This is a continuation of my earlier article on how to make it to the top of the tree in an investment bank. As I stated previously, making Managing Director is an art, not a science. But there are some things that will help you along the way.
Are you in a Managing Director seat?
If you are clearly MD material, a firm will usually find some way to promote you, although the timing may vary. The business unit you are in and your role within it can be instrumental to achieving your promotion, and to doing so in a timeframe that you deserve.
Some candidates get there by being immensely successful in a focussed technical role. They can have their place in the line up, although this may depend on the strength of their business contribution and the needs of that business at that point in time. Other candidates are highly versatile: people we can envision running the firm someday, or at least being a real contender. Whatever your route, make sure you are not only in a role in which you can excel, but one that can support (or, better yet, requires) MD level seniority. If a really good junior ED can do your job just as well as an MD, then you are probably not in the right role. MDs are too expensive to put into just any seat.
Joan was particularly good at executing investment banking deals, especially the complex and documentation intensive ones with many moving parts. However, Joan did not have a role in bringing in the business, and it was harder for her boss to argue her case when there were always fabulous business getters up for promotion. Furthermore, the execution team already had two MDs and it was unclear that a third was necessary for the business. Since the firm valued Joan’s contribution, she ultimately made it to MD. However, it took several years longer to get there than for colleagues who had the whole package including great business-generating results. That having been said, she is still there while some who were promoted sooner have come and gone, lacking the staying power she has had. She ended up running the group: sometimes quality wins out over speed.
Have you helped your boss make the case?
It is in your interest to make yourself easy to support. Find out what the promotion criteria are, and make people aware that you have these qualities in spades. While this is decidedly not a popularity contest, the system is usually far from stellar in providing perfect information, so handle your own PR. The more people who know who you are and what you can do (and have done), the easier it will be for your boss to successfully make your case to the people who decide.
Is your timing good?
It also matters what kind of year the business is having. When times are good, firms can afford to promote more people to MDs. In fact, more MDs are needed to run burgeoning books of business. In lean times, the cut off point is more stringent. The same may hold true for the specific business unit that you are in. Depending on the lay of the land and how strong a performer you are, patience may have to be your virtue.
Finally, know that making MD is only partly under your control. Do everything you can to excel in the job you have been given and to show that you are an obvious candidate. Then, as difficult as it is, let the chips fall where they may.