Monday, November 30, 2009

Making Markets in Her Home Country

Did you know there exists a nascent, operating stock exchange in the Dominican Republic? And did you know the head of the exchange is a Consortium alumna from Michigan's Ross School? Darys Estrella Mordan for the past two years has been the CEO of the BVRD, the Stock Market of the Dominican Republic.

The exchange, formed in 1988-89, does not yet trade equities, but is taking steps to do so first by overseeing an active market for commercial paper and bonds among about a dozen issuers. Over time, the exchange will permit stock trades when it is assured of an active, liquid market for stock trading. That will occur when the investing public there gets comfortable with an electronic, liquid trading venue, when local, family-owned companies become confident enough to issue stock to the public and after the launch of other government-privatization programs.

For now, less than two dozen banks and brokerages are members and engage in daily fixed-income trading over a two-hour period of about 16 bond or CP issues (about $1 billion in daily activity).

Estrella Mordan is charged with leading the exchange into equities, but will do so when the timing is right. In its latest issue, she told Bloomberg Markets she wanted to build an equity platform emphasizing liquidity and transparency. "When you have a centralized platform, when you have a screen where you can go to see the prices, everybody wins," she said. The first IPO on the exchange is scheduled for 2011.

Estrella Mordan's road from Consortium graduate to head of the exchange was not a winding, distorted path. Every step or pause on the road paved a way to the next opportunity. There are links in the path--enabled by a Consortium MBA, preparation and hard work, but also by contacts, a Goldman pedigree, steadily increasing knowledge in the trading industry, and long-time interests in returning home at some point.

As she told Bloomberg Markets and Hispanic Professional magazines, she grew up in the Dominican Republic and decided to attend college in the U.S., graduating from Vassar College. A Hispanic Studies major, she took a job at the asset-management firm Deltic, a first immersion in business and investments.

After eight years at Deltec, she pursued and applied for the Consortium fellowship, entering Michigan in 2000. (The Orientation Program was in Chicago that spring.) She interned at Goldman Sachs after the first year and joined it full-time after graduation. While at Goldman, she specialized in fixed-income sales, eventually becoming a Vice President.

In the meantime, she had an urge to return home or do something related to building capital markets in her native country. While at Goldman, she helped found "Dominicans on Wall Street" and had opportunities to meet the top finance people of the Domincan Republic. After just five years at Goldman, when the exchange looked for a new CEO, her name was known among board members; it decided to offer her the job.

Within five years after her Michigan/Consortium degree, she was already leading a critical trading operation in a place she wanted to be, tasked with the challenge of expanding a business and pushing it into a daring direction of stock trades.

For more about Estrella Mordan, see For more about the exchange, see
Tracy Williams

Getting People Ready to Lead

In its latest issue (12/7/09), Fortune Magazine offers another one of its lists--to add to lists of the top 500 companies, top admired companies, powerful women and top 40 under 40. This time it recognizes the top companies that are best in grooming leaders, those who will eventually take over the company or who will occupy top roles in finance (CFO), technology (CIO), operations (COO), or legal, marketing or administration. (See

Some companies are widely known for identifying talent among mid-tier managers early. They groom them for years to become competent, effective and visionary leaders. In some cases, companies identify the pool of leadership potential, develop them, but let them compete to win top jobs.

GE has been a standard-bearer in how to identify, develop, and groom managers. The Jack Welch (former CEO) way of developing leaders is legendary: management-development classes and seminars, painfully detailed evaluations, and confidential talent books that keep close track of those who will run GE in the next generation. GE and other firms are obsessed with evaluating and assessing talent and meticulous about offering an array of experiences to get people prepared.

These companies do such an outstanding job that those who don't get the coveted top spots when the time comes tend to go elsewhere to become top officers in other companies.

Fortune's list includes names we would have expected. Many are companies and institutions that perform consistently, have a meaningful global presence, and maintain spotless reputation and brand. They are companies that tend to be stalwarts in their industries. They nurture young talent with the intention it will remain with the company for decades.

The Fortune list is intriguing in two other ways:

(a) At least 10 of the top 25 in North America are or have been important Consortium sponsors. Many on the list have been lead sponsors at Consortium orientation programs (Eli Lily, Proctor & Gamble, General Mills, and Pepsico, e.g.). Other Consortium sponsors (past and present) on the list include 3M, American Express, Target, HP, and Colgate-Palmolive.

That of course implies a long-term commitment to diversity, a recognition that these companies see potential, value and talent in all employees no matter where they are from. They are also companies with constituents around the world: employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders. Hence, their top leaders need to be competent managers of complex, widely dispersed organizations, affecting diverse cultures.

(b) Only two of the top 25 were financial institutions: American Express and CapitalOne. The large, familiar investment firms, investment banks, insurance companies, commercial banks and fund companies didn't make the cut.

Why so few financial institutions? Why wouldn't they be recognized as places that get people ready to lead? There might be a few reasons.

(a) In banking, the top leaders tend to be those who grew up in the organization as top deal-doers, who focused on transactions, clients, client pitches, deal closings and deal revenues--not necessarily as cost and efficiency managers or experts in organizational management. That's not to say financial institutions don't have efficiency and organization experts. Traditionally, top "rainmakers," top client bankers (with substantial client lists), and top traders have been those who've found an easier path to the top.

Hence, the best managers and arguably the best leaders are not necessarily nurtured upward or rewarded with growth and responsibility. They may exist, but they may not get sufficiently recognized or promoted to top positions.

(b) Compensation has often been based--for mid-tier bankers and traders--almost solely on revenue generation. The appraisal system, therefore, doesn't always encourage people to become shrewd business-unit leaders or take risks to learn about other sectors in the institution. Some deal-doers and traders may, in fact, have exceptional leadership potential, yet they know the score: Deal, client, product and trading revenues will likely be what will permit them to advance swiftly (and earn large bonuses).

(c) Large financial institutions have excellent programs for developing entry-level talent. They include training programs, expectations guidelines, mentor programs, and opportunities to work in different units to learn as much as possible. That spirited emphasis of development dwindles after associates become middle managers and vice presidents, when they observe revenues will get them paid, if not pushed up to the next level.

Young professionals learn the scorecard and tend to avoid taking risks that might help them in the long term, but hurt them in the short term. Thus, they may avoid transferring to groups where they have little expertise, avoid overseas assignments that put them out of view, or avoid the possibility of failure of any kind--all essential steps in becoming smart leaders.

(d) The appraisal process is less about developing long-term leaders, more about rationalizing compensation (bonuses) to reward recent performance. Financial instititions devote enormous amounts of time to the appraisal process. Only modest amounts, nonetheless, are spent on legitimate, sincere assessments of talent potential for the long term.

(e) In many institutions, there is pressure to win the next deal, do the next trade, or sell the next financial product to maintain status as a top broker, trader or banker. Therefore, time spent on ferreting talent, developing it, teaching it broader skills, evaluating it, promoting it, and making sure it remains in the institution is time spent away from clients, deals, trades, commissions, research, investments, transactions, and closings. Many senior managers likely see the importance of talent development, but are often confronted with tough short-term objectives that can't be skirted over casually.

Some financial institutions (Goldman Sachs, e.g., although it didn't make the list) are well known for nurturing talent and grooming it for leadership. Many others are the product of a series of mergers. Others are merely fighting to remain financially healthy. While they must manage through merger integration, the financial crisis, or capital shortfalls, they haven't devoted sufficient time to leadership for the long term.

Yet somehow the IBM's, the GE's, the Pepsicos and P&G's have gotten it right. They project 7-10 years out. They identify a pool of potential senior managers every year and put them on a track to get them prepared to run the company. They take chances with them, permit them to run business units at an early age, encourage them to take assignments in Europe or Asia, and push them to assume positions outside their comfort zone. They promote them, pay them and reward them with more challenges (and more confidence).

There is no reason why prominent financial institutions can't do the same. To say the least, it could assure them top talent, including young professionals, would be willing to stick around for a long time.

Tracy Williams

Monday, November 23, 2009

Opportunities: Where Are They?

Recall a year ago at this time, when we braced for a colossal collapse of the financial system and settled into a notion that the Great Depression could repeat itself. A year later, with Lehman Brothers receding into Wall Street history, there are breaths of fresh air and hints that in banking and finance, opportunities for growth, expansion and employment exist.

Financial institutions have resumed practice and protocol in recruiting in b-schools and in hiring in mid-career positions. The big banks launched "redeployment" efforts, re-hiring into growth areas those it may have dismissed in declining units. Opportunities exist, but institutions are proceeding cautiously and carefully.

The ramping back up may not be as rapid as the ramp-down. After the dot-com collapse of the early 2000's, firms subtracted and eliminated quickly, but as soon as business and markets bounced back, they added and hired just as fast. This time, they may take baby steps first.

Many Consortium students and alumni are asking, "If things have picked up and there are hopeful signs, where then are the opportunities?"

They may exist at specific institutions. As the media note prominently, firms such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are setting near records for quarterly performance (buoyed by investment-banking and trading revenues). Scattered opportunities exist in many spots at these firms. They are focused on building the "stable, sustainable" businesses (private banking, investment management, and retail banking) and supporting the businesses (investment banking and trading) that generated the incomes that put them in the headlines.

These firms are hiring at all levels, but are being careful not to overdo it. Hence, they are not about to double the number of bankers they bring on board in the next year or two.

Firms such as BofA-Merrill, UBS, and Citi are aggressively working to rebuild their brands and balance sheets. They have made progress, although they may need take the occasional, substantial asset write-down. They are presenting a confident, we-expect-to-be-around face to the marketplace, including their faces to prospective bankers. They are visible in recruiting, hiring and convincing top talent to come their way.

Others such as Morgan Stanley, Deutsche, and Credit Suisse know that in a period of recovery, they can't afford to take a back seat to peer firms. It's in the abyss of a business cycle when firms ably strategize to pounce on opportunities to take them to the top of a finance sector (mergers, equities, fixed-income, retail banking, syndicated loans, etc.). Hedge fund Citadel (even after its crisis-related trading losses) is daring to start an investment bank from scratch.

Firms like Barclays Capital and Jefferies are poised and eager to pick up trading and banking business left on the table when Lehman collapsed. BNY Mellon survived the crisis untainted, partly because it emphasizes stable, unsung businesses as securities processing, clearance, and custody. It aspires to be the industry leader in those segments.

Nonetheless, careful, methodical steps in expansion is the common theme.

What about opportunities in specific sectors, Consortium alumni and students ask?

In investment banking, many banks tend to wait out the cycle, wait for M&A to return, wait for an inevitable rebound in equity and debt underwriting. They follow historical paths. The business collapses, but it bounces back.

Others take advantage of new business in select specialties. For example, some firms are doing a brisk business in advising corporations in restructuring their debt or their organizations. Some are advising parties (creditors, debtors) in bankruptcy. Banks with financial-institution clients (FIG) are thriving by helping clients (banks) raise capital or sell assets. M&A bankers see opportunity when an industry wants to expand, but a different opportunity if that industry needs to reorganize, consolidate or reconfigure itself. Healthcare bankers are waiting in the wings, as the nation confronts healthcare reform.

In sales & trading, opportunities are fleeting, sometimes momentary. Right now, many traders and hedge funds are focusing on distressed assets (mortgages, bonds, loans, e.g.), trying to take advantage of mis-pricing of assets or assets (bankrupt companies, e.g.) that are unfairly under-valued. Fixed-income traders have been taking advantage of low interest rates all year, although some think those opportunities will dim in time.

Financial institutions took a beating last year because they took on too much risk (credit and market risks) or they didn't know how to manage it or compute it (or all of the above). Many are now hustling to beef up their risk-management units. Smaller firms are hustling to launch risk units where they hardly existed before.

Large banks are evaluating their approaches to risk-taking, their tolerance for large balance sheets, large trading exposures, or gigantic loans to large corporations. As a result, some are looking to expand businesses that are less volatile and promise stable, predictable revenues. They are prepared to trade occasional home runs for frequent singles. Private banking, asset management, cash management, securities processing and custody offer such stability, and many banks want to grow those areas. Hence, opportunity.

Other firms simply want to stick to the niche they know best. Growth and opportunity will be slow, steady, assured. This includes the banking boutiques (Lazard, Greenhill, Evercore, e.g.), the trading, dealing, market-making boutiques (Knight, ITG, MF Global, Liquidnet, e.g.), or the retail-brokerage boutiques (Raymond James, Charles Schwab, Edward Jones, TD Ameritrade, e.g.).

A year makes a difference. Most of us were too scarred or scared to even mention "opportunity." Today we dare to highlight them, but that's opportunity with baby steps.

Tracy Williams

Monday, November 16, 2009

CFN On Campus: Recruiting, A Sixth Course

Keeping up with recruiting demands, networking, attending corporate events, setting up information interviews, slipping out of class to fly to Chicago or New York and strategizing to get on closed interview lists. It's like a sixth course in business school, Consortium finance students say.

But they are a necessary demon, if you aspire to get an offer from a top bank, fund, or financial institution. Some would contend in these times, where there continue to be segments of uncertainty, recruiting chores are necessary if you aspire to get any offer of significance.

A few Michigan Consortium students accompanied the Ross finance club to New York two weeks ago as part of its annual Week on Wall Street. Just two weeks later, some are returning or have returned to follow up with contacts, meet with other banks and firms, and merely to let it be known they are serious in their bids to gain offers from top firms.

Yale and Dartmouth students, too, have come back to New York for follow-up meetings and informational interviews after formal sessions with big banks a few weeks ago.

UBS, Barclays, Credit Suisse, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, BoA-Merrill and Goldman Sachs continue to be notable for courting Consortium finance students methodically and seriously this fall--especially first-year students interested in investment- or private banking. These banks are executing on well-defined recruiting strategies. They also tend to be the ones that accommodate Consortium students who want to meet bankers for informal meetings or for off-the-record coffee.

Sales & trading positions, as usual and as expected, are elusive--not because top firms are not hiring, but because they tend to hire on a one-off, as-needed basis. While corporate finance and private banking recruit MBA's into formal training or development programs. Sales & trading desks tend to recruit MBA's, only when desks plan to explain, when trading in certain markets is "hot," and when they want "apprentices," those willing to come aboard, watch and learn before they are allowed to take risk or manage portfolios.

Barclays, in private and investment banking, has made a substantial name for itself in recruiting circles this fall. The British bank, already with a large U.S. presence, hopes to attract the talent that once gravitated to Lehman Brothers. Barclays has an advantage, since it purchased most of Lehman's U.S. net assets and hired many of its experienced people. It recently approached CFN to announce that it still has open positions for second-year students.

Citigroup's head of investment banking in the U.S., Ray McGuire, visited NYU-Stern recently. Consortium students had a chance to meet with him and get honest advice on how to succeed in banking. He advised them to make sure they master technical skills, the basics of finance, capital markets and accounting.

McGuire is one of highest-ranking of African American investment bankers. He has been at Citi four years. His career path is not unusual for many top bankers in the industry. He worked at four other firms before landing at Citi. That doesn't include a stint at a New York law firm. McGuire has MBA and JD degrees from Harvard.

While some bankers stay put at one firm for much of their career (characteristic of managing directors at Goldman Sachs), others will follow mentors, clients, deal flow, and, yes, compensation packages from firm to firm, big and small. McGuire was at Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley before Citi. McGuire tended to follow mentors and promises of more responsibility. The industry doesn't frown on such movement, because many of the best bankers have done it and most know people and talent will go where opportunities abound.

Tracy Williams

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A "Must Skim": eFinancialCareers Manual

eFinancialCareers, the financial recruiting firm with an expansive online presence, just published a new manual ("Careers in Financial Markets") that helps guide students and young professionals pursuing long-term careers in banking and finance. The manual is long (about 100 pages), but it's a "must skim," if not must-read, for those starting out in financial services.

Nowadays there are countless manuals, guides, brochures and books on how to pursue a career in banking--or more specifically, investment banking or sales & trading. This one stands out for two reasons:

1. It presents a detailed description of various segments--each a specialty in financial services and each usually offering opportunities for MBA's. Hence, not everybody should or is interested in pursuing a life of investment banking. It tries to convince that there are enriching careers in areas like risk management, and it accurately explains the difference between corporate and investment banking.

2. There is a section on diversity, and themes, issues and topics of diversity are prevalent throughout the manual. (There is a casual reference to the Consortium, as a diversity pipeline for candidates in finance.)

Few will have time to digest and absorb this manual cover to cover, but skim what's relevant to you. And like all pieces of advice, assess what is recommended and decide your own next steps.

The manual is candid, straightforward. Its intended audience includes anybody--not just MBA's--interested in finance. It covers many aspects of looking for a job, planning a career, and learning how to network. A few highlights are worth noting:

1. It's direct, honest and even injects humor on the best ways to get a job at a top investment bank, daring to say (with a wink) takes some combination of 4.0 GPA's, direct contacts to top managing directors, relatives in key positions, and a diploma from a name school to get an offer. That's is way of showing how hard it can be at elite firms (e.g. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, or Blackstone).

2. It includes a section that advises when it's best to leave a firm or transfer out of a position. Few guides ever tell you to leave. This one knows the fit between you and the firm may be awkward sometimes, and you should do something about it.

You should take steps to transfer or look elsewhere, for example, when your group is engulfed in office politics, when your firm is suffering in performance, when managers above you operate within an impenetrable social circle, or when you receive an unfair, unwarranted performance review.

3. The manual provides 20 excellent descriptions of sectors of finance, explaining where there might be opportunities for entry-level positions or opportunities for mid-career people. They include unsung sectors, often not on the mind of the typical MBA, such as global custody, risk management, compliance, "information providers" (Bloomberg and Reuters come to mind), and even human resources.

The diversity section is good, because it devotes proper attention to the subject and focuses on the importance of fit at a bank or company. Diversity is not treated as a footnote. But the manual treads carefully.

The manual doesn't provide what many students (especially first-year Consortium students) crave this time of year: A candid assessment on places to work, including those that are outstanding or those that should be avoided. Nor does it rank or rate banks and firms as ideal places to start a career in finance or to get promoted.

Consortium students want stark impressions of a firm's culture, want to know where they will fit, and want to know whether a firm values technical skills more than client skills. Given many financial institutions are clients of eFinancialCareers and given many contributed sidebar articles to the manual, you can see why it avoided rating firms or offering candid summaries of culture at specific places.

The manual also doesn't focus on banking boutiques or smaller specialty firms (trading firms, dealers, clearinghouses, technology firms with a financial clients, etc.). And because its audience includes the senior literature major in college, as well as the bank VP in private banking who wants to transfer into corporate banking, it doesn't focus on how MBA graduates can take advantage of finance, accounting and banking courses they took in b-school.

Nonetheless, that's nitpicking. There is much useful information and informed advice if you take a moment to peruse it.

Tracy Williams US.pdf

Monday, November 2, 2009

CFN On Campus: Never Enough Time

With a blink of an eye, the school year at most Consortium b-schools is already one-third old. And what a difference a year makes. For Consortium students in finance, moods are less dismal than they were a year ago. Few have second thoughts about pursuing finance.

News stories about the collapse of both big-name institutions or market segments have receded. Students are approaching next summer (for internships and full-time positions) with more hope; some even with optimism.

General observations?

1. Students in similar numbers are interested in corporate finance and investment banking. We surmised many would be discouraged by the events of last year and would explore other careers (marketing, consulting, etc.). Finance continues to attract those who had years of experience in finance before b-school, those interested in global capital markets and transactions with clients, and those with extensive quantitative backgrounds (engineering, math, e.g.).

Finance attracts those still eager to tackle the demands of financial modelling, trading interesting financial instruments, investing in new ventures or doing headline-grabbing deals.

2. Predictably, students from larger, known finance-oriented b-schools (NYU, Dartmouth, Michigan, e.g.) are the ones with large numbers of student interested in finance and banking. These same schools, however, benefit from strong recruiting relationships with top banks and extensive alumni networks at the same banks.

3. Some schools without the same large Wall Street networks still have significant numbers of students (including Consortium students) interested in finance--primarily because of the schools' special efforts to encourage careers in financial services or prepare students for the process of pursuing something in finance (Indiana, Carnegie Mellon, e.g.).

4. Many Consortium students interested in finance are transitioning from other careers (government, marketing, publishing, engineering, consulting, etc.) and know they must catch up in understanding what top firms, funds and banks are looking for in MBA students. They, however, are learning they bring something unique from their prior experiences (teamwork in consulting roles, quantitative expertise in engineering roles, client management in sales positions, etc.).

5. All students acknowledge the challenges of adjusting to a rigorous schedule and admit coursework is far more demanding than they thought. But most are motivated by knowing they are doing the right thing, learning massive amounts of finance material in a short time, and seeing the marketplace more attractive than it was nine months ago.

Michigan's finance club came to New York for its annual Wall Street visit last week. Students, including a few Consortium members, visited JPMorgan, UBS, RBC and Morgan Stanley. Michigan has organized this trip for years. Typically 30-40 attend annually, and the numbers didn't appear to have dwindled this year.

Dartmouth's finance club likewise visited New York in mid-October. A few Consortium students, too, accompanied the club, as it visited large banks and met with alumni at many of these institutions.

Indiana's "academies" in investments and banking made short trips to New York, too, with a similar agenda of visiting firms and establishing contacts.

NYU has the advantage of being in New York, so students meet with Wall Street firms often. New York-area companies and banks, on the other hand, frequent the campus. As with many schools, Stern's Office of Career Development meets with each student to help him/her map out a plan for recruiting.

Yale students, also in New York, got a chance to visit representatives from Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley. Yale CFN students planned to meet as a group to discuss recruiting, companies and course challenges. Students are adjusting to Yale's novel approach to b-school education, where team-taught courses in the "Consumer," "Investor," "Employee," et. al. replace traditional courses in finance, marketing and accounting.

New York is not the be-all and end-all for finance. Chicago, London and San Francisco would contend, too. But students and their finance clubs go to New York to meet contacts, see a concentrated group of alumni and figure out their next steps in the recruiting game.

At many schools, the CFN mentorship program is thriving. Students have commented favorably about how mentors have helped them with recruiting strategies and in meeting contacts at particular firms. Moreover, mentors have provided good, old-fashioned moral support.

Tracy Williams