005

In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…

If you know specifically the route you wish to take, make sure the school is strong in that area and that the location of the school makes sense for related job opportunities. If you don’t know exactly what you want, which was the case with me, go where you are most comfortable with the people. This will enable you to step right in and rise to the top.