Culture & Wall Street: No Longer Just An Urban Legend

As investment banking becomes increasingly commoditized, the keys to ensuring a sustainable competitive advantage will be innovation and creativity, which in turn will be driven by attracting and retaining bright and motivated employees. Unfortunately, while investment banks have traditionally excelled at managing their financial capital, they have struggled with managing their human capital. But change is in the air replica watches. Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), where I worked for three years prior to HBS, has decided to take a more active role and afforded me the unique and exciting opportunity this summer to help them with improving culture in their investment banking division.

It all started over drinks with Managing Director Larry Lavine (HBS ’76). We had become friends while I worked at CSFB, and last November we discussed how beleaguered morale was all over Wall Street given the recent layoffs. CSFB, which had struggled along with the rest of the Street, was especially hard hit due to the merger integration with DLJ. Having taken my LEAD classes (too?) seriously, I claimed that there were obvious things CSFB could do to better motivate and nurture its employees, especially at the junior level. Larry challenged me to devote my summer internship to that very mission. Two weeks later (in the middle of Holidazzle!) Larry called to say he had spoken to the Head of Investment Banking, Bayo Ogunlesi (HBS ’78) //, and that the project was on.

Fueled by my excitement over joining the CSFB management team and having the opportunity for real impact, I began work over winter break. Larry and I recruited Gwen Evans, who has been with the firm since 1988, to join our team. I had met Gwen, an MD in the London M&A Group, when I spent my third year as an analyst in Frankfurt to be closer to my family. We had so much fun working together and we quickly became friends. I knew that Gwen would share Larry’s and my perspective on the importance of our project. In January we met with my LEAD Professor, Boris Groysberg, to help develop our action plan. We spent hours on weekly calls discussing our goals. I polled my sectionmates to find out what their previous employers had done to enhance morale, and I conducted a focus group with CSFB alumni on campus to ascertain where they saw room for improvement. By the time I hit my cubicle in June, I felt on track to recommend specific initiatives by the end of my ten week internship.

Fortunately, my task was made easier than initially anticipated as I found many CSFB employees committed to improving the lot of junior bankers. Everyone I contacted showed enthusiasm and support for my endeavors, including long time veterans, such as HBS recruiting captain Larry Hamdan (HBS ’88) and the COO of the LA office Pauline Boghosian (HBS ’92), who still remember the “spirit” that existed at CSFB or DLJ when they first joined and who remain committed to bringing this spirit back. In fact, the firm had sponsored two-day focus groups at the analyst, associate, vice president and director levels in the spring to brainstorm on improving the work environment. I had the privilege of listening to their results and was able to leverage their findings to further develop my recommendations.

Because we had front-loaded so much work and received such tremendous support from all ranks of the organization, Gwen and I were ready to present our ideas after five weeks. These included ten specific initiatives which fell broadly into “Building Better Bankers” and “Creating a Compelling Culture”. We wrote descriptions of the goals of each initiative as well as extremely detailed implementation plans – as I learned from my HBS cases, an idea is only as good as its execution. After presenting to the Head of Investment Banking and his team in mid-July and receiving the green light to implement most of our ideas, we devoted the next five weeks to tackling internal hurdles such as marketing to group heads, researching tax and legal implications and fine-tuning our cost assumptions.

While I won’t delve into the specific details of the programs (which are still being finalized internally), I will describe their goals in broad terms. On the career development front we addressed both short-term and long-term aspects. Our short-term efforts focused on designing tools to ensure that junior banker staffing would be better matched with development needs. Longer-term, we proposed the creation of a formalized system to help bankers transition into desired career roles and goals, including switching groups, geographies, divisions or even attaining jobs with CSFB clients, as well as gaining acceptance to business schools.
Furthermore, we suggested ways to cultivate increased franchise building. Wall Street bankers who energetically help attract, develop and retain the best employees (by being active on campuses, serving as mentors and culture carriers, organizing training, etc.) often go unrecognized for their hard work. We encouraged the introduction of mechanisms to track and reward such extraordinary behavior. Moreover, we stressed the importance of building the franchise by reaching out to former employees. CSFB has alumni all over the world and efforts are underway to re-connect with them.

Finally, we addressed the lack of interaction and communication among investment bankers that is so typical of Wall Street. On the work front, we recommended a series of measures to help teams communicate and coordinate better to reduce idle time and wasted work – an unfortunate aspect of the often inefficient process of bringing a client presentation to life. On a more social front, we recognized that firm-sponsored bonding between junior and senior bankers had become a victim of the recent focus on cost cutting. We designed creative ways to rejuvenate fun among colleagues.

After I presented the initiatives to the group heads, one of them said: “Wow, if we do all these things, I’d really like to work here!” To me, this affirmation of the ideas generated by my internship was the most rewarding aspect of my summer. I am grateful to CSFB for giving me the opportunity to design and execute this project and am inspired by the fact that the management team remains committed to improving the work environment for its junior bankers. As for me personally, my job offer from CSFB is as unique and progressive as my summer experience: they have asked me to “design” my management dream job and have committed to creating it for me!