Earlier this year, after ten years working for JPMorgan in New York, Mark Franczyk bit the bullet and quit investment banking to follow his passion and learn pastry arts. From banking to baking, from dealing to kneading, from spreadsheets to, um, stiff peaks. What makes his decision to leave all the more surprising, however, is that he grafted for years to make the switch from a back office role into the bank’s M&A division.
“I tried five times to quit, but there was always some cajoling from my managers – they don’t want me to miss out on the bonus pool, I wouldn’t earn as good money in other industries etc,” he tells us. “Senior people made a last ditch effort to keep me. My manager said that now more than ever people are leaving at an unbelievable rate, but they’re not going to Goldman, Morgan Stanley or Bank of America any more, they’re just jumping out of finance.”
Franczyk started out on JPMorgan’s now-defunct ‘internal consulting’ graduate scheme, a cross-functional programme that was axed shortly after he joined after being deemed an unnecessary expense. He ended up, by default rather than design, working in the bank’s back office, first as a product manager and then in its treasury and securities services business.
“Working in the back office was a great experience, but it didn’t provide the intensity I wanted. I had to start my own little multi-year plan to move to the front office,” he says.
The switch from operations to investment banking was always something of a Holy Grail, but in the era of cost-cutting it’s near impossible these days. Franczyk says that because he was a “known entity” to JPMorgan, they were willing to listen to his request – but there was a catch. After clawing his way up to assistant vice president over four years in the back office, he’d have to go through the JPMorgan’s analyst training programme and start all over again.
“I was the oldest in the class, but the advantage I had was that I knew how to navigate around a large financial institution and this enabled me to find the role I really wanted,” he says. This meant starting out in credit, moving into a coverage role and eventually ending up in equity capital markets.
Franczyk says the move into M&A conformed to the “worst extremes” of the long hours investment banking culture. He went from a 50-hour week in the back office to double this in advisory, and endured times when he “would not leave the office for a 72-hour period”. What’s more, even time out of the office never allowed him to switch off – “I would literally sleep with my Blackberry on my chest, so I could respond to emails as they came in,” he says.
The move out of finance into the food industry was down, to an extent, because he felt “fatigued” by investment banking, but he also says he didn’t want to look back in another ten years and realise he’d been tied into a high-paying banking career without ever at least trying to do something he loved.
Working in the food industry has many parallels with investment banking. From the outside, both maintain a ‘sexy’ image that continues to lure people towards them, but the realities of the jobs are often mundane and the hours are much more punishing than most believe when going into the industries.
“The thing about career switchers into the food industry is that they’re often more realistic about what the job entails,” says Franczyk. “We know that we’re going to be stood for hours in front of a hot stove – it’s not a sexy career and I’m not romanticising it.”
He has a financial safety net after years of decent bonuses, combined with long hours that “never give you the opportunity to spend the money”, and is using financial expertise he gained in banking to try and ensure that, longer term, it becomes a profitable switch.
He’s studying pastry arts at the International Culinary Center, putting in some shifts at the upmarket New York SoHo restaurant Costata and setting the groundwork for his own business, Outside of the Breadbox, which is currently a personal project that he hopes to turn into a commercial venture in the near future.
“I’m focusing on pastry because there’s a technical, even scientific, element to it, and it reminds me of working on a banking deal. You have to be really organised, run multiple timelines and be incredibly precise,” he says.
If all of this doesn’t work out, Franczyk hasn’t ruled out a return to investment banking. “I left on very good terms, there was no animosity and that’s really important because I value my time in investment banking, but it just didn’t excite me anymore. It would have been easy to say ‘screw you guys, I’m off to pursue my passion’, but it’s important to maintain relationships.”