Brian O'Dwyer, SEAS '97
Please briefly describe your current position in more detail, including your responsibilities and job tasks:
I am a Vice President in the Investment Banking Department at Credit Suisse. I am based in Singapore and am responsible for leading teams in executing corporate finance transactions in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) across different industries. As an investment banker, I specialize in capital raising, mergers and acquisitions. I tirelessly analyze my client's businesses to develop a compelling story to sell to investors. I have raised billions for industrials and sold a $400 million stake in a startup space tourism company during the credit crisis and recently privatized an Indonesian steel producer through an IPO.
Our clients are companies (and sometimes governments). We execute two types of corporate finance transactions for our clients: capital raising and mergers and acquisitions.
•Capital raising: Provide clients with cash from investors. The cash is typically used to fund companies’ operations such as building a new factory. Examples of capital raising transactions include: initial public and follow-on equity offerings (IPOs and FOs), convertible bonds, investment grade and high yield bonds and bank loans.
•Mergers and acquisitions: Advise clients on buying, selling and combining different companies.
The tasks we perform include:
•Coordination: Organize teams of lawyers, accountants, bankers and client executives to draft legal agreements and regulatory filings such as a prospectus or an offering circular during drafting sessions.
•Analysis: Perform valuations, financial modeling, credit, capital structure and financial returns analysis.
•Due diligence: Conduct accounting, business, financial and regulatory due diligence.
•Communications: Prepare and present materials such as information memorandums and presentations for boards of directors, investor road-shows, internal review committees and solicitations (pitches).
Please briefly describe your career path, including the reasons behind job changes, since graduating from Columbia University:
After graduating from Columbia with a degree in Industrial Engineering in 1997, I joined the management consulting firm A.T. Kearney in Chicago because I wanted to apply the analytical problem solving techniques I developed at school to business situations in a team environment.
In consulting, I completed over 20 business strategy, operations, and financial management consulting engagements for clients in 10 different industries. I joined A.T. Kearney as a Business Analyst and was promoted first to Associate and then to Manager. At that point, a job after college had become a career. Although I enjoyed consulting, I wasn’t sure if it was a lifelong career.
After six years in consulting, I left for business school at Duke University. As a private pilot, an airline career was a dream. At Duke, I met with seven people who had interned with airlines during business school. However, six of the seven joined consulting firms or investment banks after graduation. I recognized the risk of a career in the bankruptcy prone airline industry and instead pursed investment banking, hoping to be a financial advisor to airlines.
After graduating with an MBA in finance in 2005, I joined Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) in New York as an Associate and rotated through the Restructuring Group and Energy Group during my first year. In 2006, I initiated a transfer from Credit Suisse’s New York office to the Chicago office which specialized in two areas I was interested in, industrials and airlines. In 2010, I again initiated a transfer from Chicago to my current position in Singapore.
How did your experiences at Columbia University (e.g., academic studies, extra-curricular activities, student groups) prepare you for your career?:
My Columbia experiences included taking courses in the engineering and business schools, significant leadership involvement in three campus organizations (community service, academic society and social fraternity), and on and off campus jobs. These prepared me to succeed after Columbia in the following ways:
•Balancing multiple things: I learned how to juggle the competing demands of school, extra-curricular organizations and part-time jobs.
•Analytical problem solving: Although I don’t face any engineering problems today, the engineering training I received at Columbia honed my analytical skills which have been instrumental to my success in both management consulting and investment banking.
•Working in diverse teams: Several of my classes and campus organizations required working collectively with a diverse set of people to achieve a common objective. This experience helped me to be effective in diverse teams, which is particularly valuable for working in emerging markets.
•Leadership: At Columbia, I took the Managerial Behavior and Corporate Strategy classes at the business school. These allowed me to learn about leadership theory in class and then apply it in extra-curricular organizations where the cost of failure was low. Learning to lead in this environment prepared me to motivate people who are not my direct reports. This has been useful in managing the many situations I face with shared resources such as cross-functional and cross-organizational teams.
What job resources (internships, summer opportunities, work experiences, or individuals) have influenced your career choice(s)?:
•People: During the fall of my first year, the engineering school offered weekly lunchtime lectures by alumni on their respective fields. After seeing a presentation by an alumnus at Mercer Management Consulting, I knew that consulting was for me. By conferring with a senior in one of my campus organizations, I discovered which major and classes would best prepare me for this field.
•Books: The Story of You: And How to Create a New One by Steve Chandler (broadens perspective and mindset in preparation for a career transition); In Transition: From the Harvard Business School Club of New York's Career Management Seminar by Mary Lindley Burton and Richard A. Wedemeyer (premier book on the topic – exercises and techniques require time and effort, but are extremely valuable to develop the self insight and strategy for an effective job search); Don't Send a Resume: And Other Contrarian Rules to Help Land a Great Job by Jeffrey J. Fox (quick read on a unique, effective, pro active job search tactic); How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (old book and simple read with many basic lessons for effective networking, a fundamental skill of any career move).
•Jobs / internships: As a first year, I was interested in law and was fortunate to work in the law library. After a few weeks observing students in the law library, it became obvious that I would be a better fit for a business career. As a sophomore, I benefited from Columbia’s location and secured a part-time job at Mercer Consulting in midtown where I worked until graduation and validated my interest in consulting.
•Columbia and Duke career offices: School career offices offer independent, pre-paid career advice. In my last career transition, the career office was not able to help me with specific information about the investment banking market in Southeast Asia. However, the office was able to direct me to two alumni that had made a similar move several years before which were very valuable resources. I also found presentations on career office websites that I downloaded and listened to while running (Build Your Unique Brand Identity featuring Laura Allen of 15 Second Pitch at Columbia and Working with an Executive Recruiter featuring Paula Weiner of Weiner & Associates at Duke were both extremely helpful).
•Classes: School provided additional insight into career choices. The case based strategy courses I took were a very good proxy for consulting work. My accounting and finance classes were very representative of the fundamentals required in investment banking.
What advice would you give to a Columbia student or graduate interested in your field?:
Use the BLADE approach to cut to the key elements of an effective career transition:
Be true to your self: Start with the self analysis to understand your preferences and what you have that banks will buy. Every interviewer will ask “why banking?” and “why you?” You need concise, thoughtful, 90 second responses which require self analysis. In Transition and Build Your Unique Brand Identity are good places to start.
Learn as much as you can: Read the investment banking guides from WetFeet and Vault. Attend campus presentations. Check out banks’ websites. Read an IPO prospectus from the SEC website. Take finance and accounting courses. You need to know the basics of how to value a company and the language of the industry.
Approach others for advice: Once you have done the research, approach people for advice on the field (friends, alumni, and relatives -anyone you can find). Validate what you learned on your own about the job and the lifestyle. This is also a good chance to practice your concise pitch (why banking, why you). Make sure to follow up with thank you notes as well as where you ended up. In the highly volatile investment banking industry you never know when or where you may need a contact or be able to return a favor.
Decide on the right plan for you: Using what you learned above, develop the right execution plan for you. A summer internship is ideal because it allows you to confirm your interest and understand better which bank or group would fit you. A direct job after graduation is also a good option. In some situations such as a poor economy, tight job market or getting into the recruiting process late, a stepping stone may be required. An accounting or finance job outside of investment banking or business school can be a first step. For example, several years at an audit firm plus an MBA can be a very effective combination.
Execute and evaluate: Follow through on your plan. After six to eight weeks of consistent two hour per day effort and contacting 50 people, evaluate your progress and don't be afraid to stay the course or modify as needed. Be mindful of market conditions, which you can't control, that require a stepping stone approach. Some markets such as Asia operate on a more just-in-time hiring basis and require more patience and persistence.
Bonus answer: other general career advice
1. GMAT: If you are thinking about business school, take that GMAT right after you graduate.
2. Always be fair, honest and respectful to other candidates: The world is smaller than you think. Fellow students you compete with for jobs today may be valuable contacts at other employers tomorrow when you need it most (especially if you are working at a firm that collapses suddenly like Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers).
3. Review your career options annually: Doesn't mean you do a search or interview, but consider your work and life happiness. Every 5 years or a big life change (marriage, children, etc.) do a major career review.
4. Invest the time to own your career: You spend a lot of time at work so it is in your personal interest to enjoy it. Too many people under invest time to manage their career and under optimize their career and happiness as a result. You can only optimize your career and work life balance if you own your career – it can’t be outsourced to a career office or executive recruiter.
5. Be vocal and patient: Your superiors won't be able to give you what you want unless they know what you want. You need to tell them at the right time in the right manner what is important to you (e.g. an overseas assignment), but you also need to be patient and give them time (can be several months or years).
6. Consider the inside job: An internal transfer can be easier to accomplish with lower risk for similar benefits.
7. “Flash” job search: Flash trading makes use of large numbers of small trades to make a big impact. Do the same with your job search. Break it down into little bits. Draft one bullet on a resume at a time while waiting for the subway. As an example, most of this document was drafted while standing in the Jakarta airport immigration line.