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Q&A: Anu Aiyengar, Managing Director, Mergers and Acquisitions, J.P. Morgan

Could you describe your career path?

I graduated from Smith College as a liberal arts major. I started my career working for American Express. While there, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to experience different areas of the business and work in different geographic locations. As a result, I became interested in trading, corporate finance, and banking, which led me to go to business school.

I knew I wanted to work in banking but wasn’t sure which area I liked the most, so I embarked on an exciting journey in which I made it my mission to speak to ten different Wall Street firms, and 20 people at each firm, to help determine where I wanted to work. I learned about different areas in banking, as well as my strengths and what I thought I’d enjoy doing. At the end of this process, I was convinced that I wanted to work in mergers and acquisitions. I joined J.P. Morgan, and have been here for the past ten years.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I have a calendar that I use to map out my schedule but usually the work I’m doing is different from that. You need to be comfortable with unpredictability. Every deal has a life of its own. And, these transactions are often the most important decisions facing a company and its management team.

I travel frequently for meetings, and also am on conference calls on a regular basis. I shift from one situation to another in a short time frame, and juggle multiple projects simultaneously. You could be in the early stages of a deal, talking to clients about their strategic alternatives, marketing, or presenting a company to potential buyers, or being on the buy side, doing valuations, looking at models, presenting to the board on bid strategy and tactics. Or, you could be in the middle of a deal, and be spending days in a lawyer’s office negotiating documents. We’re looking for the best ways to provide an analysis that’s easy to understand by the board. The board can then make informed decisions and explain their thinking to shareholders before they vote on whether to do a deal.

What advice do you have for an up-and-coming M&A professional?

I tell college students that working in mergers and acquisitions at J.P. Morgan is an investment in themselves. The firm has a tremendous training program, that makes every day here a rewarding one. In my ten years here, I’ve never seen a single analyst regret his or her decision to come here. You can grow and learn so much that regardless of what you do after the two-year program – be it joining the Peace Corps or a hedge fund – you’ll be a better, more qualified professional.

It’s important to learn more as much as you can about the business. Sites such as eFinancialCareers make it easier to do so. Attend career sessions when firms visit campus. Talk to people on the Street to get an understanding of what mergers and acquisitions is and talk to people at firms to help you decide if it’s right for you. It’ll give you a good idea of a firm’s culture too and help you determine where the best fit is.

It’s important to have an analytical mind and the ability to work in a high pressure environment. You must be able to multi-task, and have the attitude that you want to learn and be the best at what you do. The common theme in our group is that people take pride in what they do. It doesn’t matter that they’re here late trying to solve a problem because they have a passion for the work.

What are the most important skills for a career in M&A?

The skill requirements change over time. What attracted me to mergers and acquisitions is that there’s a good balance between corporate finance, accounting, legal elements, strategy and psychology.

Mergers and acquisitions is about people coming together and deciding that the company is better off doing the merger, sale, or acquisition than not. It’s a decision made by people and it involves a great deal of psychology. You can have the best ideas, but if you can’t convince someone to pursue that path then the deal is lost. You need to be able to make decision makers feel comfortable with making a significant decision that has implications for shareholders, employees and others.

To be successful, you need an analytical mindset and the emotional and intellectual resilience to work through transactions. You need to be able to communicate and think about what’s important to people, the significance of the decisions they are making and being able to help them make them.

What should people wanting to work in M&A be doing to prepare?

Investment banking requires you to be aware of what’s happening in the world – in economics, financial markets, regulation. Read Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and watch CNBC not because you have to, but because it interests you.

Also talk to people who are in the business. J.P. Morgan has a number of pre-internship programs for college students, such as the Winning Women program. It’s a program for undergraduate female students that encompasses all of our investment bank groups including corporate finance and sales and trading and helps give women insights into what a job in the investment bank is really like. Often women haven’t thought about a career in finance or think it may not be for them based on things they have read. We try to provide women with a sense of what the job really is.

We also have the Launching Leaders scholarship program aimed at attracting diverse students to J.P. Morgan. This is a talent business and the firm is committed to finding the best talent and part of that is helping people look at investment banking as a career. J.P. Morgan has internships programs for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. There’s still no better way to determine whether investment banking is right for you than an internship.

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