Mark Howard has two very valuable career traits: talent and timing.
After 18 years of at Lehman Brothers, Howard, 47, jumped to Barclays Capital in 2004. Armed with his Lehman experience, MBA and CFA designations, he rose to co-head of global research and managed a team of 140 before stepping down in 2009.
Howard has spent most of his time since then serving as vice president of the Fixed Income Analyst Society and helping out the board of trustees at his alma mater, Colby College.
Now, he is getting back in the game. Howard inked a deal last week to join BNP Paribas as the new head of U.S. credit research and strategy.
FINS spoke with him about how he handles stress, why he only checks e-mail three times a day and how to stay relevant in a recession.
Kyle Stock: What was your first big break?
Mark Howard: Outside of my control, there was a big boom in LBOs and event risk in the late '80s so the demand for the stuff I was doing went way up and I happened to be there at the right time. Hot on the heels of that came the big recession of 1990, 1991 and for very different reasons, the demand for credit analysts shot up again. I happened to be a young hungry buck at the time in the right place.
KS: How important were mentors for your career?
MH: I think of mentors in a couple ways. There are skill mentors and then there are leadership mentors and they're not always the same. Joan Burns, my first boss, taught me an awful lot about financial statement analysis. Second was Glenn Reynolds, now CEO of CreditSights. He was an excruciating task-master, but also an incredible credit analyst. Lastly Jack Malvey, who was kind of the overall fixed income strategist at Lehman.
KS: How about on the leadership side?
MH: Martha Dumont, who was head of fixed income research at Lehman. We had a similar background. She grew up in New England and went to a small liberal arts school and taught me a lot about how to carry oneself professionally -- how to listen, but also how to influence people.
There was also my trading boss Bart McDade, who went on to become president of Lehman. He was just an incredibly strong leader. He inspired people around him and he did it without wielding the stick. That is a very unique skill, particularly on Wall Street.
The last one was Bob Diamond. In my five years at Barclays I got a chance to work closely with him and see him operate.
KS: When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
MH: I wanted to be in business. My dad was an entrepreneur. I was the fourth of four kids and two of my siblings went on to business school. …I cut lawns, shoveled driveways and cut firewood. I kind of always liked the idea of working hard and making a buck. Later on, I learned that I really loved doing research and analysis. I looked in Washington D.C., I looked in consulting and I looked on Wall St. It just happened that the place I settled on was Wall Street.
KS: How important is luck?
MH: I wouldn't say it's an imperative, but I would say it can be highly additive. And it's not just finance. You see it in politics, in sports, even in entertainment. But you need to have many other attributes to succeed. It may be the icing on the cake, but it's not the cake.
KS: How much did the MBA help your career?
MH: The MBA was very helpful in a few ways and not just in my micro-skills, but also in more macro skills. How to present. How to engage professionally. In all of my education, it was things outside of my major that I remember the most.
In business school, it was actually my marketing and operations courses that helped me in many ways. It helped me look at the world through the eyes of your customer.
KS: What's the most important thing you learned about managing employees?
MH: To really be strategic and, in particular, to understand the strategic goals of your firm, not just your department or division. A lot of managers tend to have tunnel vision.
Second, is to really learn and own your boss's business plan and determine how to make him or her succeed.
KS: What were the darkest days of your career?
MH: I was at Lehman in 1998 and again in 2001, when there were some really challenging developments. 1998 was Long Term Capital Management. And in 2001, we lost the building. I did experience some dark days and I was there for the stock market crash in 1987. These were some incredible events, but 2008 took the cake. It was far more global and one had the sense the regulators, policymakers and financial institution leaders did not know how to control it. In '87 it felt that way, but only for about 48 hours.
KS: In times like that, did you develop any useful tactics for staying relevant on the job?
MH: You need to stay close to your business partners and understand the risk to your business, but you also need to stay close to clients and understand how they are changing.
KS: Was it tough to watch Lehman go down in 2008?
MH: Absolutely. It was tough to see Bear Stearns go down. It was tough to see Merrill go down. Of course, I had worked 18 years at Lehman, so I had a particular anxiety around that. It was very difficult and very scary to observe.
KS: Were you still in touch with a lot of your former Lehman coworkers at the time?
MH: Some, but not a lot.
KS: What keeps you up at night?
MH: A couple different things. No. 1, I get excited about going to work, so my adrenaline tends to pump, especially on Sunday nights.
Disorganization keeps me up. If I've been on the road or at a conference and I'm behind on my messages and I've got a number of balls in the air and deadlines approached, that to me is destabilizing. It's very helpful to make a list of the things you're going to do first thing the next day.
Finally, ours is a people business and the assets of a financial institution walk in and out of the door every day. There are very difficult people issues that are outside of the control of a manager. I've had people with cancer, going through divorce, etc. When a personal crisis develops and I can't meaningfully influence it, that can affect the team and that keeps me up at night.
I don't lose sleep over risk. I don't lose sleep over the markets and, as long as I'm organized, I don't lose sleep over the day-to-day business.
KS: What's your regimen for handling stress?
MH: I exercise at least four times a week and I mix it up -- running, biking, the gym, golf or hockey once a week in the winter. I'm very active in non-work activities, things unrelated to finance. I've got to get a decent night's sleep. I also think it's important during the workday to take one or two breaks, whether it's to step outside to clear your head or just walking around the floor. A lot of people can't make that happen.
It's also about removing wasteful behaviors and poor business practices. One of the worst is following e-mail or the tape or other things and not having appropriate boundaries around that. I check e-mail three times a day, so I'm not constantly going back and forth to the e-mail, the phone, etc. That's inefficient.
KS: What's the most valuable trait in finance that you can't teach?
MH: Passion. I look for that. Whether it's a senior person or a recent grad. And they don't need to be passionate about finance, but they need to show that they've been passionate about other things and when they dive into it, they are all over it.
KS: Are you happy to be getting back in the game?
MH: Yes indeed. Very excited to get back into the markets. I enjoy the various challenges and rewards related to working with, managing and mentoring young professionals. And it is a transitions time for the banking industry and this creates opportunities for seasoned pros with clear plans and broad, deep relationships.
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