Investment Banking Career Advice from Vikram Pandit

Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup, gave the commencement speech at Wharton last week and offered up some nuggets of advice for those seeking an investment banking job and career in finance in general.

Pandit first outlined his own career path. How his important first career decision was determining what he really liked. It wasn’t being a doctor or engineer, like so many other smart, educated Indian students, though he first studied engineering. He switched to finance, earning a master’s then a Ph.D., but also found his passion for finance didn’t translate into teaching.

His second big career decision was to leave the comfort and security of academia and move all the way to Wall Street in 1983, to join Morgan Stanley. The company was small in those days, only 2,500 people, and still a private partnership. Which meant, in Pandit’s words, all the senior bankers still put their own money on the line every day, they had “skin in the game.” Their focus was serving clients as best they could.

“Bankers were hired for the long term—it was not a place to put in two years and move on. Hiring meant making a long-term commitment to an employee. There was an apprenticeship model of training. No one was ever left alone to sink or swim. Every process was collaborative. Yet we were also trusted, and given the freedom and responsibility to succeed without micromanagement,” Pandit said.

A succession of jobs at Morgan led to his next big career decision. Would he remain an individual producer, responsible for his own results, or would he take on the role of “producing the producers?” In other words, could he learn to groom and manage a team, and take pride in others’ achievements?

It’s a big decision for any mid-level banker. Managing people is much more complex than managing projects, says Pandit. But a lot more conducive to personal growth. Once again, he stepped out of his comfort zone and took the challenge.

Other key career decisions involved leaving Morgan Stanley when it was acquired by Dean Witter, because the company culture was changing from the entrepreneurial-based one he preferred. When a new firm he started was bought out by Citi, Pandit joined the bigger firm and eventually rose to the top job.

Pandit’s words of advice for young people seeking an investment banking job include: “Find your passion and follow it … choose the right company and culture … don’t fear leaving your comfort zone … have the courage of your convictions … and stay the course.” You can read the full interview at Business Insider or on the Citi web site.

What have been the catalysts for the momentous decisions in your career? Have you had to step outside your comfort zone to move things forward? Add your comments below.

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