What I Learnt on the Sell Side

What I Learnt on the Sell Side

How did I survive seventeen years on Wall Street and what did I learn? What is life really like inside a bank and what should you watch out for?

 

The Bad News:
Always deliver the bad news first, the good news will take care of itself.
It’s important to own your mistakes and problems, and not be seen hiding from them.
That’s one of the most important rules in business.

 

Mistakes will happen. You want people on the team that have the courage to understand that and deal with them.

 

There is nothing worse than people who hide mistakes, that’s how disasters happen.
 
It took me a while to figure this out. I used to hide behind my mistakes. I think I was afraid of how people would perceive me. Maybe they wouldn’t want someone who made mistakes around.
Sometimes I would try to cover them up and hope people didn’t notice.
 
Over time I learnt that my bosses just wanted my honesty. It’s easy to fix mistakes, it’s easy to correct problems. It’s much harder to win back trust and credibility once you are seen as someone who can’t deal with mistakes.

 

Mark to Market:
Most people think that this has something to do with your portfolio. No.

 

This is a life philosophy.

 

It’s important to accept reality, and know where you stand. Don’t hide from the facts. Mark your book, understand where the client stands on the sale, know if the deal is happening or not. Reality is empowering don’t hide from it. Once you accept the problem you can deal with it.
 
I used to hide from reality, it was hard to admit some truths. A lot of the times my weak ego couldn’t handle not being the best analyst or associate. But looking back, not admitting the truth just delayed me actually starting to work on the problem.
 
Face reality early and then start making it what you want.

 

Help People:
The sell side is a big, political place, learn how to build your network and alliances. Find people to learn from, who want to teach you. Know what your boss wants, what he’s trying to do. Learn how to manage him. If in doubt, read ‘Throwing the Elephant’ by Stanley Bing.

When I first started out, I thought it was just about hard work, and that I could just rise to the top by working hard. This was wrong.
The truth is you have to understand the firm’s, your group’s, and your boss’s priorities.
 
Understand how you can help all of them achieve their goals. This is how you get paid. 
 
Your job is to help people get what they want. This is the secret to success in life. 
Instantly people will see you as someone who gets things done – for them. Who wouldn’t want to have someone like that on their team. You’ll be irreplaceable.

 

Be Greedy:
Be long term greedy. It’s easy to focus on the next big trade, the next big deal.
I have felt the pressure and I know how it feels when you feel more money, more power, more kudos is with in your grasp. 
 
At that moment, its easy to go too far.
 
Don’t focus on the next trade, focus on your life.
No single trade is ever going to be that big.
Too many young guys are overly eager to do a ‘big’ trade that will destroy your life in the long run. 
 
I have seen nothing destroy more lives and careers than greed.
 
Warren Buffett says it well here.

 
Be a Team Player:
You will not succeed on your own. Any success you achieve will be because of your clients, your bosses, your colleagues, your juniors, your secretary.
 
Each and everyone of them has a role to play in your career. Each of them is going to be responsible for the success you are able to achieve. Finance isn’t a solo sport. It’s the ultimate team sport. This is why places like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley recruit team players all the way from the armed forces to professional football players. 
 
Understand what drives your team. What their goals and interests are. How can you make them look good. Then understand how you can use their help, how you can bring their expertise to the problem you are facing. 
 
The most successful people are those that can deliver the entire firm, by finding and highlighting the skills of other people.

 

Always ask for more:
Always ask for more. This applies to your next promotion, your next bonus or your next project.
If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get. 
 
It is your responsibility and yours alone to ask for what you want. No one can read your mind or know what you are interested in. So don’t be a wall flower. Get in there. Get your voice heard. Be clear about what you want and why.
 
I used to think that if I didn’t get what I wanted, it was because people didn’t like me or didn’t want me involved. It’s not about any of these things. Usually people are just too busy in their own world, with their own priorities. They don’t have time to think about their problems and yours.
 
Make sure you let people know what you want.
 
Once I realized that it was my job to ask for more, my job to let people know what was important to me, and what I wanted, all of a sudden my career started to move a whole lot faster.

 

Build your Brand:
The sell side is a big complex place. Everyone is busy doing their own job. No one knows what you do, unless you tell them. Learn to communicate. 

One of the short cuts to communicating well is building your brand. 

What’s your brand? What do people remember about you when you aren’t there? What emotions do you illicit?

Your Brand is key to your success. 

The other part of this is being visible. How many people know you? What do they think about you?

Especially now that the industry is shrinking, you need to be more visible than you ever have been. Find something you can put your name that people can learnt to associate with you. So that every time they see it, they think about you.

In my case in 2008, when the industry was going through it’s last crisis, I began a weekly cross-asset markets update. I began sharing market color with 400-500 people internally every Friday. All of a sudden my profile grew. More people came to know me, and in fact in four months I landed a new job in a new continent!

 

Those are my seven lessons. I’d love to hear yours. 

I hope these quick tips were helpful to you.

Go ahead, see what you’ve been missing. 

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