College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Important Site Links

Investment Bankers Offer Hopefuls a Glimpse of Chosen Career


Several of the best young investment bankers in the US along with their more senior brethren converged on Levis Faculty Center for an Investment Banking Employer Forum, co-sponsored by the Finance Club and Business Career Services.
They emerged out of a dimmed hallway and onto the event floor like hailed athletes, prompting questions from the student audience like “How can I get to where you guys are today?“ and “What attributes do employers look for when distinguishing a potential star?“ As evident from the panel discussion, the forum’s main focus went beyond stiff business jargon and dense job descriptions and was a conversation that highlighted the essential intangible characteristics of successful investment bankers.
Moderator David Ikenberry, professor and chair of the finance department, mediated the discussion. The panelists included: David Lewicki (economics ‘04), Merrill Lynch; Doug McConnel (finance ‘79), William Blair and Company; Mike Nichols, Goldman Sachs; Mark Padjen (finance ‘02), Credit Suisse First Boston; Jim Bertram (finance ‘89), Banc of America; Jeff Schmit and Leonard Caronia (finance ‘74, MBA ‘76), Cochran, Caronia, and Company; and Steve Santiago, Dresner Investment Services.
Jim Bertram, managing director of Banc of America’s food and beverage banking practice, described his ideal candidate for promotion as primarily trustworthy and curious: “He must earn the trust of your senior bankers and have a curiosity and thirst to learn.” Gwen Caronia, a 1975 U of I alumnus and partner at Cochran, Caronia, and Co., headquartered in Chicago, describes her young star investment banker as one who can communicate and garner respect: “It’s not how the person does the job, but whether or not the client listens to that person.”
Student queries included the concrete as well as the abstract. Concerns over whether or not an MBA is still a definite requirement for those hoping to go into the field of investment banking were raised by numerous hopefuls. “How valuable is an MBA (in the field of investment banking)?“ moderator David Ikenberry asked at one point, echoing a student’s question. “It’s still a right of passage,” responded Doug McConnel, differing from Jim Bertram’s opinion that an MBA is “not essential” for anyone hoping to get a foot in the door.
The discussion of successful investment banker material gradually shifted as the session progressed to a topic that might be more expected at an investment banking forum: investment banking talk. One student asked a far reaching question of Leonard Caronia: “How do hurricanes effect your future business?“ Caronia, whose firm specializes in property-casualty, life, and health industries, responded, “It’s actually very positive. Insurance companies hold their capital for tragedies. When big disasters hit, these companies make more money (prices go up afterward). Now that leaves us in a race to raise more and more new capital.”
And Caronia’s current challenge to raise capital, according to the panelists, is what is universally exciting about the investment banking vocation. McConnel articulated his love for the unique creative opportunities that investment banking offers: “It’s one of the only areas I felt you could use some creativity and get away with it.”
To Goldman Sach”s Mike Nichols, the challenge is continuous, “At my firm particularly, on any given day, you’ll see a multi-billion dollar deal of ours in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. Eventually I’m going to get to work on one of those and that’s what gets me going, the opportunities to be challenged and to see the fruit of your work.” Caronia expressed tersely, “It’s just fun.”
And that fun, not just the money, is what drives the focused investment banker. Said Steve Santiago, “If you’re in it for the money, you’ll learn quickly that you’re in it for the wrong reason and that reason won’t sustain you. When you have to be in the office at 6:00 a.m. after working thirteen or fifteen hours that Saturday, you really have to want to be an investment banker if you’re going to last in this field.”


–Michael Romain

UIUC College of Business