Q&A with Nina Godiwalla, Author of Suits: A Woman on Wall Street

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In the book Suits: A Woman on Wall Street, author Nina Godiwalla provides harrowing details of her time as one of the few women and minority interns at JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, as well as her first year as an analyst at the latter. According to Godiwalla, the experience was one of overworked days and nights, broken up by expensive dinners and drinking sessions out with clients and co-workers.

The Wharton MBA grad left behind the world of investment banking and corporate marketing and planning to eventually start her company MindWorks. That firm provides, ironically, stress management and meditation training to individuals working at corporations and other professional organizations.

In this Q&A with eFinancialCareers, she offers up an insider's look at the intriguing, perplexing, and stress-ridden world of an analyst.

eFinancialCareers: The book opens with your very first days at JPMorgan's NYC offices, serving as an intern the summer after your freshman year at the University of Texas. While you sound prepared for the work, it's pretty clear that you felt like a fish out of water, given the old money and clubby atmosphere there. What was the experience like working with the mostly male, Ivy League, rich and well connected set? How did being a "Southern" and "middle-class" American woman from an immigrant family work for or against you?

Godiwalla: Being an outsider in this world was similar to walking into a cocktail party where you don't know anyone. It wasn't impossible to navigate; however, it took more effort. It often felt like I had to prove myself rather than get the benefit of the doubt.

eFinancialCareers: Later, you're mentored by senior-level minority professionals at Morgan Stanley, which would seem like a positive thing. But instead, you describe these mentors as rather negative people, offering nothing but provisos as to what not to do? What was that like?

Godiwalla: Many of the senior level minorities had good intentions of trying to look out for the next generation. However, they'd faced much harsher times and did their best to warn us about their experiences. At times, these warnings really felt daunting to someone who was fresh and eager to succeed.

eFinancialCareers: As the only woman in a group of 25 men, there was considerable pressure to work harder than your peers. You do mention the need to act like one of the boys, even when looking at obscene and disgusting images online. You also refer to certain bosses, given their sexist and ethnic slurs, as "lawsuits waiting to happen". Isn't it likely that the institutionalization of company ethics and codes has helped to improve this environment?

Godiwalla: After working at several different organizations, I've noticed that some companies are very diligent about implementing their corporate ethics and others aren't as good. It really depends on the company leadership and overall corporate culture. Even within a large company, it varies depending on your particular group and manager.

eFinancialCareers: Do you still keep in touch with any of the individuals who worked alongside of you? Did they stay in i-banking or provide you with any insight into their experiences? Was the attrition hirer for your female or minority friends?

Godiwalla: I'm still friends with many of the analysts who I worked with. The analyst program is known to have a hazing culture. Most people do it for two years to earn their tickets to the best business school and corporate jobs around the country, and they don't return to investment banking. The majority of my peers from the analyst program didn't return to banking. I also noticed that more of the men stayed in the finance industry than the women.

eFinancialCareers: You make it pretty clear that the unreasonable amount of face time and long-working hours, including routine overnighters, made it impossible for you to have normal relationships with family and friends. Is it possible that this sort of expectation will or has changed in investment banking? Why were the analysts afraid to complain?

Godiwalla: Part of the culture was to push yourself beyond your limits, which at times could be unreasonable and unrealistic. There was definitely a fear that if you said the workload was too much that others may think you couldn't handle it. Since most of the analysts were pretty eager to impress, often the motivation was the fear of what others would think of you.

eFinancialCareers: After Morgan Stanley, you went on to work in business development, strategy and marketing for a number of companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Oxygen Media, before finally founding your company MindWorks in 2009. What was the impetus for that entrepreneurial effort? Do you ever regret leaving the finance world, and what do you think you learned from your time there?

Godiwalla: I started MindWorks so I could work on something I was truly passionate about and create my own corporate culture. Work ethic and time management are two major things I learned in investment banking. Most importantly, I learned more about myself. Now, my definition of success is more balanced. Unlike before, happiness now plays a major factor. There's a certain threshold of money needed to keep me content and after that, there is a diminishing return.

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