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The Emotional Quotient of Investment Banking

To succeed, you need to use your heart as well as your head. After 40 years as an investment banker, Jim Runde shares how he used both to get ahead.

When Jim Runde started at Morgan Stanley, he was one of many smart recruits working hard to make an impression. Forty years later, Runde is ready to share how he became one of the firm’s top investment bankers. Although the finance industry has undergone an extraordinary transformation since he first joined the firm in 1974, Runde argues in his new book, “UnEQualed,” that the key to getting ahead and winning business has never changed.

“So many people come into investment banking thinking that all they need to stand out and get ahead is to be smart and work hard,” he says. “But everybody around you is smart and works hard. You need emotional intelligence (EQ)—the ability to monitor your own and other people’s emotions—and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. Without EQ, the likelihood is that you will be your firm’s 'best kept secret.' ”

Runde has mentored and advised countless new Morgan Stanley recruits on how to get ahead, midlevel bankers on how to win business from clients, and senior management about leadership. In “UnEQualed,” he lays bare his successes, as well as his mistakes, along the way to demonstrate the personality traits that bankers need to get promoted and win business. Below, he outlines the fundamentals for Associates to get their careers rolling. 

The Fundamentals

Adaptability, collegiality and empathy are three crucial traits required to form a solid foundation for EQ, he says. With those three attributes, you’re more likely to get the opportunities to network—and making sincere connections with people is the secret to success. “When serving clients, trust and likability are more powerful than having encyclopedic knowledge or knowing complex equations,“ Runde says. “If I missed a piece of business for a client, it wasn’t because the client didn’t know me or I wasn’t smart enough. I missed the business because the client never gave me a shot at answering the question.”

Adaptability

Being adaptable means having self-awareness, being able to take on new roles and rolling with the punches. “As you move up the corporate ladder, you will need to adapt to different roles and responsibilities,” he says. “What made you a great Associate will not make you a great Vice President. You have to adapt to continue advancing your career.”

Investment banking has its highs and lows. How you behave in both situations is important. If you miss a promotion or lose a deal, don’t have an outburst. Instead, try to stay calm and deal with disappointment as a professional, rather than as a victim. Don’t act as if you are entitled to a better piece of business or a more interesting job. When you’re just starting out, you need to build a reputation as someone who always gets things done and is always there to help the team.

Be optimistic. It’ll help you deal with bad news and will make a habit of persistence. People can always tell when you don’t have a positive attitude, Runde adds, and it’s possible that managers will be less forgiving of a mistake made by someone who doesn’t seem “all in” versus someone who is passionate, optimistic and always going the extra mile for the team.

Collaboration

Deals don’t get done without teamwork.  “With today’s complex deal structure, it’s very common for a deal team to include one or two people from up to eight different groups within a firm, so you have to be able to be collaborative,” says Runde.

Apart from the deal itself, putting the team’s success before your own will open you up to networking opportunities and new work experiences, which can help accelerate your move up the ranks. “Later on in your career, you’ll get opportunities that others don’t because they haven’t had your experiences, don’t know the number of people you do, or don’t have your reputation.”

Extending that collaborative mindset to your relationship with your manager will also help. Senior managers don't always clarify deadlines, so junior bankers have to ask for them and manage expectations. When overwhelmed by work, don’t try to power through it all at once—you could make mistakes. Discuss with your manager what you should prioritize. It’s better than asking for more time just before the project is due.

Empathy

The goal is to evolve your role in client relationships from a service provider to a trusted adviser, according to Runde.  “Experience has taught me that if a client tells me the problem, we have enough smart people working in a collaborative environment that we will always come up with a thoughtful response. The real challenge is getting the client to tell you the problem.”

That requires trust, and trust only develops if bankers can put themselves in the client’s shoes. That’s empathy. Runde developed empathy with clients by asking open-ended questions and listening to the answers.

 “Only when you and the client click on a personal level, and the client likes you, can you build real trust. Nearly all of the deals that I won during my career were because the client trusted and liked me.” 

Read more about Jim Runde's new book. 

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