I have a confession to make. Some of you who know me may already know but I feel like I should just come out with it already - I have a seedy and sordid past. Working late nights, most weekends, high on adrenaline and sleep-deprived, wining and dining in multi-Michelin starred restaurants with suits in the city...yes I used to be an investment banking analyst in my previous career. I enjoyed all the highs that came with the territory - the pay, bonuses, working with some of the sharpest and most interesting people while feeling like the cream of the crop. #SOBALLER
As much as I enjoyed the highs, I despised the lows too in my first few years in banking. Some of the directors were so desperate that they'd churn pitch book after pitch book chasing clients and make such mountains out of molehills over silly things like fonts (I'm not really sure it was the Times New Roman that was the dealbreaker...). Some of the clients were so difficult, demanding documents at 22:00 to be at their desk for 'first thing in the AM'. And of course, some colleagues...aaaah dog-eat-dog world. To add to that, piling on the pounds through over-indulging on Seamlessweb meals at my desk, and the general doom 'n' gloom of the sub-prime crisis and crash of the economy circa 2008 was just the pink Himalayan sea-salt on the wound.
However, it was through the lows where I gained not only the aforementioned llbs but also a set of invaluable transferable skills that I’ve applied to my start-up baking business, taking it from an online shop and building it up organically over 4 years to what it is today – an "award-winning patisserie and coffee shop in London" (I sometimes can't believe I can actually say that! AWARD-WINNING! YEAAAH!).
So here are the Six Skills and Life Lessons from Banking I am so grateful for:
1) Killer work ethic: Work like your job, bonus and life depends on it. Long nights number-crunching, formatting Excel models and PowerPoint presentations broke me and made me stronger. As a start-up, functioning while being sleep deprived is unavoidable. I got the important revenue-generating tasks done during the working day eg. the production and baking of the macarons, and I used the nights to get the even more important stuff done which did not necessarily warrant precious daylight hours but were vital in running a small business, such as VAT and tax returns, procurement, blogging, building the website etc. Work-life balance is a myth, and nothing quite dispels that myth as well as a career in investment banking.
2) Teamwork & Collaboration: Learning to work closely with various people is ingrained in banking culture and was the cornerstone in growing my business. It also taught me not to dump on support staff and take them for granted. As an analyst I remember being called back into the office one weekend to archive a lazy shopaholic associate’s emails as her inbox was too full of Net-a-Porter. Resentment aside, having learnt to put up with diva demands and dealing with nightmare colleagues has made me grow a thick skin and become tolerant to Gandhi-esque proportions which greatly helps in getting the best out of my team. Plus, I now have the privilege to pick my own team and can smell a diva from a mile!
3) Attention to Detail & Presentation: In a highly competitive marketplace, attention to detail and top-notch presentation could be what sets one apart from the rest. Churning out countless pitch books served to give me razor-sharp hawk eyes which I now use to scrutinise everything that leaves our kitchen. It has been especially helpful in attracting discerning corporate customers from banks and law firms as they appreciate the extra attention lavished on creating the perfect gifts for their clients and getting consistency spot on.
4) Work hard at working smart: Juggling multiple projects and observing tight deadlines are key skills which no analyst nor small business owner can do without. I found myself being my own graphics, marketing, finance, HR and operations team and being efficient has never been more important. It’s also worth reminding myself that there are no shortcuts in business…other than in Excel (Alt+Tab is still my favourite).
Easiest way to double efficiency? Work with two hands duh
5) Numbers don’t lie: With so much of myself vested in our business it is crucial to take an objective view to the numbers so as to not get carried away. Analysing trends and recognising our product margins helps identifying what’s commercially viable and what isn’t, despite how I may feel about a product personally. Ultimately, nothing prepares you better for numbers than banking!
6) Arrogance vs Confidence: OMG did I meet some arrogant banker types! When you've graduated from a good university, jumped through hoops and off cliffs at interviews and day-long assessment centres and secured a job at XYZ Investment Bank surrounded by others who have gone through the same you could very easily be drowning in your own awesome sauce kool aid going YEAAHHHH BOIII. Apart from potentially being blind-sided by delusion, arrogance puts people off and nobody likes a brag (award-winning, or not!). As a start-up I had to ditch the ego and become my own worst critic and let my confidence grow at its own comfortable pace along with experience, and I’ve still got a long way to grow yet.
So there you have it. My super dirty not-so-secret secret and my most useful lessons learnt. If you've had a similarly different career change I'd love to hear from you below!