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How Spandex and Spiderman costumes can land you a deal on Wall Street

Superman

If you want to work in M&A or underwriting, it’s important to recognize one thing. Despite all the pitchbooks, Excel spreadsheets and number crunching, they are, at heart, still sales jobs.

Now, of course, the managing director and vice presidents will be doing the client-facing, so you won’t feel the sales nature of the job most days. But nearly every big bank offers the same products, so landing a deal involves winning over a client.

The end result is the wining-and-dining of higher-ups by MDs and the occasional pandering from the troops during pitches, or bake-offs as they are often called.

The most well-known example involves the initial public offering of Lululemon Athletica seven years ago. The Wall Street Journal reported that several banks showed up at the meetings wearing “form-fitting yoga pants,” track suit tops and sneakers in an effort to impress the apparel company.

Imagine trotting across Manhattan wearing skintight spandex while preparing to pitch a billion-dollar deal? “It was pretty embarrassing, actually,” one banker told the Journal, acknowledging that they didn’t get any piece of the action.

The practice is not unique to one proposal or bank. One M&A banker who asked to remain anonymous told us that, while working on a potential deal with a different apparel company, the bank photo-shopped the heads of all the team members over shirtless models on a print ad.

In fact, photo-shopping appears to be a bit of a go-to move for bankers looking to win business. A separate investment banker told us that his firm worked on a pitch for Outback Steakhouse and they designed the book to look like a restaurant menu, with the team photo-shopped over pictures of happy diners and people riding kangaroos. There was also a Bloomin’ Onion pie chart, if you can believe it, he said.

Another recalls his bank working on a potential IPO for retailer Party City, where senior bankers dressed up as Superman, Spiderman and other superheroes.

So, if you want to work in investment banking, be good with numbers, have strong people skills and know how to get yourself out of a suit and into spandex and a cape during rush hour on a weekday.

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