When Ana Dicu joined corporate advisory firm Canaccord Genuity in summer 2010, she was assigned to work on a £40 million transaction in her first week on the job. She then continued to play a crucial role on the two-year deal during the course of the graduate programme.
Ana studied business administration at university, which she followed with an MSc in international management. "I was attracted to corporate finance because it's a complex job that lets you constantly develop your skills. As well as financial analysis, it involves managing the process of a transaction, building relationships and marketing business pitches to potential clients," she explains. Nevertheless, she didn't realise quite how quickly she would earn responsibility and develop her role when, for her first project, she was assigned to work on the sale of Invista Real Estate, an investment management firm with commercial property assets in the UK, Europe and Asia.
Doing the deal
Canaccord Genuity specialises in M&A, financial restructuring and strategic advice for corporate, government and private equity clients. The graduate scheme at the firm begins with an initial two-month training programme, which covers all aspects of the business. "Even if you don't have a background in finance, you learn everything you need to know in those two months, from the basics to complex financial modelling," says Ana. The training is followed by two six-month periods in the key parts of the firm's business: the Financial Institutions Group (FIG) and General Advisory, after which analysts are asked for their preferences on where they want to be permanently based.
Ana started out in FIG, where she was assigned to the Invista Real Estate project. "In 2010, Invista ran into financial trouble when it lost a large contract. We were appointed to do a strategic review of the business, then to advise the company on selling off its remaining assets," explains Ana. "Initially, my role on the project involved researching potential buyers for Invista's Asian assets in Hong Kong and Singapore, and keeping a record of the status of their interest."
After just a few weeks on the project, Ana began attending client meetings with other members of the team: "I didn't do any talking at first, but it was beneficial to see how the senior members of my team handled the client and potential buyers. It was also rewarding to see the research I'd done being used and watch the presentations I'd helped prepare being delivered," says Ana.
The transaction evolved into a two-year M&A project to sell the whole of Invista, a publicly listed company (PLC), to a private entity. Ana was involved on the transaction from start to finish, and her responsibilities expanded as she worked on it. "By the time the deal was near completion, I was in constant contact with the Takeover Panel and I also monitored the share price of Invista on the stock market and liaised with lawyers to prepare the documents needed for the sale of the company," she says. "I even attended board meetings, presented to chief executives and chief financial officers and answered their questions - that's a giant step up from where I started." Invista Real Estate was eventually sold to Palmer Capital for £40 million in August 2012.
Learning on the job
The best aspect of the project for Ana was that it touched on so many issues she'll surely have to face again in the future. "I learned a lot from the project, from technical things, such as how to do valuations in the real estate market and about the specific laws and regulations governing the sale of a PLC, to how to deal with lots of different parties." She explains: "There were lawyers and advisors from both sides of the deal, as well as the Takeover Panel and our client. It was difficult at first to keep everyone informed on how the process was moving along."
However, Ana says that having exposure to such a complex transaction right at the start of her career has prepared her well for her growing role at the firm. "I still work on Excel and build financial models, but I have lots of other responsibilities too. Now, I work on live transactions, talk to clients and pitch for new business on a regular basis - and I find it much more manageable than when I first started."
At the end of her first year of the graduate programme, Ana joined the General Advisory business, where she is a member of both the retail and business services focus groups. "My work mainly involves UK retailers, from luxury brands to general shops." For analysts at the firm, staffing on projects is based on availability rather than sector specialism, but Ana explains: "I keep up-to-date with everything that happens in my focus groups' sectors, so I'm the first person called upon for transactions in these areas. But I also work on transactions in other sectors if I'm available. It makes my work very interesting because I have areas that I specialise in, but I'm not limited to them." She adds: "I never get bored - that's the best thing about my job!"
Ana was keen to join a smaller corporate advisory firm where she would be able to earn responsibility faster than at a large bank. Canaccord Genuity has around 120 staff in London, which Ana says is "perfect." She explains: "It's small enough that there's a friendly atmosphere and you can get to know everybody. I feel I can approach anybody to ask them for their advice or insight. But it's not too small - I get to work on large transactions and it's also very international, which is exciting."
When Ana joined in 2010, the firm had offices in London, Frankfurt and Paris. Now, as a result of its acquisition by Canada's Canaccord Financial in early 2012, the firm boasts a network of operations in 12 countries worldwide. This level of international exposure is important to Ana, who is originally from Romania and studied in Madrid and Milan before settling in London.
"At a bulge bracket bank, I think it's rarer for graduates to meet clients or have such an important role on a large transaction in their first year," says Ana. But her work on the Invista Real Estate deal is typical of what new joiners can do at the firm. So at Canaccord Genuity, at least, it's not that rare at all.