"If you want to make it to managing director on the trading floor, this is the secret"

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By now, most people will have received their bonus, and as a former managing director in sales at Nomura, this time of year always draws me back to awkward conversations I had with some of the people I managed.

When I handed the bonus envelope across to directors and VPs in my team, it wasn’t just the figure that was discussed. The first question on pretty much everyone’s lips was “Why wasn’t I promoted when I was one of your biggest producers?”

Now, let’s understand their motivations here. Many sales staff are not interested in a promotion because they have aspirations to be a good manager, but because they can earn more money in a bigger role. Herein lies the problem.

I was lucky enough to get a good mentor at an early stage of my career and listened to advice from senior sales and trading professionals. It boils down to this: promotion comes from helping others.

Selfish behaviour is being managed out. A few years ago I witnessed a “top” salesman in New York hold up a sign saying ‘it’s all about me’ every time he booked a big trade. We don’t see that extreme now, but rather obviously, banks like big producers, and they get paid the most based on what they bring in. But this doesn’t mean that they should be promoted into a management role.

I managed my sales teams by de-emphasizing sales credits. I had managers who didn’t like this – they accused me of paying too little attention to my sales credit budget and concentrating too hard on individual career development and generating long-term client trust.

Sales teams at investment banks are currently being decimated as an increasing number of firms concentrate their client focus on those who bring in the bulk of the business. Sales staff are already paranoid people and they protect their clients like a mother eagle guarding her nest.

If you want to make it up the ranks, I believe that sales staff need to ‘gift’ their clients to their colleagues. This, whether they like it or not, is what management is – the best leaders and mentors scale out their experiences to their reports. Clients win, the firm wins, and ultimately the individual wins.

Very few people in sales can bring themselves to do this. They feel like they’re risking their job and their mortgage in the belief that their management team is only looking at how much money they’re bringing in. Sadly, this is true where the senior ranks of banks are still looking at sales credits alone, but this has to change if we want to permanently change culture for good.

If you work in sales, your default behaviour is to be selfish. I’ve seen so many occasions where a salesman wouldn’t risk gifting a client to a colleague far better qualified to help them because they didn’t want to lose money. These were personal decisions,  probably driven by paranoia, when actually someone else would have made more money for the bank and better served the client.

Sales staff have to start being more selfless and believe that gifting clients to colleagues works. A lot of the CEOs and heads of HR I’ve reported to agree with me – they are the visionaries and, sadly, still in the minority. Giving up clients to focus on management might make you feel like a baby turtle heading for the sea, but if you want to make it to managing director, it’s what you have to do.

Chris Fleming is the former head of global markets EMEA sales at Nomura. He has held various senior positions including European head of interest rate sales at Royal Bank of Scotland and head of European government bond sales at UBS. Last year he launched mentorXchange, which is designed to put selfless mentors into a position where they can guide people and their company toward more rewarding, successful and satisfying careers. You can contact him at info@mentorexchange.co.uk

Image: Getty Images

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