Friday, November 14, 2008

Leaving New York Never Easy… (London Business School NYC Finance Trek)

(As published in the London Business School newsletter)

"In New York freedom looks like too many choices" - that's the opening line from U2's "New York".

My thoughts exactly and those of fifteen other London Business School MBA2010s on the NYC Finance Trek, as we boarded planes bound for JFK from Heathrow on the evening of October 22nd. The school's Career Services Office had helped us line up networking sessions with the six NYC investment banks. Over two days we would meet bankers and traders, and make choices that could determine our careers.

The prospect was exciting, making the plane ride feel less like crossing the Atlantic, and more like hopping on the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf. Just a few hours ago we were in a mad scramble - attending lectures and finishing assignments. A surreal feeling overcame me as I sunk into my airplane seat – was this the lifestyle that would define us? Fast-paced, impactful and intellectually stimulating yet stressful and at times stretching us beyond our abilities. Phew! I cracked open a textbook and started cramming for an upcoming Managerial Economics midterm, while casting a baleful eye on the fare that passed for in-flight programming.

A few hours later, and past midnight, we arrived jet-lagged in New York, and grabbing a few hours of sleep was top priority. In spite of the sleep deprivation, at seven thirty the next morning, we rendezvoused at a Starbucks outside Credit Suisse's office, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and looking, shall we say, quite purposeful in our dark suits. We were ushered into a conference room in the Credit Suisse building where we were warmly greeted by the recruiters who then introduced us to the bankers and traders from various industry groups and trading desks. We were surprised by the huge turnout of London Business School alumni, including several VPs and MDs on a busy Thursday morning. Networking was a free for all, and we asked questions about the bank, about the various roles and about more pressing matters such as the bank's response to the credit crisis.

Credit Suisse was followed by a quick cab ride to Citi's offices and an hour of Q&A with two post-MBA associates – one from industrials coverage and the other from derivatives. Next stop, Deutsche Bank on Wall Street. We were admittedly wowed by their offices and trading floor and the art in their hallways is exceptional. There was a large turnout of reps at all levels from various IBD departments and Sales and Trading. An MD from the Telecom Coverage Group gave us a short presentation. A networking session followed and the entire event lasted for two hours, more or less. Merrill Lynch wrapped up our day by hosting a fantastic cocktail reception at a restaurant at the World Financial Center. Once again, we made great connections who encouraged us to contact them as recruiting season approached. Later that evening we attended a trademark London Business School Sundowners event in the West Village and mingled with NYC area alumni.

Day Two was more of the same, with visits to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, and both firms lived up to their stellar reputations. This was the day after the Dow had hit one of its historical lows and we noted with interest that while reps from both firms pinpointed risk-management decisions that had gone awry, they also clearly articulated what the firms were doing to prevent a repeat crisis. We were impressed by the methodical sangfroid with which they approached the situation.

The last 48 hours had been eye-opening and we had learned more about the NYC banking sector and had evaluated the gaps in our recruiting strategies, doom and gloom notwithstanding. By Friday evening we were arguably beat. We said our good-byes to each other before heading our separate ways – some to see friends in New York, others to shopping trips. I for one boarded the Acela to Boston – excited to return home and see my friends so soon after having moved to London. I was listening to my iPod as I watched the receding skyline in the dusk from the other side of the East River. R.E.M.'s "Leaving New York" came up in the shuffle, immediately making me nostalgic as Michael Stipe's plaintive voice wailed "….. Leaving New York, never easy, I saw the light fading out!"

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