AUGUST 17, 2018 | BY SABRINA HAO AND COLE ZAHARRIS
Leighanne Oh is a second-year analyst at Jefferies in the healthcare investment banking group. She graduated from the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering in 2015 with a BSE in Biomedical Engineering and a Finance Minor. She then deferred her IB offer and continued her education by pursuing a Masters in Biomedical Engineering. During this time, she interned at GE Healthcare as an MRI manufacturing engineer. Over her time at Duke, Leighanne was a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium and Coca Cola Scholar, taught in Lebanon through DukeEngage, participated in the Energy Access Bass Connections program in Peru and Indonesia, and pursued research in genetic engineering and cancer immunotherapy, in addition to being involved in BOW and many other organizations. Leighanne currently resides in New York City.
We would love to hear about your experience as an engineer. Why did you go from investment banking to GE, and what made you switch back?
In undergrad, I started off as an econ major and then switched to biomedical engineering. Through BOW and different organizations, I found that finance was something I wanted to pursue as a career. I interned at Jefferies my junior year and knew I could come back to Jefferies after grad school. When I was in grad school, I wanted to take advantage of my summer as an engineer and work at a big firm like GE Healthcare. Therefore, I spent a summer at a factory in South Carolina as a manufacturing engineer focusing on MRIs, which is something that I concentrated in within my BME major. Being able to intern in this role gave me exposure to what engineering life was like, and at the time when I was doing my master’s thesis, it gave me more exposure to what earning a Ph.D. would be like. This helped confirm for me that the type of exposure of healthcare and work I wanted to do was not in just engineering or research but in finance. Being able to balance a marriage of these three different, but relevant experiences has helped me enjoy what I’m doing now as a healthcare investment banker.
Why did you join BOW, and how did it influence where you are now?
Actually, the first time I applied, I didn’t get in. I think the first time you do things, you sometimes fall in the trap of doing it just because other are. That was me the first time I applied to BOW. Once I didn’t get in, I took a step back to realize why I wanted to join and dedicate my time to an organization like BOW. I got involved during my sophomore year, and since then, the mentors and people who I met have guided me to where I am today and have been absolutely instrumental in my career.
I’ve learned that if something doesn’t work out the first time, it’s helpful to step back to realize certain things about what you want to do and more importantly, why. For example, I was a biomedical engineer in finance and the first time I joined Jefferies full-time, I was placed in FIG (financial institutions group). I only moved to the healthcare group recently, but since I’ve joined my new team, I find purpose and meaning to what I’m doing. My background and the path that I’ve taken has solidified my belief that there isn’t just one way to doing something, and when you take smaller and sometimes additional steps, you realize why you’re going a certain way in your career.
What are the most valuable skills you gained as an engineer, and how do you apply them to your current role?
You don’t have to be a biomedical engineer to work in healthcare investment banking. However, being a biomedical engineer allows me to speak a language that very few junior bankers in my group can offer. When I’m working with healthcare IT companies, I can talk about EHRs and what the largest technical barriers are for a company to become useable at more hospitals because I spent time writing software in grad school. When I’m working with a biotech company, I understand what’s going on with the drug and its unique chemical structure. I can say this for medical devices, healthcare services or any of the lateral groups in healthcare. Ultimately, I’m a total nerd about the healthcare space, and I’m proud that I have an engineering degree that I can use to enhance myself in my current career.
What advice do you have for BOW members trying to figure out what they want to do?
What I’ve taken from jumping around from econ to engineering to grad school and from moving from FIG to healthcare banking is that there isn’t just one step and one path. Yes, there are people who have gone a specific / typical path and that is amazing, but just because something doesn’t happen the first time doesn’t mean it can’t happen later. There isn’t just one way to get to your ultimate goal or career as long as you remember every move is just another step to get to where you want to go. Also, I want to encourage BOW members that if you’re confused or want to figure things out, talk to the alumni network. The BOW network is incredibly powerful and I definitely would not have gotten to where I am were it not for everybody who took the time out of their day to talk to me. When reaching out though, be strategic about who you’re talking to, what you want to ask, and what you want to gain out of the conversation. When I was a sophomore, I used to ask alumni questions that looking back now, probably wasn’t the best use of time for both the person and myself. People are always willing to help, but it’s your job to provide guidance so we as alumni know how to help you.
What is one thing you are trying to learn right now?
I’m learning to position myself in places where I can excel and set myself up for success. This comes with learning to work with the right people, reaching out to the right people, and working on the right deals. I want to take charge of my career and this is something that I’m constantly working on. All of this obviously comes with timing and luck, but when you’re proactive and express that you want certain things, when the opportunity comes, more people will think about you because you’ve done your homework. This is actually something all my female mentors in BOW, Jefferies, and life have taught me and reiterated – take charge of your career because if you don’t, nobody else will for you. These days, I think a lot about how I can make sure that I’m working with the right associates, VPs, and MDs. Who do I need to talk to? What can I be doing right now on my own? When the opportunity comes, I’ll be prepared.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have received?
I’ve always been told that your relationships with people are important. This has been important for me too and a valuable advice I received. To add a twist, I want to challenge those who are reading this to take it a step farther. Indeed, maintaining a good relationship with those who you work with and meet are important. However, the best advice I received from my favorite Managing Director, Owen A. May (MBA '83 Fuqua Board of Visitors) is that whatever job you have, no matter how much you’re making, you are never busy enough to be kind to those around you. Maintaining relationships for me is not just with people who you think can help you out later in life, it’s also with the people who clean your building to the people who work at your cafeteria. It’s also all the people who email you or want your help in recruiting. Sometimes people think they are too busy to talk to others such as their doorman. For me, it’s almost weird to believe that you don’t know the name of the guy who helps you with your door every day or picks up the trash in your office. Let’s just all be human and be kind people. This is something that I carry with me and that I live by.
What do you like to do in your free time?
It’s hard to find time when you’re working in finance, but when I can carve time out, I make a big effort to spend that time with my family. My family is my roots and my staple, my sound place and environment, and I do whatever I can to make sure that I’m spending time with them when I can. Even if it’s a 7 or 8-hour trip to North Carolina, which is where I’m from, or if I can even fly my family to New York for the weekend, it’s all important. I feel like I’m in a place of privilege right now where I can afford these things. If it’s not with my family, it’s bringing my friends over on a Sunday night and cooking and enjoying the time we can spend together.