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HOME > ARCHIVES >THE WALL STRESS SERIES PART III
 

THE WALL STREET SERIES PART III

  Ten of the Keys to Success on Wall Street
  Let me first say: feel free to disagree and please, please feel free to table constructive Suggestions based upon your own unique experiences. I am a data point of one, but at Least one whose balding pate and 40-something age is indicative of nearly two decades of experiences on the Street from which to draw. There are so many elements to a successful Wall Street career that it is impossible to list them all, so here is my list Top Ten of the keys to succeeding on the Street (with a bonus #11 thrown in for good measure). They are not listed in any particular order.

  Key #1: BE HONEST

  With others as well as with yourself. Seems self-evident, right? But wait, isn't Wall Street a cutthroat, kill-or-be-killed type place, where you do what you need to do to win the deal, get the trade done on your desk, crush the competition, etc.? Answer: sure, it can be that kind of place, but honesty can't be the thing that gets chucked out the window. Ever. You know why? People have memories. And if you are shown to be a dishonest person, even one time, it sullies your reputation forever. It is kind of like the Web: once it's up, it's up for eternity. So you know those MySpace pages, college kids? Be very, very careful. And on Wall Street: you know how being economical with the truth can sometimes seem like the right thing, the easy path to take? DON'T DO IT. It is equally as important to be honest with yourself, particularly as it relates to strengths, weaknesses, good points and bad. This is critical for self-development, how and whom you recruit, how you position yourself at bonus time and how to interview for new positions at either your current firm or another firm. Self-awareness is an extremely valuable quality, and one that is witnessed far too little on the Street.

  Key #2: BE THE KIND OF PERSON PEOPLE WANT TO WORK WITH

  It is impossible to over-emphasize this point. Regardless of whether you aspire to be the schmooziest relationship Investment Banker or the geekiest stat arb trader, you still need to be the kind of person others like and respect. This effects your performance evaluations (managing upward), your day to day work environment (relationships with your peers and subordinates) and your ability to attract and retain the best people (recruiting). Jack Welch pioneered this concept of blending performance with how the performance is achieved in talent assessment, e.g., if you are a top performer but a total sh*thead, this is not an acceptable long-term state. And you know what - he was right then and he is still right today. Unless you are a prop trader locked in a closet with a very strong COO-type dealing with the outside world you need to be concerned with not just how well you play but how you play the game. And in the long run, if you are a good partner, a good teacher and a good boss to go along with being a top performer, you will create a virtuous cycle of attracting and retaining the best people around you. And this is one of the most important keys to sustained success on Wall Street and in life. Key #3: FIND A MENTOR AT EACH STAGE OF YOUR CAREER One of the most fortunate aspects of my career was in finding people senior to me and more experienced than me in each of my jobs from whom I could learn - and not just about the technical ins-and-outs of the business, but about the more subtle aspects of functioning and succeeding on Wall Street and how to become the best professional I could be. To this day I remember each and every one of these people and the contribution they made to the professional that eventually emerged:

 
Fred Dawson, Latif Sayani and Madhav Misra - Citicorp Global M&A
Asher Fogel - Citibank Equity Structuring
Rufus Cole, Lynn Feintech and Dipak Rastogi - Citibank Global Derivatives S&T
Rick Goldsmith and Ralph Reynolds - Deutsche Bank Equity Derivatives S&T
Kevin Parker - DB Advisors
 
Upon reflection, I think the combination of good fortune (in meeting these people) and my desire to learn all I could from these mentors had a substantial and positive effect on my career. And I would encourage you to seek out develop these relationships as well.

  Key #4: HIRE PEOPLE SMARTER AND BETTER THAN YOU

  What is success on Wall Street? Making money and winning, the right way. How do you do this? By being really good and having a great team. Ok, and how do you do this? By hiring rock stars who, yes, may even be better than you. Is this threatening? Does this make you concerned about your ability to contribute and not be over-shadowed? If it does stay off the Street, because these insecurities will eventually catch up with you. There is no stronger sign in a manager than the ability to attract, manage and retain rock star performers, and to hire people that have skills and attributes that plug gaps in the manager's own repertoire. This is a sign of self-confidence, of laser focus on the goal, of the desire to grow and get better, and of the willingness to put team ahead of self. Because at the end of the day if the team wins the manager wins. And this is a manager who will be slated for increasingly big and challenging roles because they know how to build and manage high-performance teams. And this is what Wall Street is all about.

  Key #5: BE A GOOD LISTENER

  One thing I've noticed over the years: really smart people often like to hear themselves talk, and are frequently piss-poor listeners. And this is too bad, because it really puts them at a strategic disadvantage. The neat thing about working on Wall Street is that you are often surrounded by high-IQ people who are more experienced than you are, and from whom you can learn a lot of stuff. So by checking your ego at the door and saying "Yeah, I'm smart, but I can get a hell of a lot smarter by shutting up and and listening to
these smart people who know stuff I don't," you can substantially enhance your knowledge base and, believe it or not, appear likeable in the process. Huh? That's right. People who like to talk a lot really appreciate people who will listen to them talk. So not only are you sucking the juice out of these people and augmenting your database, but you are building positive and valuable relationships in the process. But even though this is sickeningly logical, it is the rare Wall Street brainiac that can shut the f*ck up, admit to themselves that they have something to learn and take advantage of these golden opportunities. It's just not a fixture of the Wall Streeter's DNA. So if you can suppress these urges to look smart and to instead BE smart, you will have a leg up on all the other high-IQ clowns out there.

  Key #6: DON'T BE AFRAID TO GO FOR IT

  Think of Wall Street in the same light as those old recruiting ads: The Army: It's Not Just a Job - It's an Adventure. A successful career on Wall Street is an adventure, and it is one about which you need to take control. But how? Won't I just be a cog in the big machine, gradually ascending the ladder and making progressively bigger paychecks? Well, it doesn't really work that way. If you want to do BIG things, you've got to have vision, and you've got to communicate that vision to the right people in the right way. And you can't be afraid to do it. Basically, you need to bring the skills of entrepreneurship to Wall Street. Senior Management of Wall Street firms love to have people generate ideas that they can back and that will make them money. Design a new and lucrative product addressing an important client base. Create a new trading algorithm. Develop a plan for cracking a new market. Incubate a team that leverages existing strengths to better serve a deep-pocketed client set. This makes Senior Management's job so much easier. My advice to you: be one of those people who goes for it. Be an entrepreneur on Wall Street. It is the Path to gathering great riches and doing great things.

  Key #7: ALWAYS BE MOVING FORWARD

  As an old gray-hair (or an old no-hair in my case), I frequently get calls from people asking for advice and counsel concerning their career. The first question I ask in order to assess their current situation is: "Are you still growing and moving forward in your current job?" If the answer is no, THINGS HAVE TO CHANGE. And fast. The phrase I utter at this point in the conversation is "If you're not moving forward, you are moving backward." And it's true. Stagnation on the Street is death. You're not learning. You're not growing. You're probably not happy. You've lost passion. And this undoubtedly shows. And, eventually, this will impact compensation, performance reviews, and the ability to move into new and exciting areas with better opportunities. So if you find yourself in a position where you are trudging into work, going through the motions and constantly thinking about the weekend, STOP. Think. Ask yourself why. And put a plan in motion to get your career on track. Maybe it is the content of the work. Maybe it is your boss. Maybe it is the firm. Figure out what it is and what want to do. Reach out to a mentor. Speak to friends at other firms. Solicit input from people whom you respect and who know you. This self-assessment process is critical and will have a signifcant impact on your career. And if you don't do this it will also have a significant impact on your career – a negative one. Guaranteed.

  Key #8: WORK IN AND FOSTER GOOD CULTURE

  If you've read this blog at all you know how important I feel culture is. And you know why? Because it is. Working in sh*tty cultures sucks, and these cultures are not sustainable over long periods of time. And life is too short to find yourself in a culture that is dysfunctional, unsupportive, stifles innovation or any of the other deadly sins. Find a firm, a team whose culture you respect and that fits with you own world view. And when you get to the point where you are building and running teams, focus on building a great culture. This will help with recruitment, management and retention, and will help create the foundation for the building and operation of a high-performance team. It is just so important.

  Key #9: COMPORT YOURSELF WITH INTEGRITY

  Integrity is kind of like pornography - you know it when you see it. It is more than honesty. It is being a good person and yes, an honest one, but it also has something to do with being trustworthy, thoughtful, and whole (as the word is derived from integer, meaning "whole"). Someone with integrity has the whole goodness package. They are someone for whom the "karma boomerang" concept is a guiding force, e.g., if you do the right thing, good things will happen. And you know what, they do. Someone needs help, help them if possible. It means going to bat for your team at bonus time. It means helping mentor people and assisting with career management. It means being a good coach to your team. It means helping other groups get deals done if it is within your power to do so. This doesn't mean being a sucker and letting people burden you with requests. It just means being a good and commercial person. And this is reputation that is durable and builds over time. And again, helps with recruiting, managing and retaining that team that is so key to being a star on the Street.

  Key #10: BE PASSIONATE ABOUT YOUR WORK AND HAVE FUN

  Bottom line: you work your a** off on Wall Street. If you aren't passionate about what you are doing it will show, and you will be unhappy. Who the hell wants to work 90 hours a week and feel like crap about it? Can you say misery? People going through the motions - even if they are super smart - are easy to spot and are really unattractive. Managers want people who want to get after it with all their heart, not some half-hearted analyst who does the work but doesn't offer up their own ideas, suggestions, or go the extra mile. Even though you will inevitably work with some a**holes on the Street (as you would in every other vocation as well), you have to enjoy what you are doing. This point is not only about succeeding on Wall Street but about being a happy person. Believe it or not, Wall Street is wicked fun if you find the area that is right for you. M&A, Derivatives, Trading - I gotta tell you, it was a blast. Not that there weren't hard times, times when I wanted to put my fist through a wall (or through someone's face) - of course there were. But at the core I enjoyed each of my jobs and worked hard to be with people and on teams that were "work hard/play hard." And I NEVER questioned my decision to be on Wall Street. And you know what - it showed. I do believe that my passion, my intensity and my love of the game was a key component of my success. And when it was time for me to move on, I did. If you let your passion be your weathervane, you will invariably make smart career decisions on Wall Street.

  Bonus Key #11: BE HYPER-ANALYTICAL

  You might be saying "duh?" No, I'm serious. There are lots of Investment Bankers that aren't hyper-analytical - and it is a problem. Why? Because they are scared of people in Sales & Trading, and of the products and services they offer. This is just pathetic. This makes them sickly protective of their relationships, acting as dopey gatekeepers and putting roadblocks in the way of better serving the client and helping the firm make money. You'd be surprised how many bankers are out there that fit this mold. Being a banker and being hyper-analytical is a huge asset, because while you will never have the knowledge of a derivatives pro or a convertible bond trader, you will know enough to know the power and value of more complex products and strategies that, at the end of the day, will help you better serve the client and make you more money. And bankers that have this level of comfort and confidence with Sales & Trading get a lot of respect from those in S&T, and this is really, really important, especially when a client wants the firm to step up and take risk which S&T ordinarily wouldn't take except in the face of a super strong relationship led by such a banker. And this happens in real life. So for G-d sakes, if you are planning on being a banker, get the skills and confidence necessary to interact as a peer with those in S&T. Because if you don't, you'll always be the bitch. I hope you have found this interesting and potentially useful. I never really thought about this stuff in such a concrete manner, but writing it down brought back a rush of memories that made for a really, really great evening. So thanks for being the catalyst for the post. I had a great time.
   
   
   
   
   
   

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