Shewolf of Wallstreet: Excel in Investment Banking
Category: Make More Money, Succeed at Work
How can you stand out in investment banking? Darima Tumur, the 1st Mongolian at Goldman Sachs, gives you practical insights from her 8 years of experience as a country coverage banker, emerging markets prop trader, credit analyst and risk specialist across London, New York and Hong Kong.
Gain Actionable Insights to:
- Managing expectations to stand out and come across as a reliable staff to your boss
- The rules of impression management especially in the field of investment banking
- Building better relationships with your team to succeed in the finance world
The Ideal Investment Banker
Investment banking can be summed up as working from 8:00am until 3:00am on a financial model in a massive Excel file with 50 tabs where every cell is interlinked. In between your Excel shuffling you have to manage 20 calls to update the other team on their very urgent 100-page client pitchbook.
As you may gather by now, investment banking is not as glamorous as it is described in movies. It is a very challenging job. It is physically challenging because only crazy people and athletes can endure these hours for 3, 5 or 10 years in a row, which is the average amount of time it takes to become an Associate, Vice President(VP) or Managing Director(MD) in banking.
You need to be detail-oriented and perhaps even slightly obsessive-compulsive to derive pleasure from making things perfect. You will deal with so many seemingly minute details, like commas and alignment of charts, that the habit will stick for life to the great annoyance of your family and friends. Of course, as you become more senior, the visual details will matter less, but you will need to build your client base and they will demand a lot of your attention.
The world is full of phoney people and so many people pretend to be someone they are not. Which is why in banking, much like in engineering and healthcare, it’s of paramount importance to be reliable. Someone who is reliable doesn’t make empty promises. My rule of thumb is to under-promise and over-deliver.
I used to love seeing the surprised face of my boss when I had finished something earlier than expected, and I still love doing that with my clients, friends and family today. If you’ve promised to finish a model by midnight, don’t have a long lunch with your friends and write a lousy excuse via email at midnight to your VP. Eat a sandwich at your desk, skip dinner and finish that model by midnight. Better yet, next time don’t promise something that you can’t deliver. An effective working relationship comes down to managing expectations. Remember, it is better to under-promise and over-deliver. 90% of your success is down to superb organisational skills in terms of your thoughts, files, documents and managing the people around you.
Become an Expert
As I moved up the ranks, I dealt more with clients and there was a lot less supervision. At first it was daunting, especially since I was often working on emerging market deals. These deals are typically more complex due to heightened legal and political risks, lack of comparables and precedents for valuation and structuring purposes. Emerging market teams also tend to be smaller.
When I was working on one of the first Eurobond deals in Russia in 2005, I was literally the only Russian speaker on the team. My MD was Austrian, the VP was Italian and there was no Standard & Poor’s (S&P) or Moody’s opinion on the metals sector in Russia. But instead of feeling overwhelmed and getting angry over the workload, I looked at this as an opportunity to learn. In general, I try to view challenges as opportunities to grow. After all, it is the mental strength in us that allows us to deal with stress. This is especially easy to accomplish when one is single and doesn’t have family responsibilities at home.
When they kept assigning me to these overly complex transactions all over emerging markets, I would take genuine interest in reading about these countries and the industries these companies were operating in. I would read on the subway, during my lunch breaks, and on Saturday mornings. Thanks to this, today I can easily dissect financial statements of a mining company in Latin America, a mobile operator in Africa, a bank in Kazakhstan or an oil company in Russia.
I acknowledge that you may not be able to speak any language other than English, and that’s alright because you are not required to speak an exotic language to cover emerging markets. There are many English people who have built successful careers in emerging market equities, French people who have covered Middle East and Africa. The key is to make a consistent effort in becoming the expert in your chosen field. If, for example, you choose to become a metals and mining expert, you should volunteer to visit steel mills and attend industry conferences. I have visited a number of steel mills in Ukraine and it is astonishing to realise how much these hardworking engineers are willing to teach you and how much you can learn on a two-day trip.
Therefore, apart from honing your finance and negotiation skills, I advise you to remain genuinely curious. You need to know history, politics, geography and read a lot because companies are becoming more global. Consumer preferences are becoming more uniform too. If you listen to the latest Apple earnings call, half of it is dedicated to the situation in China. It is important to do your due diligence and understand the companies you are raising money for. Often investment bankers move on to become CFOs or CEOs of their clients; therefore, aim to become experts in your field.
Read more than just Financial Times and The Economist. When I joined Goldman Sachs, I read nearly 30 books on finance and credit and soon became one of the best credit analysts in the department, which is probably why they promoted me so quickly to move from New York to London and then Hong Kong. You want to come across prepared, well-read and take notes. There is no point in reading 200 pages per week if you hardly remember any of its content. Make sense of the information you are reading. Draw charts and draw your own conclusions. Ask your boss if your logic is right. When you get to meet a client, ask them an educated question related to their industry because that will inspire both your client’s and boss’s confidence in you.
In college, nobody cares about your image as long as you have good grades. You can come to class with bad hair, leather pants or even get a tattoo. But in the workplace, it is very different. Every day you build an image of yourself with the way you dress, the way you talk, the way you interact with colleagues, and the work that you produce. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to learn to write eloquent and concise emails and to carry yourself with elegance.
A lot of people think it’s better or worse to be a woman, depending on who you ask.
I think companies like Goldman Sachs have the issue of gender equality really nailed down. There are unique situations that some women may have to face such as childbirth, but we also need to be aware of the types of stereotypes we give off. Be professional. Don’t talk about your fiancé or your shopping experience unless your boss asks you about it. You cannot wear 6-inch stilettos, a plunging neckline, mini skirt, inappropriate makeup (skip the lashes) and behave in a flirty manner with your clients and superiors without unwanted consequences. I have seen this behaviour often. Women, who do not adhere to the basic rules of professional etiquette, rarely make it to the top. The street is small and people in banking, as in many other industries, love to gossip about office affairs and scandals even a decade later.
Be assertive. Women tend to undermine their own abilities by what they say and how they say it. Speak louder and in an assertive tone when you need to. Even the legendary Margaret Thatcher had to study with a speech coach at the Royal National Theatre to lower the pitch of her voice and develop a calm, authoritative tone. Take a video of yourself on your smart phone and study it. If your voice or body language makes you cringe, it is likely making others too.
As the first Mongolian at Goldman Sachs, I was a naturally timid analyst. After all, I come from a culture where being a modest and quiet woman was considered graceful. But during my first performance review, I realised that I had to quickly change my approach because the outspoken and confident people were getting promotions and bigger bonuses. I remember one incident very clearly. I had sat down with one of my MDs, who was a very well-respected expert in banking and insurance, and had asked him about how he handled his career development when he was my age.
From that, I realised that my MD never studied finance in college. Like me, he learnt everything on the job, having earned a DPhil in Theology from Oxford (literally the Old and New Testament). As I studied accounting for the undergraduate degree, which was my highest degree at the time, I realised I had a level of self-doubt stemming from not earning a degree in finance from top Ivy League institutions. When I had realised that my MD was even less academically fitted for his job, I gained a great level of confidence, which was augmented by the second advice he gave me.
When I asked him how to leave an impression and stand out from my peer group of very successful analysts, he told me to look for people I admire. He said that I need to find people in and outside of Goldman Sachs, who inspire me with their style. He taught me to emulate the speech of one person, body language of another, dress code of a third person, and the ways of easing into a conversation of a fourth person. To date, I follow this rule and I study the people that I meet with scrupulous detail. It is fascinating how much you can learn from others if you pay attention.
I often tell my brother that there are three ways to learn. Let me list them to you in the order of their importance.
Firstly, the easiest way to learn is to read. There is a limitless amount of information that is available to us today. In the olden days, one had to reserve rare books in libraries, be incredibly privileged to have access to the internet, spend an enormous amount of time and money to source for specific information. Now virtually everything is available online.
The second best way to learn is to observe people. When I meet people I always try to think why I like or dislike them. Whatever the reason, I try to analyse that psychological or physical trait. Even when I strongly dislike a person, I try to understand what makes me avoid them and I avoid repeating their mistakes in my life.
Now the most costly way to learn is to make your own mistakes. Unfortunately, I have had to learn from my own mistakes and nothing is more embarrassing and regrettable than having made them. Therefore, I advise you to follow the first two rules in life whenever possible.
A lot of young people get restless about their career plan. My advice is to stick to one position for at least 2 years – in the first year you are busy learning, and in the second year you become good at it. The optimal duration is 4 years. It’s a bit like dating. When you meet a guy who changes his girlfriend every year, you start wondering about his character. At the same time, you don’t want to sit in one position for 8 years without any promotion. That would be like that guy who has had the same girlfriend for 8 years and is still not engaged. I also like to compare one’s career to politics. In the first year, a politician is busy learning about his office and building alliances. In the second and third years he or she is busy getting some work done. The final year is consumed by the re-election campaign.
You should always keep your eyes open to what is happening within your department and the firm at large. I wasn’t moved to London only because I was the most hardworking analyst in my team. Our chief strategist Jim O’Neill coined the term BRICs in October 2003, and subsequently Goldman Sachs decided to rebuild their Russia business. When my manager called me for a meeting, I already had already read the paper on BRICs and confirmed that I was fluent in Russian. Imagine a scenario where I was unprepared for that meeting and I was content with my current position in New York as an average analyst.
Working With Others
In investment banking, you can’t survive alone. Your client will not be impressed by a one-man team even if that one man is as impressive as David Solomon, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. The client wants to make sure that many capable people are working on the deal. You cannot finish a complex financial model, pitchbook or a prospectus alone.
The key element of teamwork is communication. A lot of analysts spend too much time and energy fighting for credit. I’ve seen people throw each other under the bus to look good in front of a client or the boss. Perhaps these insecure egoists win in the short term, but in the long run, your colleagues will all know who did the actual work and whom they want on their team.
Part of teamwork is the humility to ask for help. Of course, make sure you don’t ask a stupid question that can be Googled. Before you ask your seniors the question, be sure to research on your own because it will also help you formulate the question better. Just make sure you don’t ask the same question twice – write down the answer the first time.
You can’t prioritise your deals because every deal is crucial. Multitasking is a crucial skill in this field. In banking, you will be assigned to multiple deals. Often, in banking, every deal becomes critical or urgent at the same time. You must learn to handle the pressure of multiple deadlines. Communicate well with your business unit manager and the teams about your multiple engagements, including personal events, to manage these deadlines.
The more senior you are, the more you will deal with complex moral and emotional issues over technical issues. You will have to decide whom to hire or fire, respond to someone’s Profit & Loss (P&L) being down because of personal issues, handle conflicts and team members fighting for a bonus. You need to be mature and have a good moral compass. This is a quality that bosses particularly look for when it comes to promotions. If you only look out for yourself, you cannot be expected to manage others well.
Working for a large bank like Goldman Sachs offers unlimited opportunities. You have free gym, free healthcare, unlimited learning opportunities and one of the best networks. But one of the best features is the formal and informal mentorship.
I have had dozens of mentors in my life and I’m still very close to them. They help me with professional and personal advice, connect me to the right people and share lessons from their mistakes. But don’t be just a receiver. There are many ways to be valuable to them, like finding them a good analyst, telling them about developments in your field and introducing them to potential clients.
In line with that, there is a Portuguese proverb, “Mais sabe o diabo por ser velho que por ser diabo”, which means: the devil knows more from being old than from being the devil. Don’t underestimate your parents and grandparents. They may have grown up during a different time, but they are much better judges of character than you are. I speak to my father very often even though he doesn’t have a clue about the Black-Scholes option pricing model. He often gives me the best guidance because he is one of few people who truly care about me and because he is a much better judge of human character.
Almost all opportunities in my life came through networking. I got a job at Goldman Sachs because I attended their student event at NYU.
You must have superb listening skills as well as the ability to present yourself. Don’t just talk about yourself. Learn about the art of holding a good conversation. Build quality relationships with people who are influencers or connectors. Be an influencer or connector yourself. There is no point in giving your name card if the recipient is not dynamic and proactive. They will just throw it away.
Also, there’s little value in networking with people who do exactly what you do. What is the point of knowing 200 other investment bankers? It’s better to build networks with people who are the best at what they do. If someone is the best car mechanic for vintage cars or is the best expert on Bordeaux wines, I would rather know them. If I am working on an automotive deal or have to organise an impressive dinner for a client, I would know which experts to call. Networking is vital in this field, you can’t just be desk-bound all day.
3 Steps to Take in the Next 24 Hours
- Start Reading More
Download BBC or other applications that provide you with credible news that will keep you up to date on what is happening around the world and give you more credibility with clients.
- Communicate With Your Team
Start talking to your team members about your priorities and engagements. Be more open with your communication and don’t be afraid to ask for help to clarify anything that appears to be unclear. You need to start practising the habit of building good working relationships no matter where you are.
- Practise Being Reliable
Start learning to under-promise and over-deliver. Whether it’s with your friends, family, colleagues or otherwise start practicing this habit and stick to your word. If you said you would do something, make sure it’s done.