Perspectives – Marc Cooper – October 2021
Want to Be an Investment Banker? Four Things You Should Know First
by CEO Marc S. Cooper
It’s not news that nearly all aspects of the financial services industry are liable to shapeshift every now and then due to increased regulation, market dynamics or something else out of our control. This means that we, as practitioners, must change too. Adapt to survive, as the adage goes. Yet, in my four decades in the investment banking business, many of my views on the fundamentals for success in this profession haven’t changed very much.
Below outlines my four principles for success — for young bankers already in the business, as well as those contemplating this career path.
- Be curious: There is a steep learning curve in investment banking. Taking an extensive approach — understanding the value of everything from human relationships to financial machinations — can help you better navigate the industry. Understand (and I mean really understand) how businesses operate, how capital markets work and how to convert challenges into opportunities.
- Your internal and external audiences are sometimes one and the same: Learning how to navigate internal ranks is often equally as important as serving clients. I could make the case that you should apply all of your client-service decorum to those members of your internal team. So just as you would for a client, offer guidance in a time of need, be punctual with deadlines, share only the highest-caliber work product, etc. It goes both ways, too. Senior team members should return the same degree of professional respect to the juniors. It’s about being thoughtful, professional and respectful toward others. I have always led with the perspective that everyone is a critical link in the chain and despite industry stereotypes, juniors “don’t work for us”— we work together at Solomon Partners. Not only is that our philosophy, but I feel as if you can see that collaborative effort in the work we do, too.
- Work smart (… and hard too): Working as an analyst is not easy. I’d argue that most people already know this from sensationalized shows such as “Succession” and “Industry,” yet I always mention it because while those shows are entertaining, they’re often over-dramatized. Yes, it’s demanding work and there is a significant time commitment involved. It’s not for everyone and that is completely fine. Investment banking requires a host of different skills and ultimately, the harder you work, the luckier you become.
- Find balance and honor it: At the end of the day, regardless of commitment, you must be interested and excited by your day-to-day assignments. Our careers are long, but our lives are longer. At Solomon Partners we like to say, “we work to live, we do not live to work.” You need to take care of yourself and really keep things in perspective. It’s not easy but learning how to balance what’s important in life is absolutely crucial to success in banking. Some of the most successful people I know found that balance early on and honored it. Those who didn’t, burnt themselves out quickly.
When I was first starting out in finance, I had the pleasure of working for a great team. I respected my Managing Directors, and I learned a lot from them. They respected me too and really gave me tools for growth that I‘ve never taken for granted. After the first few years working under their guidance, I realized that we were building something together, and I’ve sought to replicate that for my younger colleagues ever since.