Every young investment professional wants to quickly rise the ranks. I was fortunate enough to be one of the lucky ones and achieve such a feat, receiving the title of Managing Director by age 30. My advice to young professionals who want to do the same is be lucky. When I say that, I mean the alternative definition of luck, i.e., when preparation meets opportunity. You can increase your chances of being lucky by following these simple steps.
1. Be humble and hungry: Just like a young child trying new food, you don’t know what you like (or don’t like) until you try it. I started my career as a generalist and initially reported to a tech MD. However, after working on several technology, clean tech and life sciences deals, I realized that my passion was for life sciences despite having no scientific background. One of my biggest pet peeves with interns and first-year analysts is when they tell me they don’t like life sciences despite not having worked on a transaction in the sector. When a senior colleague is checking your bandwidth and seeking help on a project, you should always accept the role with alacrity (unless you don’t have the bandwidth) and be excited to work on any deal or project until you establish yourself on a team. It’s important that senior professionals invest in you and you won’t get this opportunity without getting as many reps as possible with them. Key Takeaway: Be open to new opportunities and don’t turn down projects or deals until you’ve successfully established yourself within a team.
2. Hang out around the net: There is a story about Michael Ovitz (founder of Hollywood agency CAA) which highlights this and the potential it can have on a career. When he was in the mailroom at William Morris, Michael differentiated himself by putting in longer hours, reading everything he could and volunteering for every job. He noticed that a partner would come back to the office after dinner and decided that if he was visible at this late hour then sooner or later the partner would ask him to help on a project. He completed the project so well that the partner gave him additional projects/tasks until he hired him as his assistant. While I’m not a fan of facetime, you should always try to arrive before your team and stay after your team. It’s in these early years where you develop your reputation. Key Takeaway: Being present at the right time can have a tremendous effect on your career trajectory and the projects you’re given.
3. Find a mentor: Not every senior investment professional is made equal. Your career trajectory can be significantly altered based on who you work with. The right mentor enables you to learn more quickly and provides deeper industry expertise. Investing involves a lot of pattern recognition and, by placing yourself next to a “rain maker” or exceptionally smart investor, you learn through osmosis. Additionally, these top performers are likely held in a favorable light by their superiors and therefore have substantial pull within the organization. I benefitted through off-cycle promotions at the insistence of my mentor. Also, never forget that it’s a small world and it’s important to keep in touch with former colleagues. You never know you may end up working together in the future at a different firm. Key Takeaway: It’s important to position yourself on a winning team where you can learn from the best and get great deal experience.
4. Never make the same mistake twice: When I first started in the industry, I carried a Moleskin notebook with me to every meeting. I copiously wrote down notes including how internal processes were conducted, insightful sayings and tidbits of knowledge from coworkers, lessons from specific deals, feedback and unfamiliar topics during investment committee, etc. By keeping such a notebook, I was able to not make the same mistake twice, follow up on unfamiliar topics, and complete tasks efficiently without going back to a senior colleague for help. This process has even been helpful with books that I read, where I want to remember the key points several years later. Key Takeaway: You can impress your superiors by being a wealth of knowledge and not repeating the same mistake.
5. It’s ok to disagree: Investing is a lonely industry. At the top levels, you must come up with a perspective on an investment opportunity that may conflict with the views of other partners. Even at the junior levels, it’s important to start developing a perspective and feel comfortable sharing that investment thesis when prompted. Everyone has different deal experience and has gained unique insights through these experiences. By not simply agreeing with the senior professionals, you can demonstrate that you have your own perspective, can effectively weight the pros and cons, and are able to articulately getting your point across. Key Takeaway: Think critically about your investment opportunities and don’t shy away from a conflicting opinion if it’s well thought out.