BY BILLY GONZALEZ
Rather than take a law job, this summer I accepted a position in the mergers and acquisitions group at Merrill Lynch’s Investment Banking Division. I share below a few brief thoughts on the summer for those who may be entertaining the idea of a summer at an I-Bank:
1. The work is interesting and varied. As a summer associate, you are called on to do everything from financial modeling to document production to client services. At its best, the work is dynamic and exciting. In M&A, you are very often working with the highest tier of management on a day to day basis, dealing with information that has yet to be disclosed to the public that you will eventually read about on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. You are learning how companies can create value for shareholders in a variety of industries through acquisitions or divestitures, and you are learning the role that creative financing plays in companies’ strategies and in our economy.
At its worst, you are a powerpoint monkey, making sure that margins are correct, that there are no extra spaces anywhere in a document, and that all of the footnotes and numbers are formatted correctly. Reality is somewhere in the middle. I did my share of powerpoint iteration, but at the same time I gained a number of important skills, learned a variety of ways to look at a company to determine its value and fair market price and was privy to fascinating private discussions which went to the heart of the strategy of some of corporate America’s largest players.
2. The hours are hell. Even though this was the worst summer for M&A dealflow in over a decade, this did not translate into less work. Unlike on the legal side, where a firm only becomes involved when a deal goes live or is in later stages, bankers are busy pitching companies a barrage of new ideas in an effort to drum up work during “slow” times. This “pitch-work,” although creative, is often fruitless, and can demand as much time as a deal would – sometimes more.
My day started, on average, at about 9:30 a.m. when I would arrive at the office, and ended at around 1:00 a.m. when I would fall asleep in the company car provided for me on the way back to my apartment. I pulled four all-nighters, and only had a day off two times during my 10 weeks (one was a Saturday, the other was a Sunday). One upside to working long hours is that I spent very little on meals over the summer, since most of them were eaten in the office and paid for by the firm.
3. Making plans will frustrate you. Probably the most frustrating thing about banking is the complete inability to plan in advance, whether it be to meet friends or get a haircut. It was the norm that mornings would be relatively slow, with my superiors reviewing what I had prepared the evening before. As the day progressed, things would get busier, and just when I thought you had the day’s workload under control, a mountain of work would get piled on my desk at 6:30 p.m. The expectation was that it would be ready for review the next morning – there went my evening. A variation on that theme was often played by the staffing coordinator, who would wait until 6:00 p.m. on Friday to staff me on a few new assignments – there went my weekend.
Overall, I am happy with my summer experience. I feel like I received two summers’ worth of learning in one internship and gained valuable skills that will serve me well. For those interested in working at a bank over the summer, it is important to realize that you are not signing up to be wined and dined, but to get a fairly accurate picture of what it is like to work there full time – a good thing for people considering this demanding but rewarding career track.