Jeremy Xia began his Wall Street career with Credit Suisse in New York as an Investment Banking Analyst in their Global Industrials Group. In this exclusive interview, Jeremy breaks down the key personal characteristics and best practices that led him to distinguish himself as one of the highest-rated analysts of his class.
Although he would never admit it, Jeremy was a true Investment Banking superstar, a designation I verified by speaking directly to his former associates and colleagues through my network. Want more proof? Jeremy just graduated from Harvard Business School and is now a Vice President at Metalmark Capital, a middle market private equity firm focused on the energy, healthcare and industrials sectors, in New York City.
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What are the top 3 characteristics that make up a Superstar Investment Banking Analyst?
Jeremy Xia (JX): The characteristics fall into three categories: 1) work quality 2) personality and 3) ability to work with others.
Work quality / attention to detail: Pretend that whatever you produce may and can be sent to a client. I cannot stress attention to detail. Double and triple check all of your work. It is okay if you make a mistake or two; everybody does. By double checking, you’ve already eliminated 80% of your mistakes and made your associate’s job a lot easier. Attention to detail means reviewing others’ work as well (especially pages from other groups). Make sure your model balances, etc. etc.
Motivation: Motivation doesn’t mean staying until 2am every night, it means being hungry to learn and always thinking big picture. Ask questions; try to understand why you are doing what you are asked to. Think about what else can be done if you see things falling through the cracks, but don’t create unnecessary work. It also means being motivated to improve, asking for feedback and trying to be a better banker / person.
Teamwork / ability to work with others: Try to work together WITH your associate (vs the mentality of working FOR) or analysts from other groups. Give others credit when it is due. Being pleasant to work with will make your superiors like you a lot more. Another aspect of teamwork is to not drop the ball – don’t let your team down because you didn’t complete a task and help others when you see things slipping through the cracks.
What do you think was the main reason you were ranked so high as an analyst?
Fast, good quality work. Get the product that you produce right, and everything else will follow. For example, I developed a reputation as a trustworthy analyst who could get tough jobs (e.g., complex models) done. I was soon working with individuals who wanted to work with me, and all of them could vouch for me in reviews and bonus discussions.
If you could change one thing about your analyst experience, what would it be?
I wish I had learned the power of saying “no” earlier. As a brand new analyst trying to build a name for myself, I found it hard not to take on additional projects. It easily led to situations where I was overworked and burned out, and by my own doing. My work quality would suffer a little and it’s not a productive situation for anyone.
During my second year, I had learned to manage my work capacity better. My life went a lot smoother and I still had the respect of my superiors. It demonstrates maturity and responsibility.
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What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself while doing investment banking?
Sleeping at 2am from long days of working is very different than sleeping at 2am while in college. One you can easily continue for 4 years, the other you may need some adjustment to. Investment banking is a tiring profession; it is not all fun and games (though sometimes it can be).
What did you do to handle the pressure to perform as a top-rated analyst?
Coffee breaks and exercise. Being close to Madison Park at Credit Suisse meant I could grab a colleague and take a stroll through the park if things got too stressful. Usually this helped to temporarily reset my brain. Exercise is also very important. I was lucky to have a decent gym in the building that I could use when there was downtime. If I ever got an email, I could be up and ready to 10 minutes. Exercise releases endorphins that make you more alert and productive.
With that said, one important thing to keep in mind that it is okay to take breaks. There were some who wouldn’t even take a break to EAT. No one is going to fault you for taking care of yourself, usually it’s self-imposed pressure to stay at the office at all times. Of course, don’t be on the other end of always taking breaks and not getting any work done.
How did you manage your relationships with your associates, VP’s, and MD’s?
I tried to respect everyone’s time and what they had to say. I sought out mentors from individuals who I felt I had a connection with. I tried to develop stronger relationships with my associates (vs. my MDs) because they were who I interacted with most. It’s easy to be faceless and feel like another cog in the wheel, and I generally tried to personalize everyone I worked with.
I became close to a few associates and maybe one or two VPs. Some have remained friends post-Credit Suisse, and most have remained mentors. These relationships are invaluable later in life. I had asked a close associate to write my business school recommendations, which is an incredibly long and arduous task that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking had I not taken the time to develop that relationship ahead of time.
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What do you think made them trust you so much?
Trust means trusting you as a person as well as your work. I’ve broken the reasons down into good quality work already, but will add honesty and rapport building.
Honesty: Admit when you have made a mistake, whether it’s a number wrong, mislabeled model, or a missed deadline. It is always to be upfront and honest, and to let your associate or VP know ahead of time, than to have the mistake come back later. Some analysts will blatantly lie, and not just a white lie. If you didn’t double check, don’t lie and say you did. If you didn’t update one page in the deck, don’t say you did. It will always come back. This may seem common sense, but you’d be amazed.
Rapport building: Get to know your team members, from the associate up to the MD, even the top management of the group or firm if you have the chance. Ask questions, about the project and about their lives. Not everyone is open to talking, but it’s a job where you will work with each other a hundred hours a week. This means you will see them more than your significant other, friends outside of work, and parents. Make a friend, or at least an ally. Nothing adds to more to your street cred than having your superiors validate your ability in front of others.
What advice would you give to a struggling Investment Banking Analyst?
I would tell an analyst to think about an athlete improves and apply those practices to his or her job. First, find a coach. In an analyst’s case, this is a mentor and/or a superior. You can always have multiple. This person (s) will help guide you and give you tips on what to improve, especially your direct superiors (they know you best). They may say that your modeling skills could use a little help or next time triple, check your work. Take note, these are your mentors guiding you. In addition, you should always ASK what you can improve on and be proactive.
Second, practice, practice, and practice. It’s one thing to know how to do something right, it’s another to do it in a quick AND accurate manner. The job is stressful with time pressure. You don’t want your associate and VP waiting until the wee hours of the night for you to finish your model any more than you want to be waiting on a Saturday afternoon for comments. Take your downtime as an opportunity to practice. Learn your Excel, Word, PowerPoint shortcuts and know them well. Do practice models in your free time (it will also help with private equity and hedge fund recruiting). Think through your work plan, and if something needs to be sent to another group (such as graphics, maps), plan accordingly.
Thinking now about your recruiting process, why did you decide to go into investment banking?
Investment banking wasn’t my initial plan. My summer internship was actually in equity research. I quickly realized equity research wasn’t for me; the pace was slower and the experience wasn’t broad enough (I would only cover one industry, ~15 companies, for the remainder of my career). I took the summer to network with other parts of the organization and had narrowed my potential options down to a structuring desk and investment banking. A structuring desk had a deal aspect of putting together loans and packaging them into collateralized debt obligations. It was also the hottest thing since sliced bread at the time. My major was financial engineering, and I was poised to create the next generation of CDO products.
Investment banking also sounded interesting and engaging. In banking, I would be able to do projects ranging from equity to M&A to sponsor deals, and I would be able to interact with a broad spectrum of companies of all industries and sizes. Towards the end of summer 2007, the markets began to turn and I abandoned my pursuit of a job on the trading side. Investment banking was still a great option. I wanted a great stepping platform for whatever else I wanted to pursue in life. At that age and trajectory in my career, investment banking was the best choice (and the right one, considering the fate of CDOs in 2008).
When did you start recruiting for the job? Did you get an internship?
For my summer internship recruiting, I was slightly late to the game because I had spent my first two years of college on the medical side before switching to finance starting my junior year. As a result, I wasn’t as ready in terms of my knowledge of finance or even the positions available. One way I got caught up to speed was to seek out mentors (upper classmen and fledgling analysts) and ask them questions about the job. I wasn’t successful in getting a trading or investment banking internship for my junior year because I just wasn’t ready for some of the questions or fully understood what I wanted. Equity research recruited slightly later (in March / April). By then I was up to speed and wanted my foot in the door.
After deciding that I wanted to do investment banking, I hit the ground running immediately after returning for my senior year. I had networked all summer, researched the job, and learned significantly more finance. Coming from equity research, my foot was already in the door. Networking is very important because it gets you noticed. To screen interviews, sometimes analysts / associates are given a book or sit in a room with resumes put up on a projector. If someone remembers you, you pass. Otherwise, you better have a kick-ass resume, started a company, saved baby seals from being clubbed, and planted 1,000 trees to reforest the Amazon (exaggeration of course). Summer interns who received full time offers are also an excellent resource / proponent for you. During the interviews, I was able to demonstrate why I wanted to make the switch and why I was qualified.
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How much finance do you need to know before going into banking?
You need to know enough to get through the interview, but mostly everything will be retaught and cemented during training and on the job. Generally, it is a good idea to take a corporate finance class and read the Vault guide. I think it’s important to understand finance conceptually vs memorizing everything. To me this means that even if you don’t know the answer immediately, you should be able to reason and walk through your line of reasoning to reach the answer. For example, not everyone can tell you immediately the impact of Goodwill on the statements, but as long as you understand the rules, you can reason the answer (or something close enough to pass). Knowing finance is a good differentiator if you are not from a traditional major.
What was the “hook” that ultimately got you an offer?
I would like to think it was my charming good looks (kidding). Underlying that was the amount of networking and research I had done between my summer and recruiting. I KNEW what the job entailed, networked thoroughly, and could demonstrate my knowledge of the industry. If you do your homework beforehand, it will show.
What are you doing now?
I am currently a Vice President at Metalmark Capital, a middle market private equity firm focused on energy, healthcare and industrials, in New York City. After my two years of banking, I had worked for Greenhill Capital, the merchant banking arm of Greenhill & Co, as an energy and insurance associate. After two years of private equity, I decided to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School.
Our thanks to Jeremy & Key Takeaways
Exceptional emotional intelligence led to Jeremy earning his reputation as a Superstar Investment Banking Analyst, and his unwavering dedication to delivering outstanding work product kept it that way. Jeremy nurtured partnerships with his associates and thought first how to make their lives easier (and by extension, his own). Jeremy was also unafraid to ask questions, think of alternative solutions, and think of ways to improve the modeling/valuation processes a given deal or situation required.