Q&A with Harris Williams Investment Banking Associate Bethel Hailemichael was originally published on Firsthand.
Bethel Hailemichael is an associate in the Healthcare & Life Sciences Group at Harris Williams, a global investment bank specializing in M&A advisory services. Since March, Bethel has been working remotely from his home in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, the firm’s headquarters. Recently, we spoke with Bethel from his home, via Zoom. Below is an edited version of that conversation.
Vault: To start with, could you speak about your background, where you grew up and went to school, and how you found your way to Harris Williams?
Hailemichael: I was born and raised in San Diego, California, and completed my undergrad degree at California State University Northridge. Then I did my MBA at NYU Stern. Funny enough, the way I learned of Harris Williams was through the Vault guide. And during my summer internship, between my first and second years at Stern, I decided to refocus my recruiting efforts on strictly M&A advisory firms. And so, once I came across Harris Williams—I was able to do a good amount of research through the Vault guide and other resources and got to meet more folks at the firm—the firm quickly went to the top of my recruiting list.
Vault: What makes Harris Williams different from other investment banks and why did you choose the firm over others?
Hailemichael: First and foremost, the firm’s market leadership and the focus on the sell-side M&A advisory really interested me. Having spent my summer at a New York-based, bulge-bracket bank, it was quickly apparent to me that when I looked at full-time recruiting, I wanted to focus more on M&A advisory.
Then, on top of Harris Williams’ market leadership and excellence, looking at my career goals, I knew that Harris Williams was a place where I could really build a long-term career in investment banking. And that comes down to: one, the culture of the firm, and two, the people at the firm. The firm does an incredible job of recruiting and retaining people that fit the culture of the firm. And I knew, as I was going through the recruiting process, that this was the place where I saw myself building a long-term career.
Vault: How would you describe the culture at Harris Williams?
Hailemichael: If I were to use three words to describe the culture, they’d be entrepreneurial, collegial, and collaborative. Not only are these the three driving factors in the culture but we also try to live them. We’re focused on building that culture every day. And the firm does a great job of attracting and retaining a diverse group of people who boost that culture. I think this specifically impacts associates, as the firm fosters and builds a culture where a sustainable career in investment banking is cultivated and developed. The firm’s investment in people and focus on bringing in associates with a long-term trajectory to become future leaders really appealed to me.
Vault: We heard that you’re going to be a panelist at the third annual Harris Williams MBA Diversity Summit. What will your role be in the summit and what will the summit entail?
Hailemichael: The summit is an annual event we host to give candidates an experience that will allow them really get to know the firm. This year, of course, the whole event is virtual. But we’re filling the day with panel discussions as well as some small group activities. So, in regard to the panel itself, it’s the same experience that you’d get in person but just in a virtual world. I hope candidates get an opportunity to: one, learn more about the firm, and two, come away with the ability to envision themselves sitting in the associate chair at Harris Williams.
On top of that, I think candidates hopefully get exposure to the firm’s real commitment to diversity and inclusion. My involvement in recruiting efforts since joining the firm has been very rewarding. I love the idea of helping to build the firm’s future.
Vault: You’ve been mentoring one of the firm’s summer interns. Could you talk a little bit about that as well as what the mentorship program at Harris Williams entails?
Hailemichael: Although the summer associate internship program is virtual this year, we try to create the same experiences for as in an in-person internship. And being able to serve as a mentor has been great. I’ve tried my best to be an available resource and support system. In terms of my own personal growth and development, it’s a great opportunity to continue to find teachable moments.
When you join the firm as a summer, you come in with assigned mentor relationships as well as an advisor for the summer program. Plus, if the summer associate’s mentor or advisor can’t answer a question, or if the associate is looking for outside perspective, there are established lines of communication.
In terms of firmwide mentorship, there’s a natural culture of mentorship at Harris Williams. I think it’s fostered by a lot of the senior leadership who grew up in the firm—they want to see associates grow with the firm too.
Vault: Could you speak about how mentors at the firm have helped you—how senior bankers have helped further your career and help you grow?
Hailemichael: During my second week with the firm, we had a couple of unexpected changes come up days before a pitch. As a brand new associate working with a brand new analyst, it took a bit of time to sort out edits with the managing director (MD) on the deal.
Next thing I knew, the MD comes into our office, and we start working shoulder to shoulder with him. And instead of just getting to the right answer as we’re updating our materials, he’s lending a hand and explaining the changes, explaining deal dynamics, explaining the Harris Williams way, and grooming us—not only to make the changes now but also to set us up for success in the future. And I think that level of mentorship and on-the-job training is incredibly valuable and essential.
A lot of people have grown up at the firm, so as you join as an associates or analyst, the VPs and directors you work with are very focused on creating a team atmosphere and making sure that the full team succeeds and understands the lanes of the road.
Vault: Could you speak about the transition from working in the office at Harris Williams’ headquarters to working remotely from home?
Hailemichael: The first few days were difficult, mainly because of the uncertainty as things were unfolding nationwide and in Richmond. But after having established a routine, it’s been really helpful to have open lines of communication with the firm and with my deal teams. We’ve been able to find new ways to continue to collaborate effectively.
From a firmwide perspective, Harris Williams has done a great job of being transparent and keeping communication open. As an associate, I really appreciated the proactive approach that our firm’s leadership has taken—such as receiving phone calls from MDs across the firm just to check in—as well as the close-knit bonds that we have maintained. These things really go a long way.
Vault: One of the things that sets Harris Williams apart from many of its peers is its location. Could you talk a little bit about Richmond—how you find the city and anything that really surprised you about it?
Hailemichael: I didn’t really have any experience or familiarity with the city before I came across Harris Williams, and that was my introduction to Richmond. Having grown up on the West Coast and spent my career in the Northeast, Richmond was kind of an unknown to me.
I’m just continuously amazed and thrilled that I made the decision to move down here. Richmond has everything I would have found and needed in a New York City, and it’s a much more conducive and supportive environment in regard to building a long-term career.
Some of the highlights to living in the city are that you don’t have the traffic or the congestion you would find in a major city. Everything is very accessible—whether that’s going to the office or going out on the weekends. The city offers incredible outdoor activities such as paddle boarding, river rafting, hiking, and visiting many of the breweries and wineries.
Vault: What would you recommend to undergrads and MBA students who’d like to join the investment banking industry and perhaps ultimately join Harris Williams?
Hailemichael: First and foremost, set yourself up for success in the coursework and activities that you take advantage of at school. Also, I think in this virtual environment, networking is even more important. Be very intentional with the people with whom you’re networking and continue to stay in front of them, even though you might not necessarily be able to meet in person.
Another piece of advice—and this is something that I definitely leaned on in school—is to try as much as you can to learn from upperclassmen. I think that, especially in this environment, they are an incredibly great resource.
To read more, check out Bethel speaking about what a day in his life looks like working for Harris Williams:
This post was sponsored by Harris Williams.