A cursory glance up the career ladder can be a dangerous thing. For many graduates, the route to the top is so steep, it can induce bouts of vertigo. It needn't be so daunting though, as Bryony Marshall will tell you. Bryony joined Hawkpoint as a graduate, spent two years as an analyst, and was then promoted to associate. The Gateway spent a day with her, along with Simon Gluckstein, Hawkpoint's Head of UK. On paper, the gap between the two is huge, but with 170 people employed throughout the firm and a meritocratic culture, in reality it's not that wide at all. "We seek to develop people within the organisation," says Simon.
I'm not a number...
Having interviewed at a number of the "bulge bracket" investment banks, Bryony's decision to join a specialist advisory firm was reasoned and considered. "My career path has moved along a bit quicker than most people's," she says. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to work here." Swift progress based on merit is typical within the organisation, and Simon says it's something they're going to continue supporting: "We've consistently taken on graduates each year. We invest heavily in their training, both in their first few months and then more generally as part of our broader programme of talent development. We have graduates who have risen to become directors within the firm and we're always on the lookout for those who are keen to build their careers with us."
Watching Bryony go about her daily tasks suggests that the benefits of working at a smaller corporate finance advisory firm are not only long term. She seems to be playing an important role on a number of projects and is constantly on the go; being drafted into meetings, taking calls from clients and directors, liaising with analysts. She may only have been with Hawkpoint for four years but she seems central to its well-oiled machine, another thing she enjoys about her job. "I really feel that I am working as part of a team at Hawkpoint. Everyone knows each other here and we support each other" she says. "I get recognised for the work I do much more than I might if I was a part of a huge pool of associates at a bigger firm, and people say thank you! They understand and appreciate the effort you put in and are even apologetic if you have to work late. Furthermore, I'm involved in a lot more hands-on project work here than I would be at a larger bank, and those projects are much more varied because Hawkpoint has a generalist approach. I'm glad of that because when I joined I certainly didn't know which sector I wanted to specialise in - I don't think anybody does. Since joining, I've worked across lots of different sectors. I feel like I've got plenty of time to focus on something specific later in my career."
While Hawkpoint works with clients across a range of sectors, the firm does one thing above all others for them: provides independent advice. It's this focus that, according to Simon, gives them an advantage over many of the one-stop shops in the sector. "We are focused, exclusively, on providing corporate finance advice," he says. "Advice in all senses of the word; whether that's in the mergers and acquisitions space, or in relation to debt and equity. The distinction between an independent adviser and large, bulge bracket investment banks is that we don't have a multitude of products which we're seeking to cross-sell and use to extract revenue from a potential client. Advice is our only product, and so we stand and fall by its quality. We, therefore, invest in long-term relationships with our clients."
Being in the company of a man who's built his career around offering advice, The Gateway couldn't resist putting Simon to the test. How does he think graduates should go about getting a job at Hawkpoint? "I was in this position not that long ago," he says, "and my advice is to take your time. Do a lot of research into the firm. Understand what we do and how we position ourselves. Wherever you work, you'll be spending a lot of time there so, for your own sake, it's important to know the organisation inside out. The people we employ invest in their own development, just as much as we do." What about being successful once they've got the job? "We will give all graduate hires the tools to progress and to get the most out of the opportunity; they must roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. If you show the required enthusiasm and commitment, it will be reciprocated by the firm."
Over the past quarter, the news has been filled with grim prophecies regarding the future of the financial sector and the wider UK economy. The situation is being compared with the 2008 financial crisis, with many speculating that things are now potentially worse. But Simon points to Hawkpoint's performance three years ago and the nature of its business when he predicts that it will ride out any external challenges successfully. "When times are more benign," he says, "bulge bracket banks make a lot of money selling products, and often they provide advice as an ancillary product alongside that. When times are depressed, though, the client actually needs more committed relationship support. In that context, the independent advisory sector, and Hawkpoint in particular, has held up very well over the course of the last few years. It's certainly not immune from some of the broader economic pressures, but we are in a better position to manage such periods than some of the larger firms in the sector."
As The Gateway departs, a buzz of activity envelopes the marble halls of Hawkpoint's headquarters. Simon and Bryony are off again: there are clients to be met and deals to be done. Working at Hawkpoint may not sound like an average investment banking career, and from everything we've seen, it isn't.