Career Path: A late starter catches up

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Alberto (Bert) Piedra is managing director and head of the financial institutions group (FIG) for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Bank of America. A US citizen, he joined Bank of America's London office in September 2003, having worked at Goldman Sachs since 1987. He says his career has combined opportunism and diligence.

In an industry where mass redundancies and frequent job moves are the norm, Piedra is something of a rarity. He spent 16 years at Goldman Sachs, before joining Bank of America in 2003. During the same period, he survived two major downturns and went from being a relatively junior associate to head of a large mergers and acquisitions division.

Piedra's investment banking career began in 1987 when he entered Goldman Sachs' associate programme. At 29, he said he was the oldest in his class, most being in their mid-twenties: "Looking back, I should perhaps have started in the investment banking business earlier than I did!'

Instead of heading straight into banking after leaving Indiana's University of Notre Dame, Piedra opted to study abroad. He went to the Université de Grenoble in France to learn French. "I was 21 when I graduated, and not being completely clear on the direction I wanted to embark on, but knowing I was keen to work for an international business, I decided to study French.'

With improved linguistic skills, he returned to the US to study the international MBA programme at Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management. "I realised that people who wanted to get ahead in the business generally had MBAs," he said.

Two years later, aged 24, Piedra joined the graduate recruitment scheme at Marine Midland Bank (a subsidiary of HSBC). As a corporate banker, he analysed the credit of borrowers in Latin America for a year, before he got his first break.

"I was asked to go to Spain and act as the deputy representative for the bank. It was a huge opportunity,' he said.

In Spain, Piedra became the chief representative of Marine Midland helping to build its correspondent banking business. But after four years, drawn by the allure of investment banking, Piedra packed his bags and returned to New York.

"Marine Midland had set up a brand new investment bank. I raised my hand and said I would like to be involved."

Piedra joined the new unit as a salesman, helping Marine Midland build a swaps and interest rate derivative business. One year later, his second career break took place in the form of a social encounter with John Thorton, then head of European M&A at Goldman Sachs.

"Thornton asked me to join the M&A department at Goldman Sachs as an associate to help build a Spanish business and I jumped at the chance."

When he joined Goldman, Piedra says he knew nothing about M&A. "The first year I was at Goldmans, I never left the office before midnight. I was doing everything from creating pitch books to running analyses and building merger models - it was pretty full-on!" After working in Spain building the M&A business, he was invited to return to New York to build the bank's Latin American merger business.

In 1999 he returned to London to work as a generalist doing large cross-border deals, including the Telia/Sonera transaction, the largest cross-border incumbent telecom transaction to date.

When the technology bubble burst in 2000 he became co-head of Goldman's European effort in financial institutions, another area in which he had little experience. He stayed in Goldman's FIG division until 2003, when he left to build a FIG unit at Bank of America, a relatively new player in the European investment banking market.

Piedra said, "We're building an investment bank in Europe in the same way that Bank of America built a bank in the US. On the back of our US operations, our focus here is to expand our investment banking business.'

He said a successful career in banking requires opportunism and adaptability: "If you have the raw materials of hard work, motivation, intelligence, judgment, experience and people skills, you can put your head down and learn whatever is necessary."

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