Why this senior HSBC investment banker has just quit to run a cookie company

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Three months ago, as head of HSBC’s consumer group for the Americas, Luis Galeano was overseeing 30 investment bankers. Now, having quit banking to lead a New York cookie company, he leads a team of 175 people. And, yes, some of them are bakers.

Galeano left an 18-year investment banking career in June to become president and CEO of Cookies United, a New York-based bakery that makes everything from gourmet cookies to Minion-themed gingerbread houses.

He admits that it’s been a “huge change”. “In banking, your career is fairly narrow in that you interact with very smart and sophisticated colleagues who have very similar skill-sets to yours, and clients who are also very sophisticated and focused,” he says. “Now, I deal with sales, marketing, factory employees and plant operators. It’s much broader reality than investment banking.”

Galeano spent the last seven years at HSBC, as a managing director and head of its global consumer investment banking division in the U.S. He was also previously head of industrials for Macquarie in the Middle East and has worked for Lehman Brothers and J.P. Morgan since starting his banking career in 1999.

He tells us that Cookies United move is not as random as it appears. It came about as a result of meeting a number of people in the bakery sector during his time at HSBC when he was involved in the sale of muffin firm Uncle Wally’s, which was bought by Give & Go in February. This “personal relationship” eventually developed into a job offer.

Nonetheless, heading up a cookie company has meant Galeano has a lot to learn.

“Every day I come home exhausted, because of the amount of mental effort needed to try and understand and process new information,” he says. “The team has been really supportive, but there’s a tremendous amount to learn.”

Still, Galeano is used to handling pressure. Aside from close to 20 years toiling away in the demanding world of investment banking, the 2008 financial crisis threw up a big personal problem.

For much of his banking career, Galeano has worked in the U.S. However, towards the end of his tenure at Lehman Brothers he was offered the chance to move to Dubai. At the time, Lehman was planning on expanding its Middle East footprint, but Galeano arrived in the Gulf in September 2008 – just as the bank was going under.

“I was in a hotel room with my family surrounded by unpacked bags when I heard the news,” he says. “All our possessions were in a shipping container in the middle of the ocean. We had to decide whether to stay in Dubai without a job, or return to the U.S.”

In the end, he decided to make a fist of it in the Middle East, and took a job at Macquarie. He stayed for two years before, he says, former J.P. Morgan colleagues approached him about returning to Wall Street for the role at HSBC.

Whether you’re heading up an investment banking team or leading a company making baked goods, the key to success, says Galeano, is good relationships.

“In banking you’re a little isolated, but now I’m dealing with a variety of people and have an ability to affect change in a very significant way,” he says. “Being able to read people’s personalities and develop a meaningful relationship is the most important thing, whether that’s during an M&A deal or negotiating a contract with a supplier.”

Contact for news, tips and comments: pclarke@efinancialcareers.com

Image: Getty Images

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