Pivot from business manager to investment banker

It was 2009. The world economy tanked. At such a critical time in financial history, what compelled Wes Harrington, CFA (MBA11) to take the plunge into investment banking? An Iowa MBA, ranked #4 for finance in the world.

An MIT grad, he was a senior software consultant for a Boston-based firm out of college but had moved back to Iowa to run his family’s home-building business. Seven years of managing the business fueled his desire to become an investment banker.

But weighing heavily on his mind was the global financial crisis that had just spread from Wall Street to the Great Wall.

Read how his Iowa MBA skyrocketed his market value and put him on the financial map.

#1: Don’t let a crisis stand in your way

Iowa’s strength in finance attracted Wes the most. He wanted to dive into investment management, but having never taken a business or finance course, he spent some time figuring out if working at a stock exchange was the right fit. After consulting for clients, getting an internship and networking with industry professionals, he redirected his focus to investment banking.

“My timing of being at Tippie was right on the heels of the financial crisis,” Wes said. “I quickly calculated that investment banking is a big industry, it’s not going away, and there’s a place for me in there somewhere.

“As an investment banker, you get to work directly with companies who are your clients,” Wes continues. “Instead of working on the buy-side, making investment decisions, you’re advising clients and helping them execute transactions that are strategic and going to be really profitable for their businesses.”

#2: Prepare to get grilled

Before you even land a coveted spot on Tippie’s Henry Fund analyst team, you have to do the work upfront. You’ll evaluate a company, write an equity research report and recommend buy and sell stock options to a board of advisors who trade stocks for a living.

Wes spent an entire year studying the ins and outs of three stocks for Tippie’s award-winning $4.9 million student-managed stock portfolio. At the end of the semester, he faced off against advisors representing firms like Goldman Sachs and Principal Global Investors to defend his stock decisions.

“It’s a very intense day,” Wes says. “You’re standing up there alone with your recommendation in front of six to 10 very seasoned and intelligent investment professionals who are dealing with this for a living, day-to-day—and you have to hold your own. You have to defend your opinion. They’re going to grill you and ask some very tough questions. You’ve got to know your stuff.”

#3: Define your career path through work experience

Just a few weeks into the program, Wes struck up a conversation with AEGON reps at a Hawkeye football tailgate. He kept up this relationship with the global asset management provider, and while a Henry Fund analyst, he landed an eight-month portfolio management internship with AEGON.

“I was really trying to get a closer look at investment management as a career,” Wes said. “AEGON was the company, but I decided that investment banking would be a better fit for me.”

#4: Pass superday with flying colors

BMO Capital Markets, a leading financial services provider, was only targeting a closed pool of B-schools for its associate-level candidates—before Wes came along. A BMO recruiter, also a Tippie alum, was conducting on-campus interviews for undergrads when she convinced her company to interview several cream-of-the-crop Iowa MBAs. After running the gauntlet of interviews on superday, Wes beat out 19 other candidates for a full-time associate role.

And a year ago, he was promoted to vice president.

“I came into Tippie with a lot of work experience and some management experience. Tippie enhanced that and gave me skills that are helping me especially as I move up and take on more staffing responsibilities,” says Wes, who now manages the analyst and associate pool. “The softer business skills that you spend a lot of time on at Tippie became everyday tools for me.”

#5: Prep for CFA certification

Tippie is one of only 36 MBA programs in the nation to be named a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Program Partner. Our finance coursework covers over 70 percent of the CFA Program Candidate Body of Knowledge. That’s how after graduating, Wes was able to complete all three levels of the exam and earn an internationally recognized credential for investment and financial professionals.

“I’m very proud that I started my CFA at Tippie,” Wes said. “Our curriculum is designed to really prepare you for the exam.”