This year we put out a call to our students to connect with our recent alumni to answer the question we get the most: what are M&T grads doing now? Below is M&T Chelsie Xu (’21)’s interview with Xiaolei Cong (’15) on what he’s up to in NYC.
Chelsie: You’re a senior analyst in the M&A Division at Evercore. Tell us a bit about how you entered your industry.
Xiaolei: It’s funny – during my freshman summer, I actually didn’t do anything related to Finance. I was really involved in the social impact community on campus through Penn Social Entrepreneurship, so for part of my freshman summer, I worked for a nonprofit afterschool program in Africa. Then, I worked for several M&T alumni at their tech startup. It wasn’t until my sophomore summer that I interned with a hedge fund. It was this internship that inspired me to do a finance-related job. I talked to several M&T upperclassmen after the internship and decided finance would be the path for me. During my junior summer, I interned in the investment banking division at Goldman Sachs and had a great summer there.
Chelsie: That is impressive. But how did you end up in your current position at Evercore?
Xiaolei: After my summer internship at Goldman, I decided to still selectively recruit for a few elite boutique advisory firms, as I’ve heard great things about the experiences juniors bankers have at those firms. I ended up getting recruited by Evercore. I felt the firm was just a better fit for me and what I wanted out of my first job out of college. Now I’m working in the M&A group, advising clients in the financial services sector on various sell-side, buy-side, and capital raising processes.
Chelsie: What are some of the projects you usually work on?
Xiaolei: There exists a level of hierarchical structure at almost all banks on Wall Street. There are junior and senior analysts, associates, directors, and executive directors. On the top, there are MDs and partners. Each position plays a slightly different role on a project. For us analysts, we mainly prepare materials used to present to clients. We make a lot of PowerPoint presentations and build different Excel models analyzing various scenarios. For me, I work mainly on advising companies within the financial services sectors on the sell-side transaction, meaning I oftentimes represent sellers in a corporate transaction. I do lots of presentations on the companies and their performance, especially about their operations and financial information.
Chelsie: What’s a typical workday like for you?
Xiaolei: There isn’t really a typical day for people working in this industry. Since at the end of the day we provide a service and our clients are larger institutionalized corporations, our work is mainly oriented around what our clients’ need. This can make our work a little unpredictable, which I actually find exciting, as I can’t predict 100% everything that’s going to happen. Each day I get to work on something different. A transaction generally takes four to six months to complete, during which there are new projects popping up all the time.
Chelsie: You mentioned that your work is unpredictable and therefore exciting. What are other exciting aspects of your work that you like the most?
Xiaolei: For younger employees like me working in M&A, it very exciting that we can regularly interact with senior professionals in different company. In other industries, you might be at the bottom for many years in your career, before you get to interact with the “decision makers” within a company. However, in M&A advisory, we get to predominantly deal with senior level executives on a day-to-day basis, due the nature of the assignments we help the companies with. This, for me, is very exciting. I can see these senior executives’ visions, their executions and their broad overviews in the industries.
Chelsie: How did M&T prepare you for where you are today?
Xiaolei: M&T students get to study about both quantitative and strategic practices. We’re certainly interested in technology and follow along different trends happening in the world. Most of my clients are in the insurance industry. And, for their industry, insurance tech is a hot topic. My tech leanings help me understand their interests and allows me to engage better than your average business-minded analyst. Having both business and technology skills certainly gives me a leg up.
Chelsie: What were some of your favorite courses as an M&T?
Xiaolei: For me, every semester during college, I made sure that I would take a class completely just for fun. I think M&T students should never stop exploring things outside of your majors. We all have busy schedules, but it’s those classes that you take just for the sake of learning that give you a new perspective and rejuvenate you.
The courses I took outside of my major were some of my favorite. Two courses that really stand out for me and that I still remember are “A World at War” and a strategic management class focused on pricing policy and competition. Since my family is from China, I also took a class on the modern China political environment, which I found to be very fascinating. Also, Wharton’s Senior Capstone course was a class which I carry some of my fondest memories from. That was the course that tied everything we learned about business together and made me realize how much I’ve learned on the business side of my M&T education.
Chelsie: What was your favorite thing about M&T?
Xiaolei: Simply, the M&T community is great. As soon as you came to campus, you know there is core group there for you. When I was a freshman, there was no guaranteed housing in Ware and M&T students were actually spread out across the campus. Yet, my closest friends still turned out to be M&T students (and also some of my Hill hallmates). I still talk with my M&T friends on a daily basis, who are now spread out across the country and world. Recently, we organized trips to London and Japan. And last month we had an M&T dinner in SF.
Chelsie: What advice would you give to current M&T students?
Xiaolei: First thing I would say is go to as many speaker events as possible. It wasn’t until my senior year that I started to go to these events. The people I met were just so interesting! I wish I had been to more.
Secondly, the network at Penn is incredible. Try to meet as many people and to make as many deep relationships as possible. Finally, we all know what looks good, but I believe that it is more important to not lose yourself. Knowing yourself is the most important thing you can do.
Xiaolei Cong is an M&T alumnus in the Class of 2015. He is currently a senior analyst in the M&A Division at Evercore. He studied System Engineering and Finance and Strategic Management during his time in M&T.
The author, Chelsie Xu, is a current M&T freshman in the Class of 2021. She studies Computer Science and is leaning towards a Business Analytics concentration. Her favorite thing about the M&T program is the tight community.