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A Conversation with Edward Shen

Edward Shen is currently a 4th year in the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia. He previously interned at a boutique investment bank called TAP Advisors and will be joining Rothschild as a full-time investment banking analyst upon graduation.

In this interview, we get to take a deeper dive into Edward's exciting journey into Investment Banking.

Pranay: Welcome to this series we got going on! Excited to have you join us.

Edward: Thanks for having me, really excited for this!

Adam: Edward, let's cut to the chase. Chinese to Chinese, I can tell you all about the emphasis on hard work and prestige placed on my life growing up. What was it like on your end?

Edward: As a child of two Chinese immigrants, I think I had a very unique upbringing. Growing up, I played both the piano and cello pretty seriously. I took private lessons and participated in competitions at the local, state, and national level. From playing these two instruments and also picking up tennis later on, I learned about the importance of work ethic at a young age. I had to practice consistently every day in order to improve or even maintain my level. As I got older, I learned more about the difficult journey my parents took to go from being poor international students to becoming a professor and pharmaceutical scientist. Their journey inspires me to this day and further shows that anything can be possible with hard work and persistence. A quote from my favorite tennis player Roger Federer sums up the value I’ve learned from my upbringing: “There is no way around the hard work. Embrace it.”

Pranay: Work ethic is so important regardless of what you pursue. Beyond that what I see, is a need for direction. For the absolute longest time, I had a super shallow idea of what Finance truly entailed. I went into the major with barely an understanding of the stock market, forget technical financial statement items or even other asset classes. What did the start of your path look like?

Edward: Unlike a lot of kids who go into finance these days, I didn’t even know what investment banking was until the winter of my second year of college. I think I took a pretty round about path to find my passion for finance and investment banking. Back in high school, I pretty much followed the crowd (parents and classmates) in taking a variety of STEM classes and also didn’t really have the opportunity to explore the business world. While those STEM is interesting and very lucrative in its own way, I always felt that I didn’t want to be doing lab work and I had too weak of a stomach to be a doctor. In my senior year, I took AP economics and AP Statistics found that I was both interested in the subject matter and pretty good at it. These two courses gave me the desire to explore the field of business in college.

Now fast forward to my first semester of college, I took a class called Foundations of Commerce in which I first developed an interest for analyzing how different companies operate. We looked at a bunch of cases studies about both highly successful companies and unsuccessful companies that ended up going under. At the end of the day, it always came down to how each company was using the capital available to them and that is what finance professionals are responsible for. After seeing how impactful a career in finance could be, I joined a few of the investment clubs on campus where I got to look at a bunch of other companies and get exposure to the financial markets. I eventually discovered investment banking in the process of talking to upperclassman and felt that it was the perfect combination of my interests in both doing impactful work and looking at how different companies operate. Aside from those investment clubs, I was and still am very active in volunteering activities on campus and that further reinforced my interest in investment banking. After reflecting on the nature of the work in investment banking, I realized that it is also very similar to the volunteering work I enjoy doing. Instead of advising younger students or raising money for charity, investment bankers advise the management team of other companies on strategic transactions and capital raises that can totally change the company or even industry. That further showed the amount of impact I’d be able to make by starting my career in investment banking.

Adam: I was similarly late to the party, joining my business school only in my sophomore year after a slow start in the School of Engineering. How did you manage that?

Edward: Because of how long it took me to realize that I wanted to do investment banking, I fell behind the recruiting process in the spring of my second year. To catch up with my peers, I had to put in a lot more time and energy in a short period of time. By the early summer after my second year, I was on the same page as my peers. Unfortunately, despite doing everything I could, I was not able to land that coveted summer internship. I ended up having to settle for a summer analyst position at a smaller, lesser-known boutique investment bank. I knew I wanted to recruit again for full time even though I also knew it would be much harder to get a full-time analyst position. Over the next year, I spent a lot of time researching what the full-time recruiting process would be like so that once the summer of my third year came, I was ready for it. I felt that again, I was behind my peers as all they had to do was do well in their internship to receive a return offer. Meanwhile, I would have to both do well in my internship and find the extra time to network and prepare for interviews. Ultimately, my hard work did pay off and I was able to get that full time offer at a very reputable bank.

Pranay: Going through this process at a non-target is one thing. If anything, it's the norm to suddenly realize in late sophomore year that you want a front office finance job because there just isn't as much introduction to it unless you seek it out. However, you faced this at a target school, where you are constantly surrounded by students vaccuming up success from the first day of freshman year. What was being surrounded by that like when your own success came delayed?

Edward: After working so hard during my second-year summer but still not receiving that coveted summer analyst offer, I was just mentally broken. I saw that all of my friends and classmates got offers at these prestigious banks and felt that I was an inferior student. I lost so much confidence that I would be too afraid to speak and participate in class. There was a long way for me to go before I would get my confidence back and I have my parents, friends, and mentors to thank for their support throughout this process. After a few months of just feeling down, I was able to get back up again. I was able to turn those feelings of sadness into a force of motivation for me to keep going. I realized the best thing for me to do would be to continue working hard for good grades in school, which meant participating in class, so that I would still come across as a good candidate for full-time recruiting. An upperclassmen who went through full-time recruiting himself gave me some valuable advice: “for full-time recruiting, the banks will expect you to act like a young investment banker and not just a student, so you will definitely need to be confident.” Another piece of advice I got from a lot of people was just to focus on myself and not care about what everyone else thinks. I spent the rest of my third year building up my confidence and knowledge base so that when the time came to start my internship at the boutique firm, I was ready.

However, I encountered another bump in the road in the middle of the summer as I met up with a few of my classmates. Everyone was talking about their internships at these well-known banks and once again I felt inferior. To make matters worse, I also realized that I was putting in a lot more hours working at the lesser-known boutique firm than most of my peers. And even worse, when it was my turn to talk about my summer, people repeatedly asked me “where do you work again?” Even though they did not mean it in a bad way, it crushed me on the inside. Again, I turned that horrible feeling into a motivating force. Despite constantly having to work until 1-2am, I still had the motivation to stay up an extra few hours to schedule send my networking emails. The extra effort I put in ended up paying off once the full-time recruiting season started at the end of the summer. I was able to line up interviews with 6 firms who had not given me a chance during my internship recruiting season a year before.

During the interview season, I encountered yet another roadblock. During the first-round interview with one of the firms, I was only asked several very tough technical questions. Despite getting all of them right, I still got rejected. And throughout the interview, I could tell that the interviewer just didn’t care about what I had to say. I felt a bit hopeless after that rejection as that firm was my top choice. I continued to receive rejections after my next two interviews. I felt very discouraged at the time, but the support I got from my parents, friends, mentors, and even alumni at the firms that rejected me gave me the power to push on and once again turn my feelings into motivation. As a result of this perseverance, I was finally able to land a full time offer at a very nice and reputable firm.

Adam: Your story hits incredibly close to home and gives me chills every time. The crushing feeling of being a waste of time at an interview can honestly be debilitating. It was part of the reason I created GenUnion, because it's for moments like these we need our professional support system the most. That's the impact we wish to create. What kind of impact do you wish to create for the world, and what's the plan?

Edward: I want to be able to make an impact on both individuals and the world at large. At the individual level, I’d like to mentor younger students who are looking for a career in finance. I am very thankful for all of the help that I’ve received from upperclassmen, alumni, professors, and other mentors. The best way for me to pay it forward would be to help the next generation of students who are in the same position that I used to be in. On a larger scale, I’d like to make a positive impact on society both directly and indirectly. To start with, I plan to volunteer and donate money to charity and other causes that will help those in need. Furthermore, in contrast to what a lot of people believe, I think I’ll be in a good position to make a positive impact on society as a finance professional. Corporations supply the vast majority of the products and services we use every day, and they are at the forefront of improving lives. As an investment banker, I’d have the opportunity to work with these corporations and help them better serve consumers and the larger community. After a few years in investment banking, I plan to take a more active role and become an impact investor that only invests in socially responsible companies. This would allow me to further make the world a better place.

Pranay: Is there anything you are passionate about that you want to share with the world?

Edward: I think everyone interested in finance should look into impact investing. Impact investing is a strategy where you only invest in companies that have high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards. The field has been growing rapidly over the past few years and this growth is projected to continue, creating a historic investment opportunity. Many people assume that you’ll be sacrificing returns with this kind of strategy, but according to data from Blackrock, 81% of sustainable indexes outperformed standard benchmarks like the S&P 500 in 2020. Your returns will be just as high if not higher. By investing in socially responsible companies, we would have the opportunity to make a positive impact on society while also making a lot of money.

Pranay: As an ESG professional, I can talk about that all day. Really interested to see how ESG metrics become standardized in the future especially given recent SEC regulatory crackdown on greenwashing. Anyways, it was absolutely lovely having you.

Adam: Thank you so much for sharing intimate moments of your story, these are feelings we all feel in our processes that we want to make more normal to share!

Edward: Thank you so much folks, have a wonderful day!

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