Most investment bankers are supremely focused on career advancement – their own. But Sherjan Husainie, a Hong Kong-based Canadian banker, takes a different approach.
Since 2010 he’s spent much of his spare time running a series of campus-based career workshops – now called the ‘Leaders Global Network’ – that help students break into investment banking and other hard-to-crack industries.
Husainie, an associate in the financial sponsors team at Morgan Stanley, moved to Hong Kong from the US in September last year and runs his day-long programmes at the University of Hong Kong and the National University of Singapore.
He also does plenty of long-haul travel – the workshops are held in London and in several North American campuses, including Berkeley, Harvard and UCLA. “I host them there because they have the resources, but anyone can attend. And they’re free, you pay a deposit which is refunded if you show up on time,” says Husainie.
The workshops teach students how to build their resume and train them for the technical and behavioural parts of interviews. Other topics include networking, cold calling, cover letters, and personal marketing – it’s all designed to give you what Husainie describes as a “cutting edge during the recruiting process”.
“A lot of people who attend want to know how to break into investment banking or another challenging industry from a non-mainstream background like mine,” explains Husainie.
The hard road into investment banking
Husainie's background provides him with an inspirational-style story that helps explain why he pulls hundreds of people to each event.
The son of Pakistani immigrants to Canada, Husainie began a degree in aerospace engineering in 2005 at the University of Toronto and completed internships at Ontario Power Generation and Accenture.
“I was at Accenture and went to a party for interns. A bunch of guys in sharp suits came in and I asked my friend who they were – ‘investment banking interns’ was his reply. I spoke to them and from then on I wanted to become an investment banker, but my friend said it was impossible – I was doing engineering, had average grades, and wasn’t at an Ivy League school.”
Husainie sought to prove him wrong. He first convinced his university to allow him to take some final-year business courses that pushed his overall grades high enough to land him a place on the MSc in Financial Engineering course at the UCLA Anderson School of Management in 2010.
“When I was at UCLA I hammered on doors to ask people – past grads and current students – about working in investment banking. But I kept getting rejected for internships; being a Master’s student, not an undergrad, was a big roadblock.”
While Husainie did eventually secure a summer internship at boutique Los Angeles advisory Corporate Finance Associates, the experience still wasn’t enough to excite the interest of larger US investment banks when he completed the course.
So Husainie changed tack. “I went home to Toronto as I thought it could get me a foot in the door. I was right – I got interviews with four of the five Canadian banks I applied to, and Bank of Montreal gave me an offer.”
On the strength of this offer Husainie returned to the US and reapplied to Houlihan Lokey. “I’d been trying to get in there for months, but they had no evidence that I was any good. Now that another bank was interested, they were open and I got a job at their LA office.”
Husainie still hadn’t fulfilled his real career ambition, however – to work in technology IBD at the dominant shop in that sector, Morgan Stanley’s Menlo Park office in the San Francisco Bay area.
“I started to contact people who worked at the firm via my UCLA alumni network, especially the most experienced ones as they can convince people lower down to hire you. One day I emailed an MD in New York who told me the West Coast tech group had a vacancy.”
Unfortunately, the interview fell right in the middle of an analyst training course at Houlihan in New York. “Going to the interview was the huge turning point of my career. I had to leave the training without notice and catch a flight to San Francisco. All day my team and HR were chasing me – I had live deals on. But if it’s an opportunity you really want, you have to take the risk.”
The gamble paid off and Husainie spent almost two years at Morgan Stanley before joining Google Capital, a unit of the tech giant that invests in late-stage companies, in 2013. “Google bases a lot of its hiring on data – it benchmarks you against thousands of people on its recruiting platform. But half of getting a job at Google is luck – getting the interviewers to like you and accept you as a fellow Googler.”
From Google to Hong Kong
At Google Capital Husainie focused on sourcing and investing in tech companies across Asia. “After almost two years there and numerous trips to Asia, I decided to move to Hong Kong and rejoin Morgan Stanley, but this time to help cover financial sponsors across Asia. While some people may think it strange to return to banking, I relished the chance to return and join a team where I could build expertise and regional relationships.”
“And working in Hong Kong is a great opportunity if you’re a banker. The business environment is fast paced – it's like New York, but way faster – and the city is great socially too.”
Husainie remains committed to organising Leaders from Hong Kong. “I fund most of the travel costs myself. But I think of it like a hobby on a large scale – if you’re into photography, you don’t mind paying for an expensive camera.”
Within Leaders, Husainie and his team also run a global mentoring network for students and young professionals called the ‘Leaders Candidate Program’. “It’s about finding good, fun people who are career minded but also have interesting lives outside of work and school. If you were travelling to Singapore, for example, you could look up people in the network and get together for a drink, or even tour the city together. Career building is about creating a community.”
Image credit: Tomwang112, iStock, Thinkstock