For the month of August, WCC had a conversation with Jim Balcom, a graduate of the Class of ’92 and Managing Director at FTI Consulting.
WCC: What were your first steps out of UW?
At Madison I received my BBA in Accounting and immediately moved to New York to work on the audit team at Ernst & Young. I grew up in Kenosha and at that time had never been to New York City. Four years later, I left Ernst & Young for a specialty consulting shop called Zolfo Cooper that focuses on restructuring, financial and corporate advisory services.
WCC: What attracted you to restructuring consulting?
As a restructuring consultant, there is a pretty high turnover of projects, some as short as three months, others as long as three years. Every new consulting project feels like a new job, which I really like. Working on different projects gives me the opportunity to work to develop many different skill sets. Sometimes I even work on several projects at once.
One of the best parts of being a restructuring consultant is the opportunity to work with senior executives as they negotiate through the bankruptcy proceedings.
WCC: So how did you eventually land at FTI?
During the economic bubble in ’97 and ’98, I was approached to work on restructuring projects for a private equity firm. My time there gave me a private-buyer’s perspective on purchasing companies. When it is your own money on the line you look at the different aspects of a company very differently.
After that I did investment banking for Houlihan Lokey, and then was recruited by Goldman Sachs to be a valuation advisor. During my eight years at Goldman, I did a number of different things, including valuation work, helping the Investment Banking and Equity Research divisions set up an office in Bangalore, India, and working on GS’ leveraged loan portfolio, generally on distressed transactions.
I came to FTI because of its great reputation in the restructuring community as well as because I no longer wanted to work long investment banking hours. At FTI, I do very similar work to what I was doing on GS’s leveraged loan portfolio—mainly advising creditors in distressed/bankruptcy proceedings.
WCC: Many students ask us the difference between investment banking and consulting. What is your take on that?
Investment banks are great places to work and learn. They generally have strong cultures but also require long hours, late nights, and most weekend days. If one wants to be an investment banker, one must be prepared for 80+ hour weeks on a regular basis. While one can learn a lot working this hard, working long hours can take its toll over time. Comparing investment banking to consulting really depends on the type of consulting you are comparing it to. There are many different types of consulting jobs. Some require travel 50 weeks a year, and others might require its employees to be available to clients 24/7, which makes the job very unpredictable. It all comes down to what your short and long term goals are. The best advice I can give is for you to do your homework about the type of work you will be doing, what the hours will be like, and how often you will travel. Pick the profession that you believe you will enjoy. Don’t pick it solely because it will look good on your resume or because it pays the most. There are lots of different consulting jobs that you can choose from.
WCC: What is FTI’s specialty and what is it like to be a Managing Director there?
FTI is a public company that does consulting mainly in 5 large areas: Corporate finance (e.g. restructuring), Economics (thought leadership and expert testimony in court), Forensics & Litigation, Strategic Communications (advising C-Suite executives), and Technology.
FTI is a great place to work. It has a great culture, a recognizable brand name, and great people. I work in the Corporate Finance group, focused on restructuring. FTI consistently works on the largest global restructurings, which affords me the opportunity to work on some of the largest cases.
In response to your second question, I manage teams ranging anywhere from 3 to 20 people. I run the team on a day-to-day basis, provide my teammates with a range of diverse experiences, and also facilitate the mentoring and review process.
WCC: What is your message to Badgers trying to break into consulting?
Expectations of you are very high these days so it is very important to have good grades and be well rounded. Personally, I value well-roundedness higher than I do grades. When I did recruiting for Goldman, I would see up to 800-1000 resumes from just one school—all of them equally incredible. You need to be able to show a unique and interesting mix of academic, personal, and professional achievements. I also recommend that you put personal interests on the bottom of your resume. I find that interviewers love to connect with candidates on things they have in common.
Most importantly, coming out of Wisconsin you have to be proactive if you want something because nobody will reach out and hand it to you. Connect to the people who can help you (e.g., Wisconsin Alumni) and be well prepared to prove why you are the ideal candidate. I always tell people “Nobody cares about your career more than you”, so if you want something, go get it.
Make sure your resume is in a format that employers look for. Work with the business career center, have your friends review your resume to make sure it is error free, and do practice interviews. Be prepared.
Lastly, do not be overly serious. Be passionate, show positive energy, and have fun! Remember that your interviewer is looking for somebody that can do the job but also for somebody to work with on a daily basis.
Thank you for sharing your experiences and advice with us Jim!