May Special 2: I made associate
It was in the middle of a busy afternoon last November when I had back-to-back calls on a live transaction. After I just hung up on a colleague, my dealer board rung of an internal number from Paris.
“It’s Mai speaking. May I ask who’s calling?” I picked up the call while quickly jotting down the number on the dealer board, in case the call dropped and I needed to call the person back.
“It’s your business unit manager”, said she. “How are you?”
I was quite delighted to speak to her. “I’m very well, thank you. It is just a very busy afternoon. My apology I didn’t recognise your number. How are you?” I asked.
“I’m good, excellent indeed. No worries, I’m working from the Paris office today, so this isn’t my usual line. Mai, I wanted to call you to deliver a good news” She said with a hint of excitement. “Many congratulations, you have made associate. Your promotion is effective as of 1 August next year. You will receive a letter shortly in the post confirming the promotion in writing.”
I was not entirely in shock, yet a tingling and warm sensation spread across my face. My heart raced faster when I saw on my second line there was another important call I needed to pick up. “Thank you so much. I don’t know what to say but to thank you.” I enthused, glancing at my second line. “I wish I can discuss further but I am really sorry; I just have another call on my other line that I must take. Can I call you back in 5 minutes?”
“No worries, call me back only if you want to. I know how busy it must be." She continued "More details of the promotion will be on the letter. Your direct report managers will also be sitting down with you this afternoon to discuss the details and to answer any of your questions.” I could feel her smiling on the other end. “In any case, I’m just a call away if you need me. Many congratulations again!”
“My sincerest apology for the abrupt ending. I will get in touch,” I said, again noting down the number on the other line in case it dropped.
“No worries, speak soon”. She hung up while I picked up the other line “It’s Mai speaking. Sorry, I was on another call. How are you?”
That was how I knew of my promotion last November. I sit on this news for six months to determine if I have thoroughly understood such an opportunity that was given to me and what it meant to become, and be, an associate.
When I first started and asked “What is the difference between an analyst and an associate?”, one concise advice I received was:
“The quality of an analyst is determined by the questions she asks.
The quality of an associate is determined by the answers she gives.”
I have not recognised the truthfulness of this advice until I strived hard to become, and be, an associate. Over time, as I observe, make a mistake, learn from the mistake, get more feedback and repeat, I realise the difference between the two roles is evident in something so fundament – the title itself. An analyst analyses, an associate associates. It meant that while an analyst examines the facts, asks detailed questions to fully understand and determine the truth, an associate connects, coordinates and liaises to ensure the success of the entire process. Once I recognise of this difference, I aim to display the qualities of not only an excellent analyst but also an excellent associate, in my everyday interactions. In one of my previous posts a few years ago, I mentioned that if you want a promotion, you need to be that person long before the promotion is due. In my case, as I have practised being an associate for a long time before the promotion is due, the promotion did not come as a shock to the team nor myself.
There are two milestones in my career thus far that I’d not forget: firstly, the epiphany that I am now an investment banking analyst (as supposed to an intern) and secondly, the epiphany that I am now an investment banking associate (as supposed to an analyst).
The former happened in the first few weeks when I started on the desk. There was an initial transitional phase when I transitioned myself and got onboard onto all the on-going deals. A year earlier, I interned here on the same desks. Therefore, I was somewhat familiar with the people and the work. However, there was still a “floating” feeling in my mind in this transitional phase, when I just did what I was told and was not fully involved in everything that was on-going. One late afternoon on the day that my associate was out of the office, I received a call from another colleague in the other team we work with.
“Mai, I have a few comments for the memo on the email that <name> sent at 3. Can you take care of it?”, said he.
My mind went blank as I had never spoken to him before, nor known who he is, nor known to what deals he referred, nor know which email that was. I was panicking.
"Just give me one second please." I said in the calmest manner possible.
To avoid uttering of such panic, I quickly used an outlook shortcut key to find all the emails around 3. I do know his name from my dealer board, so I managed to look at his comments on the email chain.
“I can see your comments here from this email that <name> sent. I can do it. Can I take a deeper look and get back to you shortly with how long it’d take me approximately?” said I, withholding the panic.
“Coolio, not urgent”, said he. I did not feel my moments of relief after he hung up, as the epiphany hit me that I was not an intern anymore. I am an analyst, so I need to do more than what people tell me to do. When I am copied into any email, I am expected to have read it and take actions on it. I also need to take initiatives to complete whatever is necessary for the success of the tasks / transactions. I just managed to have dodged this bullet, yet it taught me a lesson to be involved, “on the ground”, and fully invested in all the transactions I am in.
The second epiphany was when I realised my duty as an associate, and no longer an analyst. It was after I made a mistake sending out an email with a wrong figure to a large number of really senior partners (who usually have over 25-30 years of experience at the firm). One of my colleagues waived at me: “Mai, do you have a second?” and asked me to follow him into a nearby meeting room.
I knew something was wrong; the level of panic arose inside me. In the meeting room, he said to me. “Mai, you are becoming an associate. You just make a mistake that could have been spared if you could spend a few more minutes checking. The email went to some really senior people in the firm. They probably make more revenue to the firm in a day than how much you and I earn in a year.”
“I am sorry” I utter. “I would do better next time”.
“Sorry does not help me. Sorry does not help us.” He said very calmly and I appreciate every word of his feedback. “Getting it right is helping me, and helping us.”
“I appreciate your feedback and I will make sure such carelessness like this never happens again,” I said.
“I am only saying this to help you. You become an associate by title; you still need to earn trust. You want to become someone that people like them or I can entirely rely on, and trust on your execution.” said he.
“I understand from what you are saying that I need to work on my reliability and gain trusts from people.” I reflect back to him to ensure we were on the same page.
“Yes,” He said. “Don’t get me wrong. You have been doing fantastic work so far, the team knows. I am telling you how to take it one step further. Every time event like this happen; it diminishes the trust level. You will need to try harder to then rebuild it. Not everyone gets the chance to say sorry. Just get it right the first time.”
I cannot be more grateful for feedback like this, which helps me improve substantially. From that moment on I know I am not an analyst anymore. The duty of an associate is to gain trusts from others. To liaise, coordinate and own some entire workstream is a matter of how much trusts others have placed in me.
I am truly blessed to be in a great team who nurtures me and helps me professionally develop since the moment I stepped in the firm. I very much like the firm for the fact that not only it has the best people who are passionate and know what they are doing, but also because those same individuals genuinely care that I do too. They invest in me. Promotion to associate is only the start, like an invitation to an event that I have not yet arrived. I still have a long way to learn more, make a mistake, get feedback and repeat.
Art work by Thu Phan - a friend and an incredible artist. Watercolor, 2014
As some of you may know, I am born on May 31st. Coincidentally and interestingly, May in French is also Mai. My parents had no idea of such coincidence when they named me.
“May special” is a series in May every year where I will commit to posting a blog every week on controversial topics in celebration of my birthday month. Embrace yourself for the upcoming exciting weekly posts.