Ziad Awad is a man that you might want to get to know if you’re an investment banker looking for new opportunities in the Middle East. Having had close to 20 years’ experience in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, he joined consultancy Boardroom Metrics earlier this month and is in the process of building a bench of senior executives to share their expertise with various industries in the region.
He also runs his own boutique M&A advisory firm Awad Advisory and, as he outlines below, has some sage advice about carving out a number of different careers within the investment banking industry.
Why did you go into investment banking? How did you break in?
I was studying at ESSEC Business School in France and, as part of the three-year course, we had to undertake a compulsory long-term internship. At the time, I only had a Lebanese passport. This was 1992, I was 20 and had no prior work experience so employers were very reluctant to grant me a work visa, and I really struggled to find a position.
Then, at the last minute, I saw a job advertised for a two-month internship at Paribas, which involved helping set up an internal consulting and business development unit. Eric Busnel, (ESSEC alumni and now DCM MD with Credit Agricole), hired me, and one of the reasons I got the job was because it was so late in the year, almost everyone else at ESSEC had already secured an internship.
However, it was only short-term and, after two months, I explained that I needed to work for another four months. They showed me the trading floor – I instantly fell in love, and pushed really hard to get an internship in the fixed income sales division. Afterwards, they offered me another internship and a full-time position, but there was also a former Goldman Sachs trader working at Paribas, who recommended me to the firm. This was early days for Goldman in Europe, the internship program was quite unstructured and I had to convince them I was the right person for the job.
How did you do that?
The sheer power of my conviction. I was passionate about becoming a trader and when you have that on the inside, the confidence radiates out of you. They were right in picking me – I stayed at the bank for 13 years.
Why did you leave?
I hadn’t been in the same business area for all that time; I worked in trading for seven years, and then moved across to fixed income syndication, which I ran from 2004-2006, then I convinced them that I wanted to be in emerging markets and moved to Dubai to run Goldman’s debt capital markets operation here. However, once I was here – considering my relationships, Arabic language skills and the scarcity of talent here at the time – I was inundated with bigger job offers. Merrill Lynch offered me a role including much broader coverage responsibilities so I took it.
What are the prospects for those looking to enter investment banking industry now?
I think the worst is behind investment banking, but there’s no doubt it’s going through a generational shift which will result in it being less profitable, and less fun, than it was in the last 20 years. Funnily enough, my boss said exactly the same thing to me after the LTCM bankruptcy in 1998 when we had to postpone the GS IPO.
The public has spoken, though, and they don’t ever want to bail out the banks again. This means an increase in the cost of capital, and more conservative approach and therefore smaller profits and less fun. However, it’s still a good place for young people to learn discipline and product knowledge as well as being surrounded by smart people and being able to make a very good living.
Why move out of it?
The temptation to be my own boss, and shape a company around my own vision was a very exciting prospect. Also, I’ve always developed strong relationships with my clients and wanted to do more with them in ways the larger banks won’t get involved with – smaller deals, valuation or just a component of the M&A process, for example.
What was your biggest break?
The fundamental turning point was in the year 2000, after I’d been a trader for seven years. Being a trader is like being a footballer – you don’t meet many who stay in the job well into their 30s as people tend to burn out. Ed Eisler, who is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, asked me what I wanted to do when I was close to 30. Did I want to stay as a trader? Did I want a bigger job on the bond trading desk? Did I want to join his team in derivatives trading or do something on the capital markets side? Switching from trading to advisory is tough, so taking the role on the syndication desk and therefore starting an indirect route across to capital markets and M&A was a real break.
What do most traders end up doing?
In my peer group, which were some of the best traders of our generation at Goldman, most are now investing money for third-parties, either hedge funds or fund managers, or shifted into capital markets. Others have done something completely different and left financial services altogether.
Are you hiring for Boardroom Metrics?
We’re in expansion mode, but we’re not hiring per se. Instead, we’re bringing in a number of senior independent professionals – either as a freelancer or on a consultancy basis – to work with firms in the region. We already have the M&A expertise in Rindala Beydoun and myself, and financial institutions experience in our Canadian office, but we’re looking for energy and power experts, as well as healthcare, and coaching and training talent.
What would you advise someone to do before stepping into an interview with you?
Just be very clear about what you can and cannot do – be confident in your abilities and don’t try to be all things to all people. In this region in particular, people can exaggerate their capabilities.
What’s a surefire way NOT to get hired by you?
If there are any spelling or grammar mistakes in emails or CVs, I’ll delete them without replying.
What would you do if you weren’t working in finance?
When I was due to leave Lebanon, I wanted to go to California and study engineering so that I could eventually work in Silicon Valley. I was already at the time absolutely passionate about technology and its impact on the world, but in the end my late father persuaded me to go to the business school in France.
What do you do to relax?
I’m a sailor and practice the sport quite competitively. It’s the only time I switch off my phone, stop answering emails and checking social media.
Who do you most admire?
Master Yoda. Yes, I am a Star Wars geek.