Career Path: Merrill Lynch MD, Multi-Product Derivatives Sales
My banking career began when I came to Merrill in 1993 as an intern. I was a history major at the University of Michigan, so my financial market knowledge was limited at best when I arrived. A good and trusted friend had told me an internship on Wall Street would change my life and he was absolutely right!
The energy on the trading floor was what really piqued my interest. As a former athlete, the vigor of the floor suited me pretty well. I interned on the convertibles sales and trading desk, loved it, and after joining Merrill full time in 1994, spent the next 11 years there!
There were a few ups and downs during that time, and when I came back after the internship things were distinctly down. I'd been hired in a bull market, but in 1994 I came back to a very bad bear market. I was fresh out of college and scared to death - it was a tough market. Looking back now though, it was phenomenal timing: I got great exposure and more opportunity, sooner.
At the start I was an apprentice. I spent all my time watching and learning: there's no class to teach you how to become a salesperson, you just have to learn from the people around you. The desk was an eclectic mix of people, all very commercially focused, all very successful, but all very different. They were literally printing money, but they were doing it in very different ways.
For example, some salespeople were extremely aggressive: they wouldn't get off the phone until they had an order. Some were more strategy focused, and some just had unbelievably deep client relationships.
Did I adopt any particular style? If anything, I like to think I have a balanced approach: it's about providing consistent solid service, and making smarter calls. The industry is highly competitive and it's becoming much more difficult to stand out.
I started making my first client calls within the first year of joining. But nothing hit home quite like booking my first trade: an insurance company bought Waste Management bonds. I'd spent all that time listening to the other salespeople, learning about convertibles and taking exams, but suddenly I was doing it for real. It felt like something had clicked.
In the 11 years I spent on the converts desk I was promoted from analyst to managing director. At the end of the day, if you want to get ahead you need to be excellent at what you do and to offer real value added. You also need to be a leader in the firm, and to believe in the team. We definitely were an eclectic bunch, which was one of the real pleasures of working on the desk. We had very different backgrounds, but we worked well together, and were very successful.
Two months ago I was given a new position as head of the new Multi-Product Sales team. I'd let the firm know that I was interested in a leadership challenge, and I couldn't have asked for more. Our effort is one-stop shopping for institutional investors interested in searching for opportunities across all asset classes: we have experts in credit, convertibles, and equity derivatives. The individuals I work with are wonderful, we've been given great support from all areas of the firm and clients' reactions have been extremely positive..
Finding balance may be my biggest challenge. I am a wife and mother of two young boys. I have incredible support from my husband - my biggest supporter and best coach. Having a family and outside commitments helps me do my job better by providing valuable perspective.
What does it take to make it in sales? At the end of the day you need enthusiasm, a strong work ethic, opinions, and courage. This is a people business: you need to get someone over a hump and encourage them to make a decision that they would not have made without your help. No matter how smart and talented you are, at the end of the day you have to hustle. It's not easy to break into sales: the business is smarter, the competition is smarter, and the customers are smarter.