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Banker at the Top: Q&A with J.P. Morgan’s Jiandong Lu

Jiandong Lu, managing director, J.P. Morgan investment bank, China team, first joined the firm 10 years ago as an associate, before working her way up. Going into i-banking was a mid-career switch for Lu, who previously worked in the civil service and the insurance sector in Beijing.

Q: Was banking what you always envisioned yourself doing?

A: Not really. I first worked as a translator for the Chinese government for three years, before working as a senior representative at the John Hancock Life Insurance Company in Beijing for another five years.

I then decided to do my MBA at the Wharton School of Business in the US in 1999. My experience there gave me a different perspective on my career, as I didn’t have a particular career in mind then. On campus, I got to speak to investment bankers and it seemed like an interesting career option.

I did a lot of research and realised the job would give me a lot of exposure to different clients and sectors. It would also mean constant learning. So I decided to give it a try and was lucky enough to be offered a position with J.P. Morgan in 2001.

Q: What has the experience been like so far?

A: It’s been 10 years and I’m still very excited and enjoy the job a lot. I’m a people person, so I enjoy working with clients and developing close relationships with them.
I’m also results-driven so I like seeing results and closing deals – whether it’s IPOs or origination deals. [Lu was part of the team that led ZhengTong Auto’s US$500m Hong Kong IPO in December 2010. She has also worked on numerous M&A transactions for blue chip clients such as the Cosco Group.]

It’s also interesting to see how we add value to the clients. When you provide them with the right solutions, you see yourself having value in helping your client develop their business.

Q: What is your advice to women who want to become senior investment bankers?

A: First of all you need to make sure that you really like this job – whether it fits in with your interests and personality. Investment banking isn’t for everyone. You need to tough out the long hours and the challenges. There are also some sacrifices on your personal life and interests. Follow your heart because it’s only when you enjoy something that you realise it’s worth it.

Of course, family support is critical. I’m a mother of two boys, four and eight, and when they were younger, my parents and husband helped me a lot by looking after them. There were times as a junior banker when I would not see my children often because I was traveling all the time. Now I have better control of my time.

I think women, especially junior bankers, need to strike some kind of balance. While they shouldn’t push back work, they should share with their seniors the kind of issues they face. For instance they may need time to go to the gym or to spend time with their families.

Q: You were a junior resource manager for Asia Pacific (ex Japan and Australia) at one stage, what was your favorite question to ask candidates?

A: The question I always asked is “Why investment banking?”. I would expect the candidate to show me passion for the role. I also look out for candidates with leadership skills and who are hungry to learn. That’s something very critical.

Q: What’s an immediate turnoff for you?

A: We have always gone to Ivy League schools to recruit candidates. Some of them are really smart, but what’s a turnoff is when I meet candidates who talk big but can’t focus on the details.

At the end of the day, no matter how smart you are, as an entry-level banker you have to start with the basics: proof reading and pitch book formatting. These tasks seem trivial and tedious, requiring little intelligence, but you need to have the right attitude to start off in this industry.

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