“Everyone – no matter the role or the industry or the title – will have valuable knowledge and advice that can inform your path. I learned to put equal attention and energy into the conversations with folks that were sitting in roles I could never imagine myself working in as those who were working in my dream job. You never know what you’re going to learn and from who.”
February 3, 2022 | By Alina O’Brien
Thinking back, what led you to join BOW?
When I began freshman year, the concept of wanting to go into “business” was as vague and elusive as it sounds. It sounded like a great plan but I had absolutely no clue what it meant.
I learned about BOW from an upperclassmen friend. The club sounded appealing right off the bat - meet a bunch of smart, motivated women and learn more about how to get a job after graduation? No-brainer. Forming relationships with my new Duke peers, including upperclassmen with both Duke and internship experience, felt like the best way to determine what a career in “business” would mean for me.
Once I became a member, BOW’s structure proved to be its most valuable asset, with its emphasis on education and engagement. More than any other club on campus, BOW expects members to commit to meetings, engage with alumni speakers, and participate in workshops and mentorship. This structure is so effective as it requires energy and attention from a lot of overcommitted, high-achievers. Moreover, it forces you to open your ears and learn about different industries and roles, expanding your view of what might be possible after graduation.
I definitely got more out of BOW than I thought I would going in – the resources are endless, from the network of undergrads and alumni, to the hands-on workshops and info sessions, to the precedent it set for what a well-run student-led organization should look like.
What is your favorite Duke memory?
This is the most difficult question ever! I definitely cannot pick a favorite. Do I have to?
I’ve tried to write my answer to this 12 times and I just keep having flashbacks to making frozen bagel bites with my roommate in our Central Campus apartment, laughing way too loudly with my friends in the first floor of Perkins, LDOC (everything about it from sunrise to the last musical guest), and eating countless buffalo chicken wraps from the Loop (still haven’t found a substitute for it in NYC).
So yes, I refuse to pick a favorite.
What did you learn doing investment banking? How did IB help you move to NBCUniversal?
As an investment banking analyst, you’re thrown into an incredibly fast-paced environment and immediately asked to perform analyses that you’ve never heard of. It’s totally terrifying and presents a ginormous learning curve – both in financial knowledge but also in softer skills. How many questions can you ask before annoying your associate? How long do you spin your wheels before reaching out for more guidance? How do you budget your time when faced with multiple competing priorities and deadlines? Investment banking throws all of these questions and more at you, and to be honest, it can be really overwhelming.
Luckily for me, I was fortunate to have a really supportive team that was invested in my development and would take time to teach analysts rather than leave them struggling. I learned quickly that having thoughtful leaders and supportive colleagues could make or break your experience – not just in how much fun you have in the office, but in how much you learn and how comfortable you feel asking questions. Of course, I learned about M&A and valuation, excel shortcuts, and presentation-making, but I also learned how critical it is to be a collaborative teammate, to ask for constructive feedback from others, and to truly listen to that feedback without taking it personally.
I also learned in banking that it is actually possible to give more than 100% effort, but that it isn’t sustainable. My fellow analysts and I certainly built up an insane ability to push through work at 3 or 4 AM when we thought we had absolutely nothing left in the tank. But after a few days of that, you can see your work and your brainpower deteriorating. The best bosses will notice that and give you time to recuperate.
Can you tell us a bit about your day-to-day now?
My team – Corporate Strategy and Development – evaluates potential mergers, acquisitions, investments, and partnerships, in addition to tons of internally driven initiatives. Our work is always cross-portfolio, requiring us to work hand-in-hand with business unit experts. A lot of our time is spent meeting with different teams, understanding different perspectives on a topic, and utilizing that wide range of inputs to craft a cohesive analysis or recommendation.
Practically, that means we split our time pretty evenly across brainstorming sessions, team meetings, financial analysis, and presentation building. Everyone says “no two days are the same,” so I won’t say that, but I do appreciate that my job is a balance of different skills and responsibilities. The mix makes the job dynamic, collaborative, and fun.
What is the most difficult obstacle you have faced in your career?
Leaving banking after a year was a challenging decision to make because it went against the logical rule-follower in me. Investment banking is a really popular path taken by Duke students and is known for being a great two-year program to propel you into the business world. Emphasis on “two-year.” You’re really not supposed to leave early, and this structure disincentivizes people from pursuing corporate roles that hire as needed, and not every Summer in bulk.
When the opportunity came up for me to join NBCU’s Corporate Strategy team after just a year at Morgan Stanley, it was hard to trust that I knew myself and what was best for me better than anyone else did. Ultimately, it came down to me knowing that I had done my due diligence on the new industry and had spent ample time reflecting on what I wanted out of a next job, enough to take the leap into an unknown. In the end, I was really appreciative of my teammates at Morgan Stanley who, despite my leaving, were genuinely proud of and happy for me. It taught me that good colleagues and mentors will look out for you first as a person and then as a part of the team/company, not the other way around.
How did your experience with BOW influence where you are now?
My involvement with BOW taught me to always keep an open mind when it comes to careers and networking. As ambitious Duke students, we often tend to get laser-focused on our goal of the moment. Whether that’s a specific type of job or industry or level of seniority, it’s easy to have blinders on and miss opportunities to expand your knowledge and your network.
Everyone – no matter the role or the industry or the title – will have valuable knowledge and advice that can inform your path. I learned to put equal attention and energy into the conversations with folks that were sitting in roles I could never imagine myself working in as those who were working in my dream job. You never know what you’re going to learn and from who.
BOW is structured to help women to build their networks and learn about a variety of industries. I urge all current BOW members to open their minds and remember that every speaker that comes to campus or alum that offers their time is truly willing to connect with you and be a resource. Even if they are not doing the job you want today, hearing their story and perspective could be invaluable to you in the future. You’re in a very unique position to have endless access to an incredible network of women, so don’t take it for granted!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I feel very fortunate to be both challenged and supported every day in my job. The balance of being pushed to develop new skills, work on my weaknesses, and take on daunting responsibilities while also being backed by collaborative teammates is an epic combo that I hope will be true of my career in 5 (and 10, and 20) years.
Similarly, I am so lucky to have an incredible support system and people in my life that make me a better friend and person – I see myself as a better, smarter, more thoughtful person 5 years from now because of the influence they’ll continue to have on me.
I’ll also definitely still be using “it’s for work” as my excuse for watching far too much TV.