Investment Banking Groups: The Legend Of UBS LA

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Despite my best efforts to convince prospective bankers out there that it’s your team that really matters rather than whether you’re in a “prestigious” group or not, people still ask questions about the “best groups” out there.

And one name that comes up repeatedly is UBS LA.

Just reading about the firm on the UBS LA Vault message board (the original posting has been taken down, so I removed the link) is enough to strike fear into the hearts of young wannabe bankers everywhere:

“This office is not for the light-hearted. Plan on working on average about 18 hours a day, 7 days a week… If you screw up on something, you can generally expect never to be staffed with that team again unless there is really a staffing crunch. This office is not that forgiving of mistakes and once you build a bad reputation, it will always stay with you.”

People obsessed with “ranking” the bulge brackets will usually say Goldman Sachs TMT (Technology, Media & Telecom) or Morgan Stanley M&A are the “best groups.”

But in years past, UBS LA has traditionally been #3.

Why is it so good?

Why do Analysts there work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week?

And why are mistakes punished by execution?

Rainmakers Supreme

More than location, it really comes down to making rain. And specifically, the Managing Directors who led the LA office.

Back in the days when large LBOs were actually happening (in the mid-2000’s, before the dark times and prior to the credit crunch of 2007 and financial crisis afterward), Ken Moelis, head of the LA office, brought in some of the biggest deals in the industry.

Univision, Harrah’s, Hilton, Adelphia, Petco, Albertsons – all giant LBOs that were among the biggest since KKR’s Nabisco buyout in 1987. And they were all UBS LA deals.

Other stars included Navid Mahmoodzadegan, Head of Media Investment Banking.

Dealmaker (a private equity and deal magazine) named Navid “Top Rainmaker” in 2006 and put him on the “Top 40 Under 40″ dealmakers in 2007.

He was part of many of the buyouts mentioned above and had big name clients, including Adelphia, Clear Channel, Liberty Corp., NBC, Susquehanna Media, Univision and Westwood One.

The bottom line: UBS LA was where many of the most significant deals of the 2000’s happened, and was superb for LBO and M&A experience.  Just working there could give you a golden private equity resume.

Then There Were The Analysts

I had friends who worked at UBS LA, and I can tell you that the Vault account above is no exaggeration.

Their lives were pretty miserable, and they suffered worse than most investment banking analysts. Things were bad, even by banking standards.

Some of the senior people were actually… crazy. As in, needed-medication-to-stay-sane-crazy. So it wasn’t a place you would want to go to for models and bottles.

The upside was that placement for UBS LA Analysts tended to be spectacular. Many of them went on to work at KKR, Blackstone, Apollo and other prestigious private equity firms and hedge funds.

You suffered a lot but could get an awesome job afterward (well, if you wanted to keep working 100 hours per week and earning an even bigger paycheck, that is).

The Rise And Fall Of The UBS LA Empire

If you are reading carefully, you have noticed how I keep referring to UBS LA in the past tense. What happened to this empire?

Moelis, Head of Banking and the LA office, left to form his own firm, Moelis & Company. And he brought many of his stars with him, including Navid Mahmoodzadegan.

There was a deep cultural divide between the UBS LA office and the conservative Switzerland UBS.

The LA office pursued every deal under the sun and always wanted to offer aggressive financing to get them done, but the parent company – conservative, European UBS – was very reluctant to use its balance sheet to get deals done.

Plus, the senior bankers realized they could make way more money on their own in this frothy market environment and saw little reason to stay there.

Ironically, of course, right after Moelis was formed, the financial crisis struck and deal activity took a nose-dive for years.

So Is UBS LA Still Good?

Yes, but not as “legendary” as it once was. If you have the chance to work there, by all means do so. Just don’t expect that it will be a sure-fire ticket into KKR.

Moelis & Company, on the other hand, is now known as one of the “elite boutiques” and has advised on tons of high-profile deals over the years.

So when the talent leaves the building, take a lesson and follow the rain-maker – not the firm that housed him.

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

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63 Comments to “Investment Banking Groups: The Legend Of UBS LA”

Comments

  1. Justin says

    Has Ken Moelis carried this rigorous environment over to his new firm?

    Applying to banking is like buying a lottery ticket…

    -Justin

    • says

      I have no idea what Moelis’ new firm is like actually… one friend had a chance to work there and turned it down because he said it would be “painful.” it’s definitely like buying a lottery ticket, though you can minimize risk if you can get into a firm like GS where they emphasize teamwork over stars.

  2. says

    Moelis leaving was huge. Still a great office with a good reputation. Of the three people I know who did analyst stints there 2 ended up at KKR in Menlo and 1 ended up a Apollo in LA. Yet, we all know that going to KKR after an analyst job is a bad move, i.e. terrible work environment and advancement opps. Lots of analysts at MS and GS turned them down this last year. KKR was one of the last big name PE shops to fill their associate class.

    • says

      Yeah it boggles my mind why people would actually want to go to KKR, what a waste of time/life. Heard they were really behind on recruiting a year or two ago so they’re starting earlier… though I’m sure Analysts will realize how much it sucks and still turn them down.

      • Gekko says

        Why would it suck to work for KKR – if you were ridiculously ambitious and willing to put in the hard work ?

        Also, you mention GS has a teamwork over stars culture…at which firm would you say (at least ‘the talk on the street’) that if you are a star – and work hard and do everything right – they regard that higher than at other firms and you can advance faster than at other BB Investment Banks on a firm by firm basis ?

        • says

          Because money is only valuable to the extent that you can use it to enjoy yourself. Do you want to work 80 hours a week until you’re 35 or 40 and your youth is already over?

          Honestly I’m not sure about firm-specific info. but maybe ask on WallStreetOasis – don’t think many firms are “star” culture anymore

  3. ikemen says

    can you tell me why you’re emphatic (“what a waste of time/life”) in saying that getting a KKR gig now is bad?

    i dont quite understand, i thought it’s way up there in the PE shop rankings?

    thanks!

    • says

      Hi there,

      Yes, KKR is up there in terms of PE rankings. But you also work 100 hours a week (AGAIN) and are basically an Excel jockey (again). And as Prince said above, the advancement opportunities are not too great there… they’ll generally work you as much as possible and then make you go to business school (at the minimum) to advance further.

      In general I believe mid-market PE shops, hedge funds and such are better for most people unless you really have no issues with spending your whole life working until the age of 30-35.

  4. Carl Icahn says

    If you need to work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week to be a success in life, you are pathetic. Enough said.

  5. PChao says

    Regarding some of the most prestigous groups such as GS TMT or MS M&A, what kind of students do these groups take?

    Is it necessary to go to an Ivy? or would getting something close to a 4 at a top public target (Cal-Haas or Michigan-Ross) give you a shot at interviewing your way in?

    • says

      Mostly top students from top schools, but you can get in coming from the places you mentioned… it’s all about your story and presentation, and a lot of these Ivy League 4.0 GPA-types suck at social skills and coming across well in interviews.

      • PChao says

        so would attending one of the schools i mentioned put you at a disadvantage? When you mention “target schools” I’m never sure if you mean just ivy’s or if it includes some of the top undergrad B-schools also…

        • says

          I mean you’d probably be better off at Wharton, Harvard, or Princeton, but I wouldn’t say they put you at a “disadvantage.” It’s just that statistically more people from those 3 tend to go into i-banking.

  6. Habib says

    Sure, I guess so. I’ve heard that KKR was slightly more prestigious on your resume (after all, you’re working for Henry Kravis). In either case, I guess working 100+ hour weeks through your 20s will make any future job seem like a vacation.

    • says

      It’s supposed to be one of the best groups on Wall Street – not sure about the culture but GS is more team-oriented than other banks. They have advised on most of the high-profile tech deals (MSFT/YHOO, etc.) over the years.

  7. Eduardo says

    Hey Brian,
    I am interviewing with a few BBs but have received a job offer to work for the UBS investment bank in Brazil. They sold their IB unit in Brazil to BTG pactual (after they had bought it and held it for only two years) during the financial crisis in 2008, but now they are trying to expand and become the main IB bank there. The Brazilian M&A market in 2010 increased 78% from 2009 and generated almost 100bi. Id rather stay in the U.S but I am afraid to let this opportunity go. Any thoughts? Much appreciated,
    Eduardo

  8. François says

    Hi Brian,

    I am a liberal arts student; however I have taken the time to do my own learning about finance, and I have gained finance experience through contacts both in a credit ratings agency (Fitch), and a hedge fund which specialised in corporate credit ($12b AUM). What groups would I be more suitable for/unsuitable for, and is it reasonable to aim for bulge bracket?

  9. Dima says

    Hey Brian,
    I have an offer from JPM and am wondering how you would rate the following departments in order of preference(from 1-7) in terms of most desirable (in all respects)

    Advisory UK
    Advisory EMEA
    LevFin
    DCM
    DCM Emerging Markets
    ECM
    Rating Advisory

    Thanks

    • says

      It depends on whether or not you bring in deals or not… it can be a bit quicker but don’t expect to reach the top in less than 10-15 years. See Exit Opportunities at the top of the page.

  10. Justin says

    What groups work out of the UBS LA office? Can a first year enter as a generalist or on rotation? I have a Real Estate background but dont want to limit myself in this job market to that group if they arent hiring.

    Thanks

    • says

      UBS LA was more prominent in 2004-2007 or so and not as much now. They do media, entertainment, gaming (casinos), maybe some real estate as well but again the office is much different from what it was at its peak.

  11. C says

    At what position can you say that you are an investment banker? At the analyst level? Also, is portfolio management still considered investment banking? Thanks!

  12. Lion says

    Any updates on how UBS LA is today (in 2011)?

    Do they still have that cachet/prestige or any at all?

    Are they placing people into top PE firms?

    • says

      UBS LA is OK but not the place that it once was since UBS has suffered so much since then. I would not pick it above the top banks these days. Some people do still get into good PE firms from there but it’s no longer considered one of the best offices.

  13. Vedat Konyali says

    Why there is no dates on articles and comments? It is impossible to folow/compare times and occurences.

    Vedat

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I don’t think posting dates on the articles/comments make much difference since the content is useful at all times. Perhaps Brian might have more to add on this front.

  14. College Kid says

    Have you ever heard anything about SunTrust Robinson Humphrey based out of Atlanta, GA? I’ve tried looking up more opinions about them but found other sources very inconclusive, the Vault ranked them #22 for overall banks. Just wondering if you guys have heard anything about them. Thanks!

    • says

      Yes they are a well-known regional bank there. I don’t think they have a huge presence in M&A / investment banking, at least not compared to other similarly sized banks, but might be wrong there. They’re not a bad option if you have an offer there, but you would probably do better somewhere that focuses more on IB.

      • College Kid says

        Yeah, everything I’ve heard is them being the “new kids on the block” as far as M&A/IB goes. But they have been aggressively hiring in the past couple of years which is pretty much the opposite of their competitors.

  15. Jo says

    What do you think about UBS NY (2013) nowadays? Obviously regarded as the weaker BBs now, but would you still take it over every MMs in terms of PE exit opp?

  16. John says

    Hi Brian,
    I have signed with BAML for the summer and will be heading for a placement day in April. I wanted to know which groups were the highest ranked in BAML on the Street and if you have any specific advice regarding the firm.

    Thanks,
    John

  17. DLJ LA says

    The legend of UBS LA is just that – a legend. Never lived up to the hype of DLJ LA. Btw, most of the deals quoted as Moelis deals at UBS LA were done by other banks. In an event, no longer relevant given the state of that office.

  18. GK says

    I am getting ready to finish my undergrad in Dec and looking to go into IB. What are some of the top banks for IB or boutiques in Atlanta that could potentially set me up for a better opportunity in NYC or LA in the future?

    Any answers greatly appreciated!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You may want to check out Cain Brothers & Company, LLC, Caymus Partners LLC, Eastdil Secured, Kurt Salmon. I believe they have offices in Atlanta and NYC or/and LA (or close to LA) and you may be able to ask for an internal transfer

      • GK says

        What would you think about IndustryPro? Its a small boutique based out of Atlanta but has other locations in other cities as well as china. Have you ever heard of it?

        Thanks,

  19. Tim says

    Brian,

    Im an undergrad at Bucknell University studying economics. I am making sure to take as many of the finance courses Bucknell has to offer as well. Is Bucknell a target school for bulge bracket banks?

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