SAMANTHA WU, Investment Banking Analyst @ Evercore

samantha wu

SAMANTHA WU

Hometown: Vancouver, Canada
Years lived in the city: <1
Occupation: Investment Banking Analyst
Company: Evercore
 

I think in general for life and everything, if you have tenacity and grit, you’ll be able to persevere and ultimately accomplish what you want even though you may not get it on your first or second try.
— Sammi Wu

Sammi was one of the first new faces I met in New York when she hosted a small get together on her rooftop. Over the course of 6 short months, she's become someone I highly respect and admire. She's intelligent, ambitious, persevering, and above all, humble and grounded. She is a graduate from Western University in London, Ontario and currently works as a first-year analyst at Evercore. 

Her hobbies include exploring all of what New York has to offer in events, food, and nightlife. She loves sushi, music events, and traveling. In our interview together, she talks about how she recruited for investment banking, what her biggest lesson in college was, what it's like to be a female in finance, and who keeps her grounded. 

STEPHANIE
First memory in New York?

SAMMI
I first came to New York when I was down here for 10 weeks for a summer internship. I interned at Evercore from June to August of 2013 before I started working here full-time. I remember coming down [from Canada] and my roommate Robin and I got a place near NYU. It was really dingy and I flew down at like 1 or 2 am and showed up to the apartment in a cab. My first memory was that there were still so many people in the street roaming around Union Square. It was really late at night and where I'm from in Vancouver, there's no one out past 11 or 12 pm.

STEPHANIE
My first memory was similarly of the Upper East Side in a taxi cab and I had grown up watching Eloise at the Plaza so it was so cool to see the environment pictured in that movie in real life. Have you seen Eloise?

SAMMI
[Shakes head]

STEPHANIE
Oh, it's just about a little girl who grows up at the Plaza Hotel in New York.

SAMMI
I think my first look into New York was Gossip Girl.

STEPHANIE
Oh my god.

SAMMI
It was so elaborate. That was my first perception.

STEPHANIE
Did you want to move here?

SAMMI
For me, it was a roller coaster. In high school, I watched a lot of movies about New York and it was the place to be, depicted as the center of the film and financial world. I thought it would be really cool, but then I had a phase between freshman and junior year where I wanted to go to the West Coast. I reformed myself and wanted to be chiller, have more hobbies, and live on the beach...

When recruiting came around, it just so happened that I went to Evercore so that's how I found myself in New York. I remembered my childhood memories of wanting to be here in the first place so I was pretty happy.

STEPHANIE
So let’s talk about your childhood - were you born in Canada?

SAMMI
I moved to Vancouver when I was four and a half. I was actually born in Beijing, China, but I have no recollection of Beijing whatsoever.

STEPHANIE
Was it hard to adjust to the New York lifestyle at the beginning coming from Vancouver?

SAMMI
The work culture in Vancouver is really different. Everyone, even if you're in a really intense job or considered upper management, you go home at like maybe 8 or 9 pm and you never work crazy long hours and people never expect things to be done in a matter of hours. They expect things to be returned to them in a matter of days or even months. I think everyone's mentality in terms of work-life balance and who you see yourself in relation to mental/physical health is very different. In Vancouver, everyone's Zen and has hobbies. They go running or boating or do yoga. And it's normal. But here you have to push to get those privileges to go work out.

STEPHANIE
I’ve noticed there's more of an emphasis on having a better lifestyle in terms of hobbies elsewhere outside of New York.

SAMMI
I feel like everyone’s a lot more holistic in Vancouver, but in New York, it's more focused on work.

STEPHANIE
Yeah. I think people think it’s a privilege to have free time here, especially in your industry.

SAMMI
When you move here, your concept of work life is just really distorted. You see everyone else working until 10 or 11 pm and consider it normal.

STEPHANIE
When I went back to Austin, Texas, people were saying how they were working late until 7 pm. Culturally, that's almost considered early here (again, usually in banking).

SAMMI
Yeah if I left at 7, people would be alarmed I think.

STEPHANIE
So let's talk the beginnings of your career. New York is obviously very big in the banking culture. Did you know that you wanted to do Finance going to college or did you kind of stumble upon it and what was recruiting like for you?

SAMMI
When the younger kids at my school reach out to me, questions they’re really interested in are: When did you discover banking? How did you prepare? What was your recruiting process like? I think truthfully, I wanted to do it pretty early on. I know that could be a pretty imbalanced thing to say because a lot of people want to say that they stumbled upon it and it wasn't something they wanted to do for a long. For me, it actually was something I wanted to do since the first year of university. The reason is that when I went to university, I had no idea what it wanted to do in the realm of business. I knew I wanted to study Commerce since that is what I applied for, but when I went to school, I didn’t know what was the best way to make the most impact I could when I was young. Then I joined this club called the Western Investment Club which is basically this really geeky Finance club and everyone there pursues investment banking. I just thought it was really cool how they just had this aura around them, but also because they were actually thinking about how companies operate and if certain deals were a good investment - basically using finance as a way to frame how you look at the world, which is a pretty useful lens.

And that’s why I wanted to go into it pretty early on.

Recruiting was pretty intense. In retrospect, a lot of people look back on things and think it was easier or smoother than it was, but honestly, in my first and second year, I did a lot of networking. It as a lot of struggling. I didn't really understand what anything was. I think just undergoing self-learning and really uncomfortable outreach was all of the recruiting process leading up to actual recruiting. It was pretty difficult and definitely a struggle.

STEPHANIE
Did you have to prepare a lot in terms of learning the technicalities about finance outside of school and your classes? And how did you go about juggling all of that with organizations and a full class load and everything else you did?

SAMMI
My school is a really big public university and the program I was in was general business administration so there wasn't anything specifically related to finance. So to answer your first question, I did have to prepare myself. There are a lot of guides out there like Wall Street Oasis and all these classic banking things that you can use to prepare.

I think in terms of juggling, it wasn't that bad, but I thought that the academics at my school were relatively pretty chill. My seminars were 2,000 people large and everything was submitted online and group work was encouraged. 

What was difficult was encouraging myself to do all this self-studying, especially early on when other people were asking "Oh what are you doing? That's so weird." and a lot of people didn't understand why or what I was doing and having the will to self-study and push on was probably the most difficult.

STEPHANIE
What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned from going to college?

SAMMI
I think it’s that rejection isn't always the end of the road.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. How our school works is that you get into the undergraduate business school in your junior year. It’s the 2+2 program like the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley where the actual business school is the back two years of university and the front two years is when you study all these random credits and you get enough to go to the business school.

One of my good friends didn't get into the undergraduate business program the first time he applied. It was really disheartening and he thought he wouldn't be able to have a career in banking, but he pushed on and got in one year late. Now he has a very successful career here in New York. 

I think similarly for me, I was rejected from an executive position for the Western Investment Club (the club I mentioned earlier) and that was disheartening, because a lot of people who get into very good banking positions are a part of that club and I thought that was the end of the line for me. I had a lot of self-doubt about that, asking myself questions like "Do I have the brain power to be in this kind of high-intensity profession?" but I pushed myself through it and told myself rejection isn't everything and I was able to recruit well. I think in general for life and everything, if you have tenacity and grit, you'll be able to persevere and ultimately accomplish what you want even though you may not get it on your first or second try.

STEPHANIE
Wow, I love that. The people that I've been interviewing, almost all of them have had one rejection that they really wanted - at least one if not multiple - but they kept going and it led them to where they are now.

So I have this other question of a similar vein that I wanted to ask you: what apparent failure or supposed failure actually paved the way for success?

SAMMI
I think I'm generally a pretty risk-averse person so I only put myself out there when it’s something I really want. There have been a lot of purely non-career failures. At the beginning of my university experience, I wasn't as open to making friends or being social and I feel like that was a really big failure of mine. I was very hyper-focused and intense, thinking things like "university is very serious and there's no time for games or socializing. People are not focused on their careers enough." I felt like that was a pretty big failure, because I shunned or looked down upon people who weren’t as hyper-focused as me. I didn't make as many friends from the get-go and for the first couple of years, I was a little lonely. Over the years I learned to find a happy balance and let loose and socialize more and make friends. Now I think I’ve found the balance between being driven, but also in being vulnerable and open to the people around me.

STEPHANIE
That is kind of how I lived freshman year of college. I didn't want to go to UT and my first year I was so turned off by football and Greek life and I judged those around me. I wanted a certain type of the friend and if you weren't that x amount of things, I didn't want to be friends. That all changed though when I joined my sorority because everyone was so different and lived their lives differently and I learned that everyone has something cool to teach you and you can be friends with a lot of different personalities and it think that was something good for me to learn.

SAMMI
Yeah and that everyone is more than what they seem, right?

STEPHANIE
Exactly! And they're more than the first impression you may have of them. I learned that first impressions can be completely wrong. Actually, I was pretty intimidated by you at first.

SAMMI
A lot of people have that impression of me! When I first meet people, I’m not that friendly. Even though I don’t want to, I put a guard up in front of people I don’t know, which gives them a preconceived notion of me. I think largely it's because of the fact that there's not a lot of females in finance and there’s not a lot of women who make it from my school. Because there are only myself and a couple other girls in my year in banking, I feel like there’s a certain standard to uphold. You put pressure on yourself to maintain this aura of professionalism and intellectualism. There’s a lot of preconceived notions. When somebody thinks something negative about you esp. at first, that really breaks down the notions and that’s why when I first meet people, I'm very guarded.

STEPHANIE
Would you say that a woman in finance has to work harder to get a reputation that a man could easily get?

SAMMI
I’ve thought about this a lot. I think when you meet a guy in finance, he can look like a lot of different things. He can look like a quiet nerd that doesn't interact with anyone but is really smart and very "quant". Or you can meet a jock or a football bro that's very social but can also work when he needs to. Or you can meet someone in between. There’s such a wide range of men that fit the stereotype of being a guy in finance, but I think for a women if you're a little bit too flirty or if you say things that seem a little ditzy or if you are too quiet and not friendly at all, if you're any of these things, I think people question if you deserve the job and a big part of recruiting and being a woman in finance is that a lot of people throw around this word: diversity. Banks have diversity hiring where they try to hire more women and I think a notion that stems off of that is that if you're hired only because of diversity, that means that you wouldn't be as good at your job. People will make these backhanded jokes like "oh, she's just a diversity hire.” I think that can scare women because they don’t want to be pegged as that kind of figure. Then, to your question, women have to work extra hard to prove that they’re not, but a guy would never have to prove that they're not a diversity hire.

STEPHANIE
From my (limited) experience in the professional world, a woman has to be more sensitive about speaking out. If you speak out too much, you can be labeled a complainer. If you take charge, then you're controlling. Women tend to have more negative adjectives whereas men have positive adjectives. A male with a lack of experience is pegged as ambitious and driven but a woman would just have a lack of experience. I think that’s something that we're overcoming as females which is progress but it's still very much a thing in the present moment.

SAMMI
Yeah, I agree. We’re so much more likely to be judged negatively as a woman for doing the exact same thing, but it's hard to fix because it falls more under the senior management.

STEPHANIE
And I think it'll change as more and more senior leadership becomes female. You’ll start to see more personalities and examples of what type of women we can be.

So for people who don’t know the finance route, which I didn't know until a few months ago, you do two years as an analyst in investment banking and then you hope to go on to private equity afterward or a hedge fund or corporate development. Can you talk about the process of recruiting into private equity, what your experience was like and how you were able to get a position during your first recruiting cycle? Congrats, by the way!

SAMMI
Thanks! I think this is a  topic that a lot of people in finance are interested in knowing as well. It's pretty weird, though. I’m 23 years old and people are asking me all these questions about businesses and sometimes you just think, “man, I don’t know.”

A lot of people think that after two years of banking, they should leave to learn something else. I think that's pretty silly because we worked so hard to get here and I don’t think there should be a set time for when people leave. But I do understand because in banking you have no control over your own schedule for two years and that’s why people can get burnt out.

I was like most people in my starting class who wanted to go into private equity and the reason for that is because private equity is the same style of work as banking where you're still on a team and you're analyzing financial statements and looking at a company, but you're thinking about it in terms of buying a company instead of doing advisory for a company. It's a different lens, but you use a lot of the same skills. I think why a lot of people move from banking into private equity is because it's a very logical path. I would say that around 60% of my analyst class is doing or wants to do private equity which is a large majority. The rest of my class wants to either go to hedge funds or into corp. dev. for a company or go to a startup.

The recruiting for PE is pretty terrible in terms of stress. When I asked people about how it was, they just said "oh, it's pretty stressful. You just got to prepare yourself.” It definitely was without a doubt the most stressful time of my life so far. For three days I had to take sleeping meds. I didn't eat at all because the stress was so overwhelming that you just couldn't feel other sensations. You can't really feel pain or hunger and you're always on this really weird feeling where the stress just overcomes you and you're a zombie for three days. It’s a terrible experience like I would never wish upon anyone.

STEPHANIE
And do you feel relieved now?

SAMMI
Yes! I was so sad. Recruiting happened in December 2017 and ever since then, I have been SO DIFFERENT in terms of how I think about weekends and optimism.

STEPHANIE
Do you feel a huge weight has been lifted?

SAMMI
Yeah [laughs] I definitely feel like I am able to enjoy life a lot more. It's wonderful.

STEPHANIE
Let’s talk about life outside of work now. What do you like to do for fun?

SAMMI
So I used to be really fun.

STEPHANIE
What. You're still fun now.

SAMMI
I don’t know..., my friend who came to visit from Vancouver asked me “what do you do on the weekends?” and I said, “I just eat and drink and then I go to work again.”

STEPHANIE
LOL

SAMMI
It’s kind of sad. When I was a senior in college and I had a lot of free time, I would play sports a lot. I used to play badminton and was on the varsity fencing team.

We would also play games. We were super into this game called Bridge. I remember in my last semester I would go to class for 15 hours, go to practice for 10 hours, and then play Bridge for like 15 hours. It was a really big commitment in my life. There was a gambling pool going on and everything.

STEPHANIE
What is Bridge?

SAMMI
It’s a card game. There are two teams of two, based on what you have in your hand, you try to win cards. It’s hard to explain but it’s very addicting and we played with money.

STEPHANIE
I know you also have a food Instagram. What compelled you to start that?

SAMMI
I started it with my friend Cherie from Toronto. We started it because a lot of what you do and see is through the lens of food. When I went traveling to European and Asia, a lot of the attractions would be "let’s go eat this thing."

Stephanie
Yeah, when people come to New York, they mainly just want to eat food.

SAMMI
I think I really wanted to have memories and have highlights of all my experiences but through food. It’s also a good place to keep memories. You never really scroll through your own camera roll so it’s nice to have this mini-blog of what you did on Instagram. I look back on it pretty often, actually.

STEPHANIE
What is the first thing you do in the morning?

SAMMI
For the past two months, I would wake up and I would immediately check the price of cryptocurrencies. I remember I bought bitcoin and ethereum in November and there was a big correction in January. For two days, I couldn’t sleep. I would go to sleep and wake up two hours later and check the prices of crypto.

STEPHANIE
What coin is the one you most believe in?

SAMMI
So I actually sold all my crypto last week. It’s going through a lot of correction and I realize that I only bought in because I felt like I was missing out on all these crazy gains that people made. This one guy in my office made like $3,000 on a capital base of $300. So he went 10X his money in a day, which is insane and this was back in November/October.

I think if you take a step back, crypto doesn’t actually have any fundamental value. And if you look back to 2015, all these coins were trading at below $10. Even bitcoin was under $10. So it’s insane to think that it should be able to sustain the prices of $8,000, $9,000 per coin now. I think there's a very real possibility that it can correct back to pre-2016 levels, in which case you would literally lose all the money you have in there. And that thought really scared me and that’s why I pulled out all my money...at a very significant loss. :(

STEPHANIE
I feel like I’m in too deep to pull out so I might as well just keep holding and see what happens. I believe in blockchain as a technology, but I definitely understand the bandwagon feeling.

What do you think inspires you?

SAMMI
I think what inspires me are the people who have so much conviction in either their ideas or themselves that they'll do something completely against the grain. I'll give you one example.

There's this one guy who I met when I was in second year in university and he was set upon this very traditional finance path but then last minute he decided he didn’t want to do it and started his own startup that does used car sales. I thought that was very cool because he had a very safe career but was able to convince himself and others who joined him to start this business that he really believed in. That’s very inspiring because I believe that personally, the hardest thing for me is to take risks, whether it is risks in life or where I want to go next. I think every person wants to do a lot of things they're not doing; I think everyone wants to be somewhere where they're not, but the people who actually do it and keep believing in themselves every day and don’t listen to what other people say about them being crazy and how they're throwing everything away are the people who actually inspire me.

STEPHANIE
I see that a lot of successful people our age, people who went to ivy leagues or got a really good job after college, are scared of breaking that mold. Because quitting your job and starting a startup results in a high risk of failure and if you stay along the traditional path of joining corporate and working your way up,  you'll never really fail but you might not ever really succeed either depending on your goals.

SAMMI
Yeah, and I think that even if you don't do well in your endeavors, it's still admirable that you tried.

STEPHANIE
What keeps you grounded? Cause it's easy to have a good career and not worry about rent and eat at nice restaurants, but what keeps you grounded and connected to what's more meaningful?

SAMMI
Oh, I know exactly what. My boyfriend Chris keeps me really grounded. Chris is a very different person from me. I really care about reputation and optics and success in the traditional sense. But Chris is very down-to-earth and even though he's also found success in his own life professionally and academically, he never really shows it. Every time I think “I'm so cool, look at me, I’m going to these nice restaurants and wearing these nice clothes, he's like “Sammi, shut up, you're 23, you don't even know how to do your own taxes. Sometimes you wake up at 12 by accident. You’re just a little 23-year-old person...who do you think you are?” And he always talks me down and I think that's really, really important. He's the type of person who makes decent money in his job too but won't like to buy nice things because he says there's no value and he’d rather invest his money because it'll bring him more happiness in the future than buying a nice thing now. He doesn't need people to know he has wealth; he just needs to feel it himself and doesn't think that people will judge you by what you wear, but rather your ideas and how useful you are to the world. He says “I could show up to work in the hoodie if I'm good and they won't kick me out.” I think ever since I met him, I've become a lot better in multiple ways.

STEPHANIE
Wow, that reminds me of my dad. He always says it’s not about what you show people, but if you’re being your best self and accomplishing what you want. Success is really internal. At the end of the day, he’ll ask himself, “did you like what you did during the day and are you with the people you love and when you wake up, are you excited to start the next day?” It doesn't matter what watch you wear or what car you drive because you could die tomorrow and those things don’t matter.