There’s no guaranteed path to career success, but Nicky’s guest on this episode of Leaders with Ambition illustrates a few key ingredients.
Nick Wallis, a Partner and Head of Deal Advisory at Gerald Edelman, deployed a powerful combination of priorities in making his quick ascent: A strong work ethic, effective networking and eyes on the horizon. While it’s easy to get caught up in the next salary increase, Nick understood early on that short-term sacrifice often equals long-term gain. Thus, he leaned into long working hours and understood that increased managerial responsibility or exposure to new skill sets were worth the trade-off.
Moving to PWC early on, Nick believed he was on a Partner track to his ideal career. But because he was constantly assessing the landscape, he soon figured out that his passion was to work in a more entrepreneurial context. With that knowledge, he was able to chart a new course ultimately leading to where he thrives today, helming a tight-knit Deal Advisory team at Gerald Edelman.
It has brought him the best of both worlds: An entrepreneurial venture within an established professional services organisation that affords him infrastructure and support. Not only does Nick help facilitate and bring to fruition start-up enterprises, he’s also effectively running his own start-up by developing an entirely new M&A practice within Gerald Edelman.
This episode highlights the tools that have enabled Nick to achieve his goals, the need always to be gauging your value-add within any given team and why it’s so important to keep your eyes fixed on a five- or ten-year horizon. “The experiences I’ve had along the way have really helped to get me to where I am today and have given me the confidence to achieve,” says Nick. He also offers thoughts on the impact of Covid19 relating to corporate deal-making and shares both highlights and lowlights from the course of his stellar career.
Key takeaways from this episode with Nick Wallis
A quick recap
Nick shares his educational history, including a school experience that installed in him a gold-standard work ethic and a well-timed, fascinating internship with Lehman Brothers.
After University, he secured a job at PWC's North London office, an environment he felt was a good fit with his at-that-time somewhat shy personality.
Nick really enjoyed the culture and work at PWC, so declined to pursue investment banking in favour of focusing early on partnership at the Big 4 accountancy firm – with a promotion to a managerial role within the audit division following not long after. Roles within transaction services and due diligence departments at PWC also added skill sets to Nick’s portfolio, most especially in the realm of managerial expertise.
It's not all about the money
While acknowledging that everyone wants to be fairly remunerated, Nick believes that over-emphasising salary early in one’s career can be a hindrance to the big-picture goals. Being promoted more quickly often yields bigger payoffs down the line.
Hungry to explore something more entrepreneurial, Nick moved to Bluebox, a boutique corporate finance organisation advising lower and mid-market start-up clients. He loved interacting with c-suite business people and acquiring new expertise as well as confidence in his ability to bring in business.
When he had the opportunity to develop a Deal Advisory, M&A division within Gerald Edelman, it was a perfect fit with his experience, interests and long-term aspirations. It combined having his own business within a business but also having the support infrastructure that only a pre-existing firm can offer.
Nick credits his career success to focusing on: Where do you want to go with your career? Are you taking advantage of opportunities – not just those that present themselves but those that you’ve proactively conjured up? Are you alert and open to other people’s experiences, not necessarily as an immediate opportunity but to better understand future market opportunities?
Nick has very intentionally cultivated his network, recognising early on that he had to extend his reach beyond PWC, leveraging his current connections to build bridges to new contacts.
Tip: You don’t necessarily have to attend networking events and mixers to accomplish this goal
Nick has over time adjusted his definition of hard work to flex hours in combination with working as efficiently and productively as possible. Long hours do equate with quicker promotion, but embracing diverse styles of work is also important to retention.
Building culture is really important to Nick, whose team dynamic animates deals and inspires repeat business. It’s an environment that inspires hard work and dedication. Nick has learned many powerful lessons through his work with entrepreneurs – some positive and others not so much so. But in all cases, it’s an exciting energy because it’s about helping business people make their dreams happen.
At the outset of the pandemic Nick was worried about whether deals would progress and how they would choose advisors without that all-important personal contact. But, with certain adjustments to pitching style, team calls and Zoom have worked fine. Deals are getting done under completely remote circumstances.
Although Covid19 restrictions have fostered a remote, highly efficient style of doing business, Nick believes face-to-face ultimately will re-emerge because nothing cements relationships quite so effectively. There will likely be a hybrid approach, depending on when and where it makes sense to be virtual.
Nick’s career highlights
Winning his highly competitive internship with Lehman Brothers.
Securing his early managerial promotions at PWC.
Bringing in his first confidence-boosting deals at BlueBox.
Taking a risk and successfully setting up the Deal Advisory function at Gerald Edelman, in spite of Brexit, Covid19 and economic challenges.
Challenges along the way
Being a small cog in PWC’s massive wheel was frustrating at times.
Adopting the technical skills sets necessary to complete his transition to the PWC transaction team.
Coming to understand human differences and how to adapt to varying styles and work ethics.
Realising upon his departure from PWC that his network wasn’t as robust as he believed it to be.
Network, network, network
Nick believes you’re never too early in your career to start building connections that down the line will undoubtedly produce exciting opportunities.
Know your value
Nick has focused through his career on advice from a Senior Director at Lehman Brothers who advised him always to be mindful of your value-add in any situation – as a contributor to the team, the deal, the development of innovative ideas.
Could you be a fit?
Deal Advisory is a work hard, play hard culture, but Nick also believes in work-life balance. Experience and technical know-how are critical but above all else team members must have the interpersonal skills to connect with people at every stage and level of involvement with deals.
“I decided that being in investment banking in 2008 or 2009, around the time I graduated, was probably not the best idea.”
“I was fortunate enough to work on a number of different clients and industries of different sizes, which I think gave me a real grounding.”
“I had this idea of being a Partner and that was my aim from a very young age.”
“The idea was always to grow, get promoted, be a Partner. I was always thinking not necessarily about where I am today but where I’m going to be in five years or ten years.”
“I started to become a lot more entrepreneurial myself from having dealt with more entrepreneurial clients and learning what makes a successful business and what doesn’t.”
“The experiences I’ve had along the way have really helped to get me to where I am today and given me the confidence to achieve that.”
“I always talk to as many people as I can to understand what opportunities there are. Not necessarily opportunities for me in my own personal career, but understanding where what I’m doing fits into other avenues and practices.”
“It’s about asking for opportunities, opening up doors for yourself to get those opportunities (and) having that long-term goal.”
“As an organisation and a firm, we’re very focused on diversity and inclusiveness … It’s really important. We want to make sure that everyone feels included and we’re one team.”
“I love the feeling of helping people achieve their life goals.”
“We’ve completed transactions … where we never met the client, never met the buyers, never met the lawyers. Everything was done remotely and I think that has been a real boost for the whole M&A industry. People realised that deals can be done remotely.”
“There (has been) a lot of pent up demand in deals and a lot of cash out there and I think we’re sort of riding a wave … and I’m hoping that will continue. That’s the general feeling in the market.”
“You’re never too early in your career to start building your network because you never know what’s going to happen. Having a good network creates opportunities.”
“One of the most important skills to be successful in the deal advisory or corporate finance world is to be good with people, so make sure your interpersonal skills are really good.”
About Nick Wallis:
Nick’s core focus is to provide market-leading advice to business owners on the sale of their businesses, or raising equity or debt funding. As Head of Deal Advisory at Gerald Edelman, he also works with buyers on their M&A strategy and, regardless of the project or client, always focuses on planning to ensure successful and valuable outcomes.
About the host, Nicky Acuna Ocana
Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Managing Director of Ambition UK, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. With an extensive network of senior and board-level contacts, she is also heavily involved in Executive Search, focusing on Director level appointments across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.
If you're a leader with ambition from a professional services firm and would like to feature as a guest in a future podcast, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.