Changing My Direction: World Class Skier Moves Into M&A

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The M&A space, similarly to many other areas of finance, has traditionally been populated and governed by men. A 2011 study by Reuters found only 15% of executives and senior level managers in US investment banking and securities dealing industries were women. Fast-forward six years and that figure increases a mere 4%. Unlike the Advertising industry, where, according to a report by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, women held 38.9% of all C-suite roles in the UK. So why is there still a significant underrepresentation of women in the M&A sector?

 

Interestingly, as the conversation and  initiatives geared toward gender diversity within M&A increases, the characteristics aligned with success in the sector are being widely recognised and celebrated within women. For instance, collaboration, creativity, relationship-building and heightened emotional and social intelligence are a small handful of attributes that set women apart at the negotiating table. And, notably, this isn’t to say females have only recently possessed such traits, instead it is the heightened acknowledgement and endorsement from not only key figures within M&A but by the industry as a whole.

 

This becomes particularly exciting when introducing a high-achieving female athlete into the equation. Take someone like Julie Mohagen for example, a multiple world championship skier and NCAA champion, who has worked towards reaching the top for the better half of 15 years. To reach such a level within sport requires a unparalleled amount of grit, sacrifice, and resilience. What’s more, during this journey soft-skills such as resilience, communication, and performing under pressure are developed. One thing is clear however: the 15 years Julie spent skiing 25mph down mountain-faces have made her perfectly equipped to succeed in M&A.

 

We sat down with Julie as she starts her summer analyst role at a Global bank to discuss her fondest sporting memory, how sport has prepared her for this opportunity, and her advice for female athletes considering a career in M&A.

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How did you get into Skiing?

I have skied my entire life. My parents used to escape the city to our cabin in the mountains of Norway every weekend during winter. I got my first pair of skies for Christmas at just 6 months old – before I could even walk. There was never really a question of whether I would be a skier or not. Even though I am from the city I practically grew up on the mountain.

 

What’s your fondest memory within the sport?

I have many incredible memories and it is difficult to pick just one from my 15-year career. I fondly remember ski camps at glaciers in Norway and Europe with all my best friends from when I was younger, beautiful sunrises on the mountain, and training in the warm weather and slushy snow during spring. My fondest memory, though, is from the 2017 national collegiate championships. The last time the team had won a national title was 13 years ago – despite often being the favourite going into the championships. We were leading the competition after the first two days, and fell down to third on the third day. On the fourth and final day it was freezing cold and tough conditions, but despite this the whole team performed extremely well, but no one knew if it was enough to win. In the finish area everyone was crunching numbers trying to calculate the results and rumours of scores were flying – we had won by a mile, we had lost by 0,5 points – no one knew. When we were finally announced as the winners everyone was absolute ecstatic. It was an incredible experience of teamwork that I will remember for a long time.

 

How do you feel sport has best prepared you for a career? And more specifically, for a career in Finance?

Competitive ski racing is great preparation for a career in finance. You learn grit; you gain experience with success and failure; you learn to work under pressure; you learn how to work in a team and lean on others for advice and coaching, and to get you through the tough days, to mention a few. Also, as a skier you are working with numerous variables that have to be decoded and understood, and then adapted and exploited in each individual, similar to the markets. There is no one recipe for success and every athlete has to take responsibility for their own progress and performance. It also helps that athletes generally have a keen competitive instinct – I know I certainly like to win – which is not a bad ability to have in such a competitive field, and it comes with an experience of fair play and ethics. There is no satisfaction from winning on bad terms.

Julie Graduates University of Utah with a perfect 4.0 GPA
Julie Graduates University of Utah with a perfect 4.0 GPA

What characteristic do you believe is the most influential to your success within sport and within finance? Are they the same?

I believe it is probably fairly similar. It is not easy to pinpoint exactly what has caused the success – it is for sure a combination of different abilities with some luck. However, I believe that a mindset of risk-taking and wanting to succeed more than being afraid to fail, is crucial to anyone who wants to succeed with anything. There are also big differences; the physical aspect of sport is of course very different from working in an office. Many characteristics that cause success in sports would also cause success in finance, if you are able to transfer those skills.

 

What have you learnt most from skiing?

I have mostly learned how to ski fast. But through that process I have gained experience with teamwork, grit, fair play, preforming under pressure. The most valuable lesson is maybe the importance of a good team. In a good team, individuals push each other to be better and help each other through tough times. I wouldn’t have made it half as far if I didn’t have such good friends and teammates.

Julie Helps Utah Win a Much Coveted NCAA Championship

What do you think studying & competing in the US gave you that perhaps university in Europe couldn’t?

Competitive university teams don’t really exist in Europe. The US have an incredible culture for university athletics where I got a lot of support. I could have pursued university and skiing by themselves in Europe, but college in the US provides an integrated solution that works very well.

 

You’re about to start an M&A internship at a Global bank, what are you most looking forward to?

I am looking forward to learning and being challenged. Now that my skiing career is over, it is great to have an arena for my competitive instincts. I know that I still don’t know much about finance, so this is a great platform to learn from the best. I am also looking forward to meeting new and like-minded people.

 

What stigmas do you think there are attached to M&A?

I think that M&A can be perceived as a somewhat unethical, and that the industry has a difficult time taking responsibility for its shortcomings. As a woman, I also see that the industry has a largely male dominated culture – but there are of course exceptions. I also believe that the industry is taking steps and has changed a lot in the last decade.

 

What piece of advice would you give to woman athletes considering a career in M&A?

I would recommend to just go for it. It might be a benefit to be a woman in the field right now as finance and banking is looking to balance its gender disproportion. I would also recommend to read books on the topic and talk to professionals, especially women within the field. Seek advice and be fearless. But ask me again after my internship and I’ll probably have a better answer.

 

What do you hope to learn most from your upcoming internship?

I hope to learn whether or not this is a direction I want to pursue for my career. There are a lot of interesting fields within finance so I hope to gain more experience with what investment banking is all about.

 

What drew you to wanting to work in the M&A space?

It is one of the most competitive directions within finance and I wanted to challenge myself. I also believe I prefer being more involved with companies directly, than simply being an outsider in the markets. M&A is a really interesting space where you get to be involved with many different companies and be a larger part of the decision-making process.

How do you see the finance industry evolving over the next five years?

I believe that the industry will become more diverse, which will, in theory, result in a change in culture. There are also substantial changes in traditional politics all over the western world right now that I believe might have a large effect on regulation of the industry. I also hope that the finance industry will take more social responsibility.

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