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Q&A: Put your questions to a banker turned MBA student

Tully Helmer started an MBA at London Business School in 2006. Here, he answers our questions, and he’ll answer yours if you ask nicely…

Can you provide a brief history of your career?

I’ve only worked at one bank – Standard Bank, a South African firm. I worked in their international investment banking division in London after starting as a graduate in 2001 and going through a two-year rotation programme across their divisions. I settled in M&A and spent around three and a half years covering the metals and mining industries.

What made you decide to study an MBA?

Timing played a big part. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I knew that if I didn’t do it now I was never going to. I’d also reached a stage of my career at which I was interested in other areas of finance and I wanted to use the MBA to help make a transition to principal finance or private equity. Additionally, I also wanted the knowledge that comes from actually studying finance, accounting and strategy, the opportunity to network, and the ability to step back and take stock of my career.

What do you plan to do when the MBA finishes?

I’ll graduate this summer and following an internship last summer I already have a job offer to work in the Hong Kong-based equity capital markets business of a major European bank.

Why Hong Kong?

There are fantastic opportunities in Asia – the Chinese growth story, in particular, has a massive appeal. A lot of the mining work I did involved emerging markets, and I really enjoyed it. They are very dynamic, and there’s a feeling that you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before – it’s a world away from doing a deal in London.

What are your feelings about the state of the MBA hiring market?

My group has had a very successful summer – I can’t think of anyone who didn’t get the job they wanted following an internship. The bigger concern is for people who are graduating in 2009 and applying for summer roles at the moment. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that in 2006 65% of the LBS MBA class went into banking and consulting and in the difficult year of 2001 that only fell to 55%. It’s not as if banks and consulting firms will stop hiring MBAs – the cost benefit ratio is too compelling.

Want to ask Tully a question? Add a comment to the box below and he will be available to answer you between 17 December and 21 December.

Comments (19)

  1. Why dont you want to do ECM rather than M&A. Surely M&A would be highly suitable since you want to get into mining. Allot of deals would be expected in M&A rather than ECM, going forward.

  2. How can an MBA candidate stand out in the current market?

    Sergio, MBA Student Reply
  3. Hi Sergio,

    You need hooks to hang your hat on – if you’re an oil exploration geologist, apply to roles in energy investment banking; if you’ve spent a lot of time in Russia or Central Asia, apply for a coverage role in that region. The most important thing, however, is to build a credible story about your background that demonstrates what you can do to help a bank. Too often job applicants focus on what banks can do for them, rather than what they bring to the table.

  4. How much can you realistically expect to earn post MBA in a bank job?

  5. Hi Rom,

    My background is in M&A for the mining sector. Whilst there is consolidation in the sector at the moment, and thus a number of deals, I am looking to broaden my horizons post-MBA – both in terms of industry and product. ECM gives me both.

  6. Kro,

    For London Business School’s MBA Class of 2006, the average base salary in financial services (which includes investment banking, private equity, asset management and commercial banking) was 57,000 and the sign-on bonus was 17,000.

    Of course, however, the MBA is about much more than your exit salary. It’s a long-term investment.

  7. Tully,

    Of those that came from non banking backgrounds and wanted to move into banking, what proportion got summer internship offers and what proportion got actual full time offers. Is an MBA a realistic way for many to move into investment banking front office role (S&T, M&A, etc)


  8. Hi,

    An MBA from a leading school is a means to secure a job in investment banking, whatever your background.

    For example, 54% of London Business School MBA graduates who found full-time roles in finance in 2006 did not have a professional background in finance (19% came from consulting and 35% came from industry). In my class, people from many different walks of life have secured jobs in IB – from air force officers to civil engineers and IT consultants. In fact, the number of people who came from IB and are returning to it are in a small minority.

    Internship conversion ratios will differ from firm to firm. But, for more job statistics on recent London Business School graduates, including major recruiters, see the MBA 2006 Employment Report at:


  9. Hi Tully,

    thanks for your insights. I am currently pursuing an application for LBS 2008 intake. Given the way the markets are and the projected forecast, do you think now is a good time to start an MBA? Is it a realistic goal to move from a structured derivatives capital markets role to an investment banking/pe role post MBA?

    cheers, Max

  10. Tully,
    Thanks,seems a bit low after spending all that cash.

  11. Dear Tully,
    I am planning to do a MBA in next year, but the reason for me doing an mba is totally different to yours. Since graduating in 2004 i have been mainly employed in sales and marketing in industry and he reason i was planning to do mba was a change of career direction. I want to go into banking. Is it worthwhile going through with the mba and investing time and money for a change of sector.


  12. Hi Tully,
    When you said the most important thing is ask what you can do to the bank rather than what the bank can do for you. My question is, what was your argument when you joined the South African bank in 2001? What did you say you could do for them?

  13. Hi.. in todays volatile market.. do u approve of Short Straddles?

  14. lol man….no offence but why didnt you get yourself in an American Bank after the LBS? is it just another sad evidence that they don’t appreciate european MBA that much???

  15. Hi Max,

    I would be less concerned about future market conditions. It’s anyone’s guess what the state of the market will be like in two years. A more important question is whether you will get the most out of the MBA now or whether you will gain more from staying in the workforce for a longer.

    As for transitioning from markets to IBD, my classmates have demonstrated that it definitely can be done. PE, on the other hand, is far more difficult. Roles are scarce and from what I have seen, firms look for very specific skills and experience.

    Good luck with your application.

  16. Hi,

    There are many different motivations to pursue an MBA and plenty of London Business School students are career changers. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the majority of graduates that went into full-time finance roles in 2006 were career-changers and the same is true for those who chose to go into consulting.

    From my perspective, the MBA is worth it. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.

  17. Hi,

    I knew that emerging markets were a key aspect of my former employer’s business model.

    My undergraduate degree was in Political Science/Economy and I had done some work with a Russian angle to it. So, I pitched myself as having skills relevant to their emerging market business.

    Also, as a graduate without any experience or formal training in finance, I attempted to demonstrate that I would do whatever it took to climb the learning curve.

  18. In my opinion, the top US Business Schools do have stronger brand names than their European counterparts. But, ultimately it’s the individual that is hired, not the school.

    So, I don’t believe there is any systematic bias against London Business School graduates. Lehman Brothers, for example, hired more students from London Business School in 2007 than it did from Columbia, despite there are twice the number of students to choose from at Columbia.

    As for my choice, there isn’t much that separates the banks at the top of the revenue and league tables in Hong Kong, American and European both.

  19. what mba programmes are out there that require no prior qualifications…

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