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Switching Career from Software to Finance

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Brian Skiba
Brian has an unique story on how he switched from a career in software to finance. He shares his perspective on how students can switch to a career in finance in this economy. Brian Skiba is a Managing Partner at Treadstone Advisors and Chairman at MaxID Corp. He was previously a Managing Director, senior equity research analyst and equity strategist at Deutsche Bank, based in New York. Prior to Deutsche Bank, Brian was head of software and IT services equity research in Europe at Lehman Brothers.


Brian Skiba is a Managing Partner at Treadstone Advisors and Chairman at MaxID Corp. He was previously a Managing Director, senior equity research analyst and equity strategist at Deutsche Bank, based in New York, covering both the US software industry and the broader global technology sector. Prior to Deutsche Bank, Brian was head of software and IT services equity research in Europe at Lehman Brothers from 1999-2001 and prior to that a technology sector analyst at Lehman Brothers in the US. Prior to investment banking, he was a founder and CEO of several technology companies in California.

Parveza Rahman speaks to him.

Thank you Brian for speaking to!

Why did you decide to move into finance and what interested you in the financial industry? How did you get the first job?


I was a technology entrepreneur and software developer. If you really have a lot of background in writing and developing software and started a software company, then you know why software is really hard. As a company, we were always investing more money into development, so you didn’t have a lot of cash on hand and sometime it’s hard to make payroll. But when you sold the company you made a lot of money.  I eventually figured out that the selling the company was the best part of the whole journey; it’s when we are finally paid. I thought perhaps I should focus on selling companies instead of building.


Then I went back to MBA School at Dartmouth. Once you graduate, they call you every year for your donation back to the school.  One of my classmates called and was collecting the donations. We got talking and he asked, “Are you interested in a research analyst role in Wall Street?” I said, “Well, I don’t know what the job entails, but it sounds like something different”. He explained to me and that seemed interesting to me. So I shifted from developing software and managing a software company to working for Cowen & Company on the research side. Then I went on to work with Lehman Brothers and then on to Deutsche Bank to become a Managing Director. I have moved a lot within the industry. But getting into the finance industry was a lucky chance for me. It was a fortunate journey at a really good time. I knew software technology really well and the software industry was going on a really big underwriting cycle in mid 1990s. I did 42 IPOs, secondaries, and large-block placements totally more than $5 billion for technology companies.


Initially you did not get a chance at Lehman Brothers. How did you start at Lehman Brothers?


Well, at first when I wanted to get into the industry, I had written virtually to every company I could find. I wrote to Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs etc. I wrote that I would love to move my way to Wall Street and I was willing to work for free. Lehman sent me a lovely letter saying that they really don’t want me and thanks anyway. And 16 months later they hired me with a really great package.  It’s a kind of funny story because after Cowen and Company hired me, I became a more recognized software analyst. Here I had offered to work for free for Lehman 16 months earlier, and they turned me down, and then turn around with a tremendous package. That why I say it’s really hard to get in and once you get in you can go anywhere.


What are you currently working on?


Currently I am the Chairman of MaxID Group, a mobile computing/biometrics company headquartered in Palo Alto, California. Also I am the board director and CFO of CatMacArt Corporation and Managing Partner at Treadstone Advisors. Prior to Treadstone Advisors, I was at Arma Partners. They were mostly doing cross border M&A and I wanted to balance my time little bit better because I am the chairman of a very rapidly growing biometric company. MaxID grew dramatically in 2008 and the company has locked down meaningful government-related business. So, the opportunities at DoD (Department of Defense) and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) are very large, and probably it’s a bit of good timing with a good product offerings.  So, I resigned from Arma Partners and left in June. But I took on a couple of assignments for some overseas clients, basically need to do some M&A activities for them. So, I have been traveling back to Europe every week right now. I am spending far too much time on an airplane.


You are also the CFO of CatMacArt Corporation. Can you tell us a little more about it?


My wife has started a website (a social network) with about 100,000 artists in about 120 countries. I help her in the technical side and she has got a development team in Hyderabad. It’s all about Linux, Apache, Tomcat etc. I do all the architecture design and management of the development staff in India. That’s in between sleeping if you will. I have spent a lot of time in Bangalore and Hyderabad with Deutsche Bank. So, I have built a lot of connections and help her to find answers to IT problems.


After the severe economic crisis in 2008, the finance industry is in a bad shape. What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t have a finance background but wants to make a career in the finance industry?


I think if someone has deep domain expertise in any subject area, then she/he can enter the finance industry relatively easily. If you are an expert and coming with an engineering background and you know nanotechnology, probably you can be valuable in any kind of new investment banking activities focusing on nanotechnology. Similarly if you are in software engineering and you understand software and the software industry then it could be valuable. Deep domain expertise is good. Now if you are sort of an English major or Communications major, then it presents a different challenge. And I think probably smaller firms are more receptive to hiring people with broad-based skills and more likely to hire people in general than the larger firms. The boutique investment banking firms are going to increase their market share. Also more boutiques will be formed and they’ll be hiring in the future. And I think that is the way it is going to be for a while.


Students should be open-minded and try to find even 10-20 people boutique firms to start up the career. In the perfect world, you have Goldman Sachs that’ll hire you, train you, send you around the world and do everything else. But let’s face it – that’s probably won’t happen as often today. So you go to a small firm like Arma Partners, which has around 40 people globally, and basically learn all you can. You get to learn a lot because you are thrown into the fire quickly. And then you could probably switch out to JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. That’s after you develop your career and prove yourself a little bit more.



What are the key qualities you look for in a candidate while interviewing her/him for a finance job?


We will look for the brightest, very intelligent, sharp, quick thinking people. We want people who have reasonable good moral compass, meaning they can understand right from wrong. They want people who want to work really hard and long hours and people who are looking at this for 10-15 years career.  Generally you would  be crazy if you are doing this for only 2 years. The first 2 years in finance are horrible. You work day and night, don’t get to sleep much and get paid little.  You only do so in the hope to become a Partner or Managing Director towards the end of the cycle. Then you start making a decent amount of money and get some semblance of balance in life and work.  Not a real balance, like other careers might avail, but a hint of one. You need a person who is focused on it as a long-term career and not a sort of experiment. The person should be willing to work very hard in the beginning and be energetic and capable. So unfortunately it’s not someone who is trying to achieve a balance in life between outside world and investment banking. In the beginning you have very little room for balance. You basically work like dogs and get paid more as you progress.


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