biology to finance

When I graduated from Duke University I proclaimed to myself that I had taken my last exam. No more studying, ever. And with a degree in Biology and Chemistry, I was making the very logical next step to enter investment banking. It was 2007, finance was still (momentarily) the rage, and ethanol was still slightly the rage and between some midwest connections and the tiniest of Venn diagram overlap between ethanol and my life sciences degrees, UBS Investment Bank deemed I was one of the right candidates for their largest analyst class, ever. In retrospect, that should have been a pretty good indicator to the top of the market / finance bubble. There were not even enough training desks for all of the analysts!

Thankfully by the time I actually got to the Chicago office most of the ethanol deals had gone the way of history and I focused on a mix of M&A and midwest coverage- getting the full spectrum of balance sheet and M&A strategy exposure. At first though, I totally fell on my face. My non-finance background proved a difficult transition into making M&A models, as my other classmates with more of a finance background raced ahead. I likely finished near the back end of my class my first year as an analyst and that was a difficult pill to swallow. But, over the course of that first year I had recognized my deficiencies and sought out some senior associates and directors to provide more direction: I admitted I needed to learn, and hunkered down.

And so, by my 14th month, my skill-level was growing at a near-vertical pace and I was the lead analytical resource in the midst of a 4 month M&A transaction working alongside one of those mentors. The deal had me in the office literally everyday for about 15-18 hours a day – with my curiosity, drive and fellow cubemates all helping me to get better. The hours were tough but it was a forming experience that ultimately earned me respect and a few more deals to learn from before my two years were up. The entire experience of growing professionally whilst outlasting every round of layoffs was a lesson I will never forget and I have some great mentors, friends (and a few grey hairs) to keep those lessons forefront.

And so, when I was looking at what to do next after my two years at UBS, two of the leading Managing Directors in the office went to bat for me and directed me to the XMS Capital team.

With XMS’ much more personal approach to advisory and (at times, co-investing) I was able to experience much greater alignment with the companies – and see to an even greater extent how the combination of relationships and hard word really do drive outsized returns for all parties. I was hooked. I was able to work across many industries: energy, technology, healthcare, retail (i even worked on starting up a music colliseum and surrounding mall). It was a great group of senior leadership at XMS that allowed their junior team to expand their scope – and I credit a lot of my fundamental business model learnings to them allowing junior staff to do much more analysis and engagement with the companies. Combining that enhanced engagement with access to those same leaders (at XMS and at the companies) to answer my myriad of questions and I really was getting a lesson in finance, strategy and growth execution.

And so, with only a year under my belt at XMS I thought I may stay forever but I had a nagging hunch that I needed to solve. More on that and why I chose to go to b-school next.