2018 Harris Williams Women’s Leadership Summit

Recap of a Day Dedicated to Women in Investment Banking


Harris Williams recently hosted its fourth annual Women’s Leadership Summit, a unique opportunity for first-year MBA and undergraduate sophomore students to build a foundational knowledge of the industry.

“I was truly inspired to welcome this group of bright young women interested in investment banking,” remarked Ned Valentine, the firm’s Executive Managing Director. “It was great to have such strong attendance and to have the chance to talk about the opportunities available at Harris Williams.” 

At the event, aspiring investment bankers engaged with all levels of banking professionals, learned about different career paths, and began to build a base for a successful career in the industry. This full day of women-centered content included an M&A and investment banking overview, special guest speakers, a panel discussion, skill-building workshops, interactive case studies and networking opportunities. 

Practical sessions and a panel with current and former female bankers from Harris Williams were the day’s focal points. During hands-on case study exercises, Harris Williams executives discussed the “nuts and bolts” of the M&A process in the context of two recent sales in which Harris Williams was involved.  They were joined by private equity partner Caroline Young of Hammond, Kennedy, Whitney & Company, who shared her perspective on why the deal was appealing to her firm.

The panel consisted of current and former Harris Williams bankers discussing the investment banking profession, the firm and their career choices. Panelists included Kellie Barranco, a third-year analyst with the Harris Williams Healthcare & Life Sciences Group; Neha Shah, a vice president within the Energy, Power & Infrastructure Group; and Morgan Witham, a recent Harris Williams alumna who is now the chief operating officer at COLAB, a digital agency. The panel was moderated by Lane Hopkins, Harris Williams’ Chief Talent Officer.

These women, in various stages of their careers, emphasized the following key themes:

The potential for personal and professional growth in investment banking 

All three participants emphasized the breadth of experiences and the rapid professional growth inherent in investment banking. They cited one-on-one engagement with more senior bankers, as well as the volume of knowledge they gained in a short period of time.

For Shah, a mix of challenge and creativity made investment banking a great choice: “I wanted something challenging, fast-paced and dynamic. I had friends who had done investment banking internships, and the experience they described was exactly what I was looking for. That combination of analytical thinking, creativity and client management all comes together in this role.”

The challenges and key success factors of establishing yourself in a male-dominated industry

Overall, the panel described an industry undergoing rapid change, in which women are increasingly influential at all levels. However, that does not mean that entering investment banking as a woman—or thriving in the industry—is easy.

Panelists’ advice to other women included proactively sharing their viewpoints, being authentically themselves versus trying to fit a mold, and remembering that leaders throughout investment banking want women to be successful, and are investing in that outcome.

The importance of finding a bank that provides you with a good cultural fit

Given the long hours and challenging work that characterizes investment banking, said the panelists, cultural fit is of paramount importance. In addition to getting along with team members, it’s critical that senior leaders create an environment that is inclusive and promotes a healthy work-life balance. The panelists agreed that the best firms to work for also prioritize hiring good people, which fosters strong relationships and a positive work environment.

And, as Shah noted, great firms make a point of including the most junior team members in the entire deal process. “Being involved in every stage of the deal, no matter what your level is: That really sums up what our culture is about,” she noted. “From analysts up to managing directors, we all work on critical deal points. To get that exposure so early in your career is so valuable, and it really frames the way you think about everything going forward.”

Parting thoughts

To round out the day, Hiter Harris, a managing director and co-founder of the firm, left the participants with words of wisdom for life derived from his years of experience. Among these hard-won insights, one rose to the top for Harris: “Enjoy the journey.”

For more information on the annual Harris Williams Women’s Leadership Summit, please contact us.