Jean Greene didn’t set out to be an investment banker. Becoming a star on Broadway or a physician were her early career dreams. The thought of investment banking never crossed her mind until she arrived at Wellesley College and some older students introduced her to the idea. After getting her MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, in 1999 she landed at Lazard – one of the world’s preeminent financial advisory and asset management firms. Staying 18 years at one company is rare, but Jean has found investment banking at Lazard to be rewarding and supportive. It is a place where, she says, “Not only have I been allowed to be myself, I have been rewarded for being myself.”
Investment banking demystified
While investment banking can be a bit of a mystery to outsiders, Jean simplifies it as “helping clients to grow” – whether that involves buying other companies, or developing long-term financial strategies, or restructuring its balance sheet. Investment banking includes mergers and acquisitions (M&A) work, which can help companies become more profitable by becoming bigger or by slimming down through spinning off inefficient businesses.
At Lazard, Jean analyzes the impact to a company that is contemplating making an acquisition or selling off part of its business. “We help companies strategize about these decisions, helping them understand how the market will respond and how the transaction will impact shareholder value,” Jean explains. She primarily serves clients in the “industrials” sector – which comprise a huge portion of the overall economy and include companies in the automotive industry; aerospace and defense; chemicals; machinery and equipment; and non-consumer manufacturing, to name a few. Lazard is known for its discretion and avoids naming its clients, but the companies Jean advises are among the largest in the world.
Her role has evolved over the years, and she has been involved in areas that may not have been possible at a larger bank where siloes sometimes make it difficult to transition. For example, she was asked to take on Lazard’s investor relations for a period of time following the firm’s IPO in 2005. Today she is very involved in recruiting for Lazard in addition to her client work. If there is anything Jean has discovered after 18 years in investment banking, it is that she is “always learning and never bored.”
Shifting course: From Broadway to Wall Street
Jean did not dream of being an investment banker when she was young. “In my high school yearbook, I was voted most likely to be on Broadway,” she says. “I loved acting and musicals and started at college as pre-med.” Knowing nothing about investment banking, Jean says that when she arrived at Wellesley College, “all the seniors in the dorm were going through recruiting. They sat us down and told us we could go to medical school, law school or get jobs in investment banking or consulting.” With this as her introduction, she liked the idea of investment banking because it offered rigorous professional training programs for new graduates.
After graduating with a degree in Economics and French, Jean worked at Smith Barney (now Citi) where she excelled and got promoted quickly. After three years she decided to go for an MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School. “I had an amazing time at business school – it was like filling in the blanks of things I had learned on the job and didn’t understand,” says Jean. “It was a great two-year investment in myself and I learned about other paths. I had rich social and academic experiences, and met people from all over the world.”
There is a competitive advantage to being approachable
Post-MBA, Lazard hired Jean, and she has been there ever since. She uses her analytical and people skills in equal measure. “Whether I am number crunching or presenting to a board, there is a huge numbers component to what I do,” she says. But people skills are equally as important to her role. “Clients need to trust you and want to work with you. There is a competitive advantage to being an approachable person. The human element is big – and people don’t always think of investment bankers in this way.” Jean jokes that she often finds herself serving a role like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip – who dispensed advice alongside a sign that said, “The Doctor is In.” “My colleagues line up outside my door to ask for advice, both professional and personal,” she says.
Jean has also gotten the support to be herself and does not feel she had to change to meet pre-conceived perceptions of an investment banker. “I am approachable and really care about my colleagues and clients, and I haven’t had to become something that I am not. The Lazard culture is not pre-defined,” she explains.
There is opportunity for women in investment banking
Jean would like to see more women join the investment banking ranks. Investment bankers are known to keep grueling hours, and Jean admits flexibility can be a challenge when a client’s transaction is underway. But Jean believes investment banking is a great opportunity for women to develop professionally; an industry where they can be major contributors. “M&A is hugely rewarding, and we want women to serve our clients. Many of our clients have women in the C-suite and on their Boards so there is both a business need and a benefit to having diversity of thought,” she explains.
While it is not always easy to balance work and home life, Jean attributes her success to the support she has received since she joined Lazard. “I have 14-year-old twins and a 5-year-old. From Day One, the senior people I worked with cared about my development and wanted to see me succeed,” she says. “The key is to find an organization that supports you and wants you to succeed and gives you opportunities to do so.”
Jean’s top tips for young women in business school or just starting their careers
- “Don’t get too stressed about where you will be in five or 10 years. Find something that you think will help you grow and develop a set of skills. Sitting in college or in business school, your lens is pretty narrow, so find something that helps you widen that lens.”
- “You are smart and flexible – go somewhere that knows what to do with smart and flexible.”
- “Consulting and investment banking are good options. They help people develop real skills. I promise you that being an investment banking analyst for two years opens up a whole lot of doors because people will know you have been trained. It is like an entry-level job on steroids, and it will increase your opportunity set.”
- “It’s a crime more people don’t know about investment banking. You have to be comfortable with numbers, but not a math genius. You can be an English major, although you have to be totally cool with math at the same time.”
As for Jean, she may be the coolest investment banker we have ever met, and she demonstrates that it is possible to be both affable and hugely successful in a rewarding and demanding career.