A financier’s dream career: I-banking

by Peter Frost

When Carlson School of Management graduate Marc Smookler chased after a job in the ultra-competitive investment banking industry, he knew his chances were slim.
“I had a very hard time. It was the most difficult time I’ve ever had in my life,” said Smookler.
His experience isn’t surprising, since breaking into investment banking, or I-banking as it’s casually referred to in financial circles, is next to impossible. Openings are scarce, competition is fierce and just about everyone working in or studying finance wants to get in on the action.
And for Midwestern students far removed from New York, the financial world’s epicenter, landing a job in investment banking is even more difficult. Most big-name, East Coast firms haven’t heard of the Carlson school and have little reverence for banking firms west of the Mississippi.
For this reason, Smookler speaks rather immodestly, having landed the job he so ardently sought as a corporate analyst at U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis: “I’m basically the creme de la creme of finance,” he said. “It’s the highest-paying finance job you can get with the most opportunity to make more and more money.”
Like Smookler, many Carlson school graduates struggle to squeeze their way into investment banking, usually unsuccessfully. Considering what the job involves, for some that might be for the best.
Newcomers put in 80 to 100 hours per week of grunt research work before they can consider moving up the ranks. Even in the higher echelons, in the oak paneled corner offices, it’s not all limousines and handshakes.
Unlike CEOs like Disney’s Michael Eisner or Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson, investment bankers don’t make big headlines. Instead, they work as behind-the-scenes movers and shakers, which makes the industry even more of an elite club.
Investment bankers engineer mergers, take companies through the process of issuing stocks and bonds, finance new businesses and manage many of the complicated deals that mold the world’s economic playing field.
Some of the more-notable East Coast investment banks are Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Bear Stearns, Chase Manhattan and a host of others.
Local firms include Dain Rauscher, Piper Jaffray, Edward Jones, Dougherty Summit Securities and U.S. Bancorp. But these local firms take on only a small fraction of the business handled by their coastal counterparts, which is part of the problem for Carlson school graduates.
“The bottom line is basically this: There aren’t many I-banking jobs in the whole country, not to mention Minneapolis,” said Rick Nelson, director of the undergraduate finance program.
Although Nelson noted that the finance program has placed a number of graduates in investment banking jobs, he said most of these firms in the Twin Cities are small, low-profile firms.
Nelson said that in order for a student with a bachelor’s degree to break into the field, they need to be very aggressive in their job search and exhaust every route of entry.
“Many of our students who have broken into the field do things like finance their own trip to New York to set up interviews,” Nelson said. Matt Kolling did just that.
Kolling, a 1999 Carlson school graduate, didn’t go for a job in Minneapolis, but went straight for the big-time job at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in New York.
Kolling, now an analyst, started working on July 6 and is already well-accustomed to gruelling work days.
“I’m at that point where I’m starting to feel really weird when I’m not at work. Even when I’m not there, I feel like I should be,” he said from his desk in Manhattan.
“Coming from Minnesota, it’s not easy getting a job out here at all,” Kolling said. “CSOM isn’t very highly regarded out here like Harvard, Wharton and Yale. Firms out here don’t really think much of the school at all.
“You have to try and convince the company that you are legit, and that the U of M is legit. That’s why the (interview) process is so thorough,” Kolling said.
All of the major firms that Kolling interviewed with on the East Coast checked his records all the way back to the main college entrance exams — the ACT and the SAT.
He had a 4.0 GPA, scored well-above average on his aptitude tests, was involved on campus and held three internships during his three years at the University.
Kolling said that all of the rigamarole was worth it since he’s gaining more valuable experience than is offered at any other job while making “between $60 and $100 thousand” a year.
“Investment banking is a job that, coming out of college, is just unparalleled,” he said. “After two years of working here, I can basically go out there and get any job at any firm that I want.”

Peter Frost covers business and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3215.