So it seems the back office vs. front office discussion last week touched quite a few nerves. In addition to some interesting comments, I also received many stories of those who made the jump from back office to investment banking or trading.
I’ll go through 3 here: The Exception That Proves The Rule, The Banker Formerly Known As Quentin Tarantino and The Best Trader Ever.
The Exception That Proves The Rule
One reader who works at a private equity firm wrote in with the following story:
“One of our former interns took a compliance job at Goldman, and a few years later impressed the right person and made the jump to Goldman Sachs investment banking as an Analyst, advanced to Associate, and recently made another switch once again, moving into prop trading.
I’ve never heard of such a story happening before or since, so I think you could call this one “the exception that proves the rule.”
It’s similar to staff attorneys at law firms – theoretically, they can never become Associates and are therefore not eligible for Partner track. However, at a firm one of my partners worked at, a staff attorney actually became an Associate and eventually a Partner!
This was a one-in-a-thousand case, but these 2 stories show that it is possible – in both law and banking.”
1. If you want to move up from the “back office,” regardless of your industry, make sure you impress the right people.
2. Never say “never” even when everyone else says “never.”
3. There’s no one “path” you need to follow – no one really knows what they want to do, no matter how old they are.
The Banker Formerly Known As Quentin Tarantino
This might be my favorite back office to front office story. It concerns none other than Charles Chen, a Wharton student who was born in Taiwan, raised in the US and explored a career in…. film, before making the move to finance. Here’s his bio:
“Following graduation, Charles explored one of his passions – film – by assisting on a Pepsi spec and a documentary featured in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival. Realizing his preference for cinematic scholarship rather than production, Charles left the independent film scene for Deutsche Bank Securities, where he strengthened his understanding of bulge bracket operations as a Fixed Income Control Specialist.”
I love film too, so I see where he’s coming from. It would have been more amazing if he had worked in Deutsche Bank investment banking rather than in the back/middle office, but on the whole I’m still impressed.
“One year later, seeking more qualitative work, Charles joined Scura, Rise & Partners, a boutique merchant bank focusing on specialty finance, as an Analyst. Charles made an immediate and striking impact on the firm’s transactions in mergers and acquisition, capital raising and private equity, playing lead roles in the arrangement of two distressed real estate funds and the restructuring of a protective equipment maker.”
Aha. Keep this one in mind if you’re working in the back office at a large bank: he left for a boutique so that he could work in the front office.
Being Quentin Tarantino in a former life is cool, but knowing the right people (and going smaller) trumps your background.
“He also developed a taste for small business management by heading the firm’s recruiting and IT initiatives. For his efforts, Charles was rapidly promoted to the Associate position and entrusted with managing a small team of analysts.”
Another one of the virtues of boutiques: if you’re good, you can indeed move up quickly. I’m not sure what “rapidly” means, but I assume less than the standard 3 years.
1. If you’re switching careers, get into finance any way you can;
2. If you want to move from back office to front office, going to a smaller firm is often a good move; and
3. You really can break in from any background, even film-making.
The Best Trader Ever
Our last story of back office to front office success concerns none other than The Best Trader Ever.
Yes, that’s right – Jerome Kerviel of Société Générale.
Reading through his resume, we come to an astonishing finding: he rose up through the ranks of the back office to become a trader!
You’ll see he starts out in the “Middle Office – Referential Team” from 2000 to 2002 before moving to “Trader Assistant” in 2002-2004; from 2004 until the scandal, he was a real trader.
Note to readers: This is a terrible resume. Never list an objective, never write 2-3 word bullets, and never list “English” and “Microsoft Office” under “Skills.” Those are like listing “Proficient at Breathing Oxygen” under skills (obviously if your resume is not in English, then English is fine to list).
1. You don’t need a good, or even passable, resume to become a trader at Société Générale;
2. It’s much easier to move from a support role to a client-facing role in the world of trading; and
3. Traders who move up from the back office are likely to cause scandals that result in the loss of USD $7.1 billion.
(Kidding on the last one, of course.)