Muffie Benson-Perella (muffie AT dealbreaker.com) is an Associate in the Investment Banking Division of a "Bulge Bracket" bank. She holds a B.A. in French and Art from Vassar College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Her regular column "Heard in the Suite" is a probing (and, ahem, fictional) weekly look into the secret lives and behind the velvet curtains of the investment banking world.
Since my first few columns, several readers have asked me how in the world I got hired in the first place (just for the record, I know it is New York and everything but let's lighten up on the profanity in reader email going forward ok?) and one or two have asked how I got into a cushy spot like the Associate Ambassador program at my firm. Since everyone is so interested, I thought I would give everyone a little history.
I had interned summer of my first year at business school at one bulge bracket, but that was so dull I just couldn't try to work there after the summer. So I just applied to all the banks except Bank Bore. Luckily, my current employer has a lot of Harvard graduates working. Also, my father knows a lot of people here because he's done a lot of business with them over the years. It was almost a natural fit. But when I was interviewing for internships first year I met this one Associate from here who was really rude and tired all the time. I figured I really didn't want to work with anyone like that so I didn't bother to apply for an internship. But when I looked again after the first year for my permanent spot I found I already had a ready-made business network and family even while I was interviewing! That worked out nicely.
There was one guy from Wharton who did my third round interview. A "Managing Director." You're supposed to be scared of Managing Directors. He was giving me all sorts of tough questions about my commitment to the bank and telling me that sometimes new employees joined the bank just to take advantage of the training and experience they would get over the first two years before going somewhere else. He was being really rude.
Finally, I lied and told him that I couldn't get pregnant anyhow and so I had nothing to do but work. I was about to lie again and tell him I was a lesbian and wouldn't be distracted by a husband either, but my infertility comment turned him completely white and the rest of the interview was pretty sedate. I doubt he'd ever believe that I couldn't get married anyhow so it's probably better I didn't tell that lie.
My father was really pissed off when I told him. He got really mad and stormed into his office and started calling people left and right. He had given the bank a lot of money in fees, he said, and they owed me better than to send a Wharton asshole to my interview. I was sort of embarassed for the bank. If some of my father's friends knew what had gone on in my interview they'd be really embarassed.
Of course, I got the job.
Whatever that Wharton person thought, I wasn't at all looking forward to the "Training Program" that the bank I work for had in mind for me the first many weeks. I think you lose your individuality when you go though those kinds of things. It is like what the Marines try to do or something. Some dense state-college someone from Human Resources probably read a report on it somewhere and decided to make it "policy." Frankly, I think HR should be totally scrubbed. They cause nothing but problems. I supposed the training was sure to feel like business school class all over again and I really didn't have any intention of repeating that particular experience.
On the first day, one of the "guides" for our incoming associate class scolded us and told us we were going to meet the head of the division. Fifteen of us sat in a boardroom (they have really nice chairs in there, by the way) and listened to this really formal and somewhat humorless guy talk about how lucky we were to be working at the best financial institution in the world and that, though our hours were going to be long, the experience would be among the most rewarding of our lives. That sounded like as much sales talk to me. Then he started talking about the bank's clients. What a bunch of bores. Who wants to work on a debt issuance for a company that ships packages and who's corporate color is brown? He did mention some designer names I recognized, though, so maybe I will get to work on a project with one of those. As long as it is not Ann Taylor or something.
The next part of his talk was a real downer. I felt like I was being lectured by a school principal or something about the importance of hard work, long hours, and limited social life for the first 2 or 3 years. Just when it was getting to the point where I thought I had made a mistake even going into banking at all he started talking about the "Associate Ambassador" program. This is where they take some associates out of the normal work schedule and send them off around the country and to Europe to recruit the best business school students to the bank. Ambassadors were, he said, supposed to convey the pride and joy of working for the bank to new, incoming interns. It took a special kind of employee to be an Ambassador, he said. The challenge, he pointed out, was to keep the new interns from getting the impression that banking was just about hard work and long hours. I got the sense that he felt no one would want to join the bank if they knew about all the work. Banking was more than that. The Ambassador program sounded like a lot of fun to me, and I must have said so out loud because he stopped short in the middle of his sentence and looked right at me. So did the rest of the room.
"What is your name Miss?" I was supposed to be intimidated, I suppose.
"Muffie," I said.
"Muffie." He looked thoughtful after he said it. "Where are you from, Muffie?"
I told him Harvard.
"Well, Muffie from Harvard. You're definitely the girl for the job."
He actually said that. "You're definitely the girl for the job." Who says that? Anyhow, I ended up in the Ambassador program. It's really not that hard to shape your own career if you work your network a little bit and just be yourself. Investment Banks have this really "bad-boy" reputation but really they are pretty soft and creamy on the inside.