Rick Leaman, Vice Chairman of Moelis & Company, speaks on “Ten Steps for Success”

– [Announcer] This is Duke University. – I’m delighted to be here on behalf of all of you, to welcome you to your graduation. Dean Boulding, faculty, thank you for having me. Family, thank you for being here to support your kids, and most importantly, to all of you, congratulations.

This is a big moment. I think any time you go through something like this, it is a big moment, you need to do something special for yourself. So I don’t know what that is for each individual out there, but figure out something special to do and do it quickly so you can really reward yourself for a lot of hard work in a degree that’s well-deserved.

This is a great thrill for me. You can’t even put this on your bucket list, speaking at Cameron Indoor Stadium. How do you do that? Who would’ve thought a kid that graduated from Duke in 1984 with a 2.9, (audience chuckling) I don’t think Dean Boulding knew that. I think I had a 3.7 at Fuqua so I made up for it. But, yeah, I had a 2.9 and here I am speaking at Cameron Indoor Stadium and per the student speaker, I’m still learning.

I learned something today which is, you should probably wear socks when you’re sitting up on the podium at graduation. So what are we gonna talk about today? Throughout my career, I’ve just noticed some things that people do that don’t make a lot of sense.

And as I accumulated these things, I’ve developed a presentation that I give to all of our incoming associates and analysts at Moelis & Company and prior at UBS. I call it my 10 tips for success.

They’re really not the kind of thing you learn in a classroom or in a training program, but they’re the kind of thing that, if you don’t catch on to them, they could hurt your career. So here we go, I’m gonna through my top 10 tips, and the first one is, take notes.

I notice you don’t have pen or pencil, or paper, so you don’t need to do that. But you’re gonna go into life as a junior member of a team. The junior member of the team takes notes in a meeting.

I cannot tell you how many meetings I go to, and I’m not taking notes anymore, where I expect the junior member to take those notes and they don’t do it. So grab a pen, get a good notebook, and make sure when you’re on your next job, wherever that is, you’re taking notes.

As an aside, when I give this presentation to the incoming class, the college, the analysts who have just come out of college, they grab their pen and they’re taking notes right away. What’s interesting is, the MBA students just sit there and stare at you.

Now they’re not Fuqua students, mind you. They tend to come from schools in the northeast that are in a division that has something to do with a plant, but anyway, just take notes. Number two, always admit what you don’t know.

It’s okay. You’re gonna get dozens of questions. What were same-store sales, what did the CEO say in the shareholder letter, what’s the credit rating at that company? Depending on what your job is, the questions will be different.

It’s okay to say you don’t know. You can say, I don’t know but I’m gonna get the answer. I don’t know, I’ll find that out. I should’ve known, I don’t, I’ll get the answer.

But don’t throw something out there that you think is correct. It’s okay to say you don’t know. It’s fatal, it’s fatal to make it up. It’s just not gonna work for you, so just admit what you don’t know and you’ll be fine.

You may get a little grief for it, but that’s okay. Number three, respect your elders. I’m not talking about the CEO, I’m not talking about the CFO, I’m not talking about an SVP. But the chances are, you’re gonna join an organization post your graduation here, where there will be people that have been working at that organization longer than you’ve been alive.

They’re administrative assistants, they’re in the mail-room, they’re in the copy center, it’s the receptionist that greets everybody every day with a smile when they come in. These people deserve the utmost respect and I’ve watched too many people come into a firm and establish what I would call an overly aggressive senior-subordinate relationship with these folks.

And let me tell you, my assistant, Ellen, I think she’s been doing her job for 40 years, she worked for my boss before she worked for me. If she whispers in my ear, Freddy’s not such a nice guy, Freddy is having a really bad day.

These people can help your career and they can also hurt your career. So please respect your elders. Any Freddy’s out there? Good, I picked a safe name. Number four, confidentiality. This is different by industry.

In my industry, it’s paramount, you have to maintain confidentiality. But what I’ve found is, it’s really not worth talking about what you do at work outside of work. You can talk in general terms, but you have information that’s important to people and you just don’t know how that information’s gonna be used.

So my recommendation to people is, don’t talk about what you’re doing outside of work. And I’ll give you a real-life example. We got a call in our Houston office years ago from a client who wanted to use us on an acquisition.

Very exciting call, it’s a call you wanna get. We were told that we’d be paired up with Morgan Stanley, so, while that’s not so great, we were gonna be co-advisors with Morgan Stanley. Young man went out that night at a bar, saw his buddy from Morgan Stanley, said, I hear we’re gonna be working together, that’ll be fun.

Somehow, Morgan Stanley figured out who the client was, what the deal was, they called the client and said, hey, I just wanted to let you know that UBS is blabbing about the assignment you just gave. All he said was, we’re gonna be working together, and think of how that transformed into what could have been a death sentence for that professional.

Now as it turns out, the client loved this kid, he didn’t get fired, but I just don’t think it’s worth talking about what you’re working on at work. Keep it to yourself, in fact, I don’t even think my wife really knows what I do.

Honestly, it’s okay, she can’t slip up. She knows what city I’m in, but she never knows who I’m meeting with. So, number five, listening is sometimes more important than speaking. I remember this story to this day, and I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes on this one.

So we were presenting to Capital Cities. For those of you that don’t know, Capital Cities owned the network ABC and they also owned a little thing called ESPN and just as an aside, Capital Cities merged with Disney, Disney had no idea what ESPN was 20 years ago.

Think of what it is today. Anyway, I was doing okay, I had made some good progress on some deals and we were in front of the CFO and I was determined to make my mark. A question came to the team and I’m the junior guy in the room and I’d go right in and answer the question.

And the CFO looks at me and goes, that’s completely wrong. So what did I do? I doubled down. I told him he was wrong (chuckles). Yeah, oh boy. Good news is, I didn’t get fired and as I said, the negative is, I’m 54 years old and I still wake up thinking about that meeting.

It’s okay to listen, you don’t have to make a statement in the first meeting. Number six, be very wary of consensus. We all get trapped with consensus. Everybody agrees, this is correct. Please challenge consensus.

You’re young, aggressive, thoughtful, intelligent students, this is what we need you to do, challenge consensus. I’ve had two examples in my career where consensus was completely wrong and the results were devastating.

In 1999, we were valuing tech companies on clicks, a click of a mouse. Oh, it’s gotta be worth a billion dollars. Sometimes, we valued them on revenues if they had revenues. We didn’t value them on cash flow ’cause none of them had cash flow.

But the Nasdaq had gone to 4000, it was soaring and the tech revolution was on. Dozens, hundreds of bankers, said, I’m not gonna be a consumer banker anymore, utility banker, health-care banker, I’m going to Silicon Valley to be a tech banker, because that’s what the future is, it’s all about technology.

Well, lo and behold, two years later the Nasdaq hit 1400, by the way, it took 10 years to get back to 4000. Actually, cash flow did matter. People actually started looking at balance sheets, how about that.

And hundreds and hundreds of bankers lost their job because they’d given up their good job working in consumer or utilities, whatever the case was, and they had to be a technology banker. Consensus was wrong.

It was a tech bubble and it hurt a lot of people. Fast-forward to 2007, 2008, the only good news about the tech bubble was it was an equity bubble, it wasn’t a debt bubble. Equity’s bad but you don’t lose everything.

Credit crisis is devastating. And in 2007, the CEO of Citigroups was asked, how do you feel about the credit markets? I remember he was in Tokyo at the time. And he said, as long as this music’s playing, we’re gonna keep dancing.

Think about that. Three months later, he lost his job due to unexpected credit losses at Citigroup. Fast-forward a year after that and the CFO of Lehman Brothers was quoted as saying, our liquidity framework and funding have stood by us very well.

Five days later, they went bankrupt. Consensus was that the credit markets were sound, housing could never go down, and we know what the outcome was, a devastating crisis that we’re all still paying the price for in 2017.

So, challenge consensus, it’s what we need you to do. Number seven, don’t go it alone. Teams win, individuals are risky. Now it’s really interesting, you wanna make a statement, you wanna have an impact, but I’ll tell you, teamwork is the key to success.

A real-life example for me, I sat in a bullpen with four people my first year at Smith Barney, I was 23 years old, and I needed to keep my job, I had no savings, I was married, and it was really important that I did well.

So we formed a team among those four, and every time we had a project, I would give my project to Paul Hoffer, to Murray, to Stan, and we’d all check each other’s work constantly. So I had three sets of eyes looking at my work and they had three sets of eyes looking at their work and so on and so on.

That’s how we got ahead, we formed a team in order to be successful. But individuals are risky, teams win. So I always wanna work on a team and I encourage you to do the same. Number eight, this is a tough one, patience.

Everybody wants to have an impact. Everybody wants to make a statement. I know you don’t wanna be called millennials, so I won’t use the word millennial like I just did twice. There’s this great presentation of an individual walking into a boss’s office and saying, look, I’ve gotta quit, I’m not making an impact.

And the response is, well, you’ve been here eight months. It takes time to make an impact. Somebody very near and dear to me fell into, what I call, the grass-is-greener syndrome. She had a good job but the grass was greener over at that job.

And she started interviewing, didn’t tell me, told her mother and her brother, didn’t tell me, it’s my daughter. And I just kept my mouth shut, and thank goodness, thank goodness the people never offered her a job.

She was interviewing for things, frankly, that I think she was overqualified for. Now she’s three years into her job as an associate in investment banking and I’m not saying it’s because it’s investment banking that I’m proud of her, but she’s killing it.

She’s making an impact and to my mind, she’s operating at a VP, second-year VP level. So take your time, be patient. It’s frustrating ’cause everybody wants to get that trophy, wants to climb the peak.

But you may be surprised, if you take your time, what comes out of it. Number nine. (chuckles) We had a little prop set up, it’s not working very well. Anyway, (phone rings) oh, there it is. Thanks, Dean.

That was my fault. 919-452-26, I don’t know this person, send it to voicemail. Don’t let that happen in a meeting. (audience laughs) Do not let that happen. Phone on vibrate, don’t look at it, put it away, don’t put it on the table in front of the client or in front of your colleagues.

Put this thing away. It’s a great invention, you can ask Siri what a stock price is and she’ll give it to you. How that works, I’m not really sure. But don’t let this thing dominate your professional career.

Put it away, tell the person you’re meeting with that you’re focused on them. And if this goes off at a client meeting, I’m telling you, you’re dead. So just put it away. I have this problem, it’s vibrating in my pocket, I think it’s one of my kids texting me, I’m like, ooh, I’m getting a text from my kid, I’ve gotta look at it, I can’t.

So put it away. That’s number nine. Not as well executed as I’d hoped, that’s my fault, that’s my fault, my fault. I’d put it on silent ’cause I was worried that if I got up here and it rang before we got to that point, it would typically be my wife and then I’d have to answer it and then I’d have to tell her I’m busy and that would’ve been embarrassing, so I put it on vibrate and that’s why it didn’t (mutters), anyway.

Last but not least, attitude. I get asked time and again, what’s the one thing that differentiates professionals in my business, and I don’t think it matters that it’s my business, any business.

And it is a positive mental attitude. It makes all the difference in the world. It moves a three to a one, a two to a one. It makes your reviews more positive. It is the key, and by the way, it’s circular.

You’re more positive, people around you are more positive ’cause they see you’re so positive, they say, well, I’ve gotta be positive, too. It’s the one key to getting ahead in a career.

And I’ll give you an example of how I look at that in my business. In my business, and hopefully you guys don’t do this, we work sometimes 18 hours a day seven days a week. Nobody wants to do that, that’s ridiculous, but we do it for some reason.

So it’s Friday afternoon, you get a call from a client saying, I need you to work 24/7 the next three days, I need you in my office Tuesday morning. And all of a sudden, you go, oh that’s great ’cause I just got a piece of business and then you go, oh god, that’s awful, I’ve gotta call the junior team and tell them they’re not going to the beach this weekend.

So these folks are 30 minutes from hitting the shuttle bus out to the Hamptons and you gotta blow up their weekend. You don’t wanna make that call but you have to make that call, the client’s told you, you need to be there on Tuesday with a full deck.

You make that call to that junior person and you say, I’ll use Freddy since I picked on him earlier, Freddy, I’m sorry, I’ve gotta blow up your weekend, we’re running full steam from here on until Tuesday morning.

Freddy says, hey, not a problem, let’s get on it. When do you wanna meet? That statement alone is gonna move that person to the front of the class. So positive mental attitude makes all the difference in the world.

So there they are, my top 10 tips for success. Something to think about. Hopefully something to learn a little bit about as well. And then in closing, I would say, congratulations, you should be very proud of yourself, do something special for yourself.

I will likely be at Shooter’s on Saturday. If any of you are there, please stop by and say hello.

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