7 Hours vs. 7 Seconds: Job Preparedness for MBA Students
It’s an all too familiar story.
It’s 1995, and I’m at Merrill Lynch. I find myself in the downtown office at 2:00 a.m. on a Thursday night staring at an Excel spreadsheet that doesn’t balance. I keep trying to solve the problem, calculating and recalculating. Nothing. I can’t find the discrepancy. Eventually, I give up and head home for a few hours of sleep. The following morning I enter my senior banker’s office with the unbalanced model. It takes him seven seconds to find the three mistakes that had stumped me for seven hours.
The beginning of my investment banking career at Merrill was plagued by experiences similar to the one above – seven of my hours versus seven of a senior banker’s seconds. While I didn’t know it at the time, these “rookie mistakes” eventually led me to creating Training The Street (TTS), a financial training provider for banks, corporations and MBA programs. I realized that despite the solid finance education I (and so many others who joined Wall Street firms each year) had, I lacked the practical skills needed to get the job done.
In some ways, I had it easier than today’s financial professionals. In the mid 90s, the M&A business was booming, and deals were getting done left and right. Bodies were needed. Today, with current unemployment levels at record highs, it has become increasingly important for applicants to be “desk ready” on day one. Students need to lose the “seven hour pace” before they start working.
Yes, business school is still absolutely critical to success, and I say that firsthand as someone who has taught finance as an adjunct professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC (Chapel Hill) since 2002. But the classroom is just the foundation.
To supplement the MBA experience, TTS teaches its students financial statement analysis, Excel best practices, financial modeling, corporate valuation, M&A analysis, restructuring and credit analysis, leveraged buyout analysis, investment management focused valuation, and private equity and finance interview preparation – all with a practical emphasis. We lead simulations and analyses of current transactions and situations (e.g. Groupon, Facebook, Neiman Marcus’ potential IPO, and Tiffany & Co.). Our instructors come from extensive financial backgrounds that include years of investment banking, equity research and private equity at firms like JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Texas Pacific Group, Goldman Sachs, UBS, and Citigroup. In addition, we have instructors that are current adjunct professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business.
Our seminars are now held in nearly 90 academic institutions around the world, notably 19 of the top 20 Bloomberg BusinessWeek ranked US MBA programs, to help students prepare for interviews, internships, and jobs.
In medicine, residents work with real patients. In aviation, pilots in training use flight simulators and fly smaller aircraft to work their way up to fly jets. The analogies are numerous, and the point is the same: hands on practical experience matters, and it matters in finance and the world of business.
Even with “desk ready” training, there will still be late nights and many days without sleep. But at least a young professional should be confident that those many hours are more productive and more value added.