DC Advisory's Tara Stowe shares her advice on how to succeed both personally and professionally within investment banking.
As a woman and mother working in investment banking and having come from a non-FS background, Tara and I had a lot to talk about during our recent conversation. Tara crushes many assumptions people may have about life in investment banking and clearly demonstrates it is possible to succeed both personally and professionally; read on to hear her journey and find out how.
Tara is currently an Associate Director at DC Advisory (a leading international mid-market investment bank offering tailored, independent advice on M&A, debt raisings and restructurings, private capital and access to unrivalled Asia investment knowledge) within the Financial Sponsors Coverage team in London.
Tara studied History of Art with Business at the University of Warwick before joining the two-year graduate rotation programme at UBS. She subsequently joined DC Advisory in 2014 as an Analyst 2 within the Financial Sponsors Coverage team and has worked her way up to her current position as AD within the team. Tara is an accomplished musician with a diploma in Music Performance and has spent time working as an intern at Christie’s Auction House and at the Paul Rafferty Gallery in France. She currently lives with her husband and young daughter, with their second baby due in the New Year.
Firstly Tara, please could you tell us a bit more about your current role at DC Advisory? What exactly does the European Financial Sponsors Coverage team do?
The Financial Sponsors Coverage team is the focus point for DC Advisory UK’s interaction with the private equity community and forms part of the origination function within the UK. We help private equity clients find deals that fit their investment strategy and realise value from their portfolio. The team has an exceptionally strong reputation within the mid-market, and holds relationships with all of the major European funds. The team supports all of DC Advisory UK’s sector specialist and product teams.
What kind of person suits a role in Financial Sponsor coverage?
Ultimately, for you to succeed in Financial Sponsor coverage, you need an interest in companies, in M&A and an interest in the overall picture. There is so much information to gather that it’s vital you have the ability to whittle down what is most interesting and relevant for the internal sector teams to focus their time.
Also, I think you’ve got have a fairly outgoing personality; if you love sitting at your computer all day working on excel it’s not going to do it for you. It’s about building relationships – the key thing for me is someone that can build relationships both internally and externally. The internal network is as important as your external in the role and ultimately EQ is very important. Sponsor coverage requires a different skill set than sitting in a sector team.
Obviously I like to think this, but we are very much at the heart of the organisation – the DC Advisory London office is completely open plan and we are physically in the centre. The job is all about connecting people and linking ideas together.
You studied History of Art with Business and clearly have an interest for the Arts. How did you end up working in investment banking?
When I was younger, I interned for a few summers within the Impressionist and Modern Art department at auction houses and it was there that I realised I was more interested in the corporate side of the business than the art specialism. Looking into those organisations I noticed a common theme that the majority of people at the top had City backgrounds and so realised that the best learning ground was going to be within finance. So that’s what led me to apply to the graduate programme at UBS. When I was nearing the end of this rotation, I wasn’t ready to go back into the art world so I started exploring various routes within investment banking. I received a call from a head-hunter who told me about the role at DC within sponsor coverage. I’d never really heard of sponsor coverage, and certainly not a role like this before; it’s done very differently at UBS - being a bulge bracket it’s more execution focused. DC is an international mid-market investment bank and this role was more focused on origination and business development – I've always been interested in learning about what companies do so this role really appealed to me. During the recruitment process, I got on really well with the team and was offered the role.
Your background is quite different from the stereotypical candidate going into finance. Did you find this in any way a disadvantage? And do you have any advice for someone coming into investment banking from a non-FS background?
It’s an interesting question as I neither found it an advantage nor a disadvantage. When I applied to UBS it wasn’t an issue because it was a grad-scheme so it was a very level playing field; you all had the same numerical tests and were all assessed in the same way. Having said that, when I joined DC I think the learning curve was tougher than it would have been for someone from a more traditional background. I had a genuine interest in the role and joined all the regular training programs that DC Advisory offered which I always found interesting. If you don’t have a background in FS it is definitely harder but it is not impossible. You have to put the time and effort into learning what other people perhaps already know.
In terms of advice, I worked extremely hard in my first year to hit the ground running and I would advise anyone coming from a non-FS background to be prepared to learn from anybody and everybody. I was very lucky that I ended up in an organisation like DC where the culture was so caring and kind - two words you don’t usually hear from investment banking. People from all levels would sit down with you, you could ask questions, and colleagues would spend time explaining things thoroughly and properly. Given my cross sector role I formed a lot of alliances across the floor which meant I have developed a great support system!
You said that you found DC to be a kind and caring place to work. Tell me more about the culture.
Culture is such an important thing to DC Advisory and I've found that it’s been of ever-increasing importance in the 6 years I’ve been here. Mental and physical health are both important and taken very seriously across the firm.
It’s quite amazing and very difficult to explain to people how forward-thinking DC is in terms of culture and everything that entails. That’s one of the most amazing things about DC; it’s that however junior you can instigate change. It goes from the smallest things all the way through and Richard [Madden, CEO] is quite a unique leader in this respect. Each grade has a quarterly meeting with him to chat through the positives and negatives and within an hour post the meeting (if the ideas are good!) they get actioned.
When you joined DC, who did you learn from most and did you have a mentor?
I was able to learn a lot from watching the two MDs in my team who had very different styles. I also sat next to other senior bankers who taught me the technical aspects of the role. I really used my peers too – they became good friends. I relied on them to help and to teach and I made sure whenever I could help them back I would, perhaps with IM reviews or if they were under pressure for a pitch I’d offer to take a few slides for them.
I had a good team structure that I could learn from, but in terms of a mentor – I actually chose one myself. How did that happen? I picked someone in a different team as it was helpful to have someone that had an exterior view of my team but who worked closely with us too. I felt that was important as they would understand how the dynamics of my team worked but at the same time be quite impartial. He was a great source of advice and was able to view a more holistic approach to my career..
Speaking of mentors, have you found that as you’ve grown personally as well as professionally over the last 6 years at DC, that your needs for a mentor have changed? And how much importance do you place on having mentors within the same business?
I think it is always helpful to have a few different people to be able to talk to whether you define them as a mentor or not. I have two mentors now within DC – as you get a bit more senior obviously so do they and this helps for a variety of reasons. It’s great to have people from your own organisation in a similar situation that do help guide you and advise, but it’s sometimes it’s not always possible to find the right person for each stage of your career so access to external organisations and networks can provide that. We hosted a “Women in M&A” event recently where we brought together a group of our female clients and women from our own business. In this case it was all about making sure we are giving women in our organisation an opportunity to network and it was interesting to hear other women’s advice on how they manage work and childcare.
I understand there are fewer female fee earners than men at DC and this is very much the case across investment banking. What are the company’s policies on diversity?
We acknowledge and try as hard as we can to increase our diversity, not just in terms of men and women but also people from ethnic minorities, different socio-economic backgrounds, education etc. DC has recently set up an International Diversity & Inclusion Committee to implement tangible changes across the business worldwide and create solutions to support a more diverse workforce moving forward.
It’s interesting what you say about diversity in backgrounds. Often CV’s, particularly at the junior level, look the same. How do you as an employer and team builder distinguish between very similar looking CVs?
I think a lot of those things now are a given – the academics, grades, some form of relevant experience. I think the thing that is always more interesting is that bit at the bottom of a CV that people include – hobbies, achievements, exciting experiences you’ve had. You get a real sense of the candidate’s personality and how it all links together. When you are employing somebody, you want to understand who they are on a personal level too.
You’ve mentioned the importance of having an outgoing personality. What emphasis do you place on networking and how important is this at the junior level?
Because of my background I did not have a ready-made network when I joined DC Advisory. My team and the people I worked with helped me build those initial networks and create those links from which everything branched out from. When I look back at my time at DC, I think my ability to build a network is one of the things that I'm proudest of. Having a vast array of contacts across clients, PE firms and competitors has been invaluable and it takes time to start to see the fruits of those relationships develop. I'm incredibly proud that I've built that up from scratch and think I'm proof that it’s perfectly possible for anyone to do.
Now as a mother and soon to be mum of two, how are you feeling about being a woman working in the city? The hours aren’t predictable and there are clearly extra challenges to face. How do you make it work and what support do you get from DC?
I take the view on most things that if you want to do it, you can make it work. But having said that, you have to do it with the right support in place. I think the flexibility comes from both sides – I get so much flexibility from DC but I do believe that in return I need to put in provisions so that I can be flexible too when needs be. It has to be give and take from both sides. I couldn’t ask for more from an organisation and that’s been one of the things that has surprised me and why I’ve stayed at DC and I don’t take it for granted. I love my job and I love my family, and I think it’s been wonderful to do both as well as I can.
Finally, what career advice would you like to share with young people coming into the market now?
Working with the right team for you is extremely important. I got incredibly lucky – when I went into the Financial Sponsors coverage team, I got two very well known and respected MDs to learn from and the most amazing AD; James was as harsh as he was kind. In those early years they taught me the lessons that made me the banker and worker that I am now and that’s invaluable. It comes down to finding the right organisation, the right team and the right people; then you will learn a lot and crucially it’s enjoyable as well as really interesting.
The final piece of advice I want to share is to be open to any opportunity that comes your way. Lots of graduates are looking for the “perfect” role. That may not exist. If you sit around waiting for something, you'll never find it, and you’ll never know if you don’t try. At the beginning of my job hunt I didn’t know how many roles there were in investment banking and M&A and as I've already said, I hadn’t even heard of sponsor coverage! Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where we can realistically plan things out long term; I think the effects of Covid-19 are going to change the world and we don’t even know the half of it, so being open to learning new things and taking chances is going to be crucial to managing our long term careers.
To find out more about DC Advisory please visit: https://www.dcadvisory.com/