Company culture begins at the top.
That said, here's a 15-hour period in the life of a senior managing director who works out of the Minneapolis office of investment bank Houlihan Lokey -- which, in Vault's latest Banking Survey, ranked No. 1 in nine categories, including informal training, business outlook, relationships with managers, diversity with respect to women, overall satisfaction, hours, and culture.
7:50 a.m. Wake up to face my most challenging task of the day: making sure my 18-year-old son gets out of bed in time to catch his ride to high school (an hour earlier, my wife did the same thing with our 14-year-old son). I need to be cheerleader and motivational speaker (hey, only 69 more days until you graduate!), chef (usually a grilled-cheese sandwich) and logistics master (fit books, glasses, papers and homework into a backpack). From here, it’s all downhill in terms of work difficulty.
8:15 a.m. Return to bed. Check emails on my BlackBerry and respond to emails. Deal with a few relationship questions from our LA office. Review an eight-message chain regarding a European deal (given my relationship with the key client, I’m supporting one of our London MDs on the deal). Answer questions from an LA officer concerning new-business thoughts. And email a Nigerian finance official asking where's my share of the lucrative business referral he promised.
9:00 a.m. Read business and other news online.
9:15 a.m. Head to my outdoor hot tub. Just as the tin man needs oil, I need 20 minutes of stretching in the hot tub to attain basic mobility. It can be a challenging 20-foot run to the tub on 10-below-zero winter mornings, but today it’s balmy -- and my hair doesn’t freeze.
9:40 a.m. Shave, shower and get dressed, making sure my jeans are hole-free and my shirt is reasonably stain-free (as the author of the office dress code, I need to hold myself to the standards I set).
9:50 a.m. Head to work (avoiding rush-hour traffic completely). If it were warmer than 50 degrees and the snow gone, I’d bike to work (it’s a 9.5-mile ride). But today it’s 23 -- I’m driving.
9:55 a.m. A New York MD calls my car phone to go over a host of restructuring transactions we’re working on. The budget has changed on two of them, meaning there’ll be longer closing times but larger accruals.
10:05 a.m. Arrive at the office. Grab The Wall Street Journal and call two New York officers to discuss some restructuring transactions we’ve been tracking.
10:15 a.m. Log onto computer. Check new emails and review attachments I haven’t read on my BlackBerry. Check voicemail. Return a call from a hedge fund client who’s interested in a sell-side deal our Dallas office is running.
10:45 a.m. Talk to European MD regarding staffing issues on two new deals (they need more junior staff -- as has been the case on just about every deal for the last decade).
11:10 a.m. Teleconference with Chicago officers regarding a real estate restructuring marketing presentation (on which I’d previously given them my comments).
11:30 a.m. Highlight of the day: lunch in the office. Everyone on the financial staff always orders in (lunch is free!). We eat while having a freewheeling discussion on a range of topics, including sports, religion, politics and interesting deals we’re working on. We also hear about the sale of one of our ex-clients (we didn’t get the sale mandate, which was disappointing).
12:15 p.m. Sadly, lunch is over. One of my New York partners calls to discuss marketing and staffing for a new restructuring opportunity. We conference in another LA partner and brainstorm on strategy and pricing -- and decide on a team to go after it.
12:45 p.m. Check emails. Respond to emails. Read an article a friend sent me on municipal restructurings.
1:30 p.m. Read The Wall Street Journal, IDD and Times (online). Copy and send a few interesting articles to my New York, London and LA partners regarding deals they’re working on or targeting.
2:15 p.m. Conference call with our CFO and Co-CEO about healthcare plans for the firm for 2011. The plans are confusing, but the CFO appears to be on top of it. We talk it through together so she can negotiate our initial deal.
2:45 p.m. Thinking about disease and sickness requires me to take a 10-minute stretching break (the hot tub has worn off). I use a yoga mat in the office, along with an old putter and exercise ball.
3:00 p.m. Take a call from a PE client interested in a private company being sold out of our San Francisco office. Conference in the director in charge who tries to find an industry banker on the deal. Circle back with the PE coverage officer and conference everyone in. We have a 15-minute conversation about how the PE client can maximize its opportunities.
3:15 p.m. Walk to kitchen and stock up on Vitamin Water and tangerines. Cruise the halls consuming citrus, poking my head into offices at random to see what everyone's working on. Stop by analyst area and discuss the finer points of state-of-the-art video gaming, learning that it's not easy to kill "zombie legions."
3:30 p.m. Check email and voicemail. Finalize car-pool pickup for my 14-year-old son (who’s now out snowboarding).
3:45 p.m. My daughter (in college) returns my message from three days ago. She starts explaining her current plans but then gets another call and says, "I have to go, dad. Love you!"
3:47 p.m. Stop by partner’s office who just returned from Australia (where he was working on a deal). Get his download on deal dynamics.
4:00 p.m. Field a call from our HR director to talk about various employee issues. Each issue is small but, of course, important to the respective employee. The issues keep coming; each one needs a decision. I give the HR director my thoughts on the easy ones, and we make a separate list for the more complicated ones (Do we allow an officer to work from home for a month for personal reasons? Rethink our maternity policy to meet new best practices in the industry?) We'll go over these with the co-CEO on tomorrow’s call (which we've scheduled to talk about lease-renewal issues for one of our offices; we have 13 offices, so it seems like there's always a lease issue to deal with).
4:15 p.m. Time to make a strategic decision: Do I take my five o'clock conference call from the office or sprint home and take it there? I decide to sprint home (not my hardest decision of the day). I grab my BlackBerry (can't forget that!) and yell good-bye to my assistant, who makes sure I remember to take everything home I need (am I the 18-year-old high school student in her eyes?). After going back to retrieve my wallet and keys (I forgot both), I head to my car.
4:20 p.m. In the car, things heat up (of course): I get three client calls. The first congratulating us on a great valuation job, done on short notice over the holidays. The second complaining how we should focus on a different area of a current deal (at a stoplight, I email the officer in charge of the deal about this). And the third regarding a new situation we should look at in which a large fund with a large position will support us (needless to say, this is a good call).
4:56 p.m. Walk into my house and head towards my office, discarding shoes and parka on the way.
5:00 p.m. Jump on my five o'clock call, the last of several today on our urgent European situation (our London office is working late; they're announcing a deal early tomorrow morning).
5:25 p.m. My assistant emails me the big question: What should we order for lunch tomorrow? (It's one of those decisions that are just not delegable.) After calculating all variables and recent lunch choices, I make the call: Greek. (A good decision, I think. Maybe my best of the day.)
5:30 p.m. Head upstairs and jump on computer. Check news and play video games (with one eye on my BlackBerry, of course). In the middle of a game, I send two emails: one responding to an LA officer regarding a charitable program we're sponsoring, another to congratulate a deal team (on which I had a very minor role in winning a nice new piece of business).
6:30 p.m. Dinner. Compare notes with my wife on our respective days and hang out with my family, enjoying quality time with my sons for the full eight minutes they spend at the dinner table.
7:30 p.m. Randomly check my BlackBerry while watching basketball with my 14-year-old son. I almost would rather discuss more employee issues than watch the Timberwolves blow yet another fourth-quarter lead -- which they proceed to do.
9:45 p.m. Read Swiss Family Robinson with my 14 year-old. Negotiate termination of all computers, iPods and other mobile devices with my 18 year-old. Turn out their lights; sons are in bed. Sweet.
10:00 p.m. Watch news with wife. The highlight is the weather forecast, helping us to figure out what parka to wear tomorrow.
10:30 p.m. It’s me time. Play video backgammon and read -- I just finished Sharp Teeth [a horror thriller written in verse] and am attempting to elevate things with a book about entrepreneurial philanthropy -- while careful monitoring my BlackBerry for a flashing red light, just in case the Nigerians come through.