In 2012, James “Jimmy” Neissa was firmly among the elite investment bankers on Wall Street, having been promoted early every step of the way. After climbing up the ranks at a dizzying pace at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ) in New York, the firm named him co-head of European M&A. From there, he joined UBS as co-head M&A in the Americas, then co-head of global M&A, eventually earning a promotion to joint global head of investment banking and a member of the global executive committee.
After retiring from UBS in 2012, Neissa took time away to enjoy his retirement logging and cultivating hops and hay on a farm in Vermont. A few years later, Rothschild asked him to consider returning to banking.
“I thought, 'This looks like fun again,'" says Neissa. “That’s the sole reason I came back.”
Recruiting graduates and promoting junior bankers early
Neissa instructed the person who heads up the bank’s campus recruiting to significantly pick up the numbers of its incoming graduate classes. This month, Rothschild started recruiting students and giving job offers to its 2019 summer analyst class, of which a very large percentage will become its full-time analyst class in 2020.
“The pipeline is relatively long for organic growth, and while we’re adding MDs, VPs and other people in the interim, it creates an absolute necessity of expanding those summer analyst classes – you have to plan in advance,” Neissa says. “I’d much rather do things in an organic way than constantly have to go out into the market.
“We have around 30 recent college graduates joining the bank in the U.S. every year, and I expect that number to grow,” he says. “We primarily target undergrads, so by and large our analysts become our associates.
“We do hire MBAs, but we don’t target business schools at the graduate level as Wall Street historically has – that’s a growing trend.”
Neissa says that there isn’t a policy constraint in terms of when people can get promoted at any level.
“I have done battlefield promotions, where someone skipped over a level,” Neissa says. “I was a beneficiary of early promotions and I’m a believer in it, although you have to be careful, because you can promote too early.
“The development of good judgment is the key characteristic I put on people at any level – it’s favorable to have computer skills and get things done, but ultimately it’s the judgment factor that matters most,” he says. “It’s close to impossible to objectively quantify when someone is ready to be promoted.
"Judgment is a subjective measure, but people know good judgment when they see it.”
Growing Rothschild & Co. North America
In August 2016, Neissa made his return to banking as the head of North America and managing director in the global advisory division at Rothschild. He set to work making and implementing growth plans for the U.S. market. The following month, Rothschild opened a Chicago office.
In May 2017, Rothschild announced that it was opening a Silicon Valley office in Palo Alto and hiring a global head of technology and an MD to lead the tech team there. Later that month, the firm announced it was adding four more MDs: two healthcare MDs in New York, a consumer MD in New York and a consumer MD in L.A.
At the end of 2016, Rothschild’s total headcount in North America was approximately 280, including 130 advisory bankers. Today, its North American headcount exceeds 320, including approximately 170 bankers in the advisory business. The target by year end is to increase the latter figure to 200.
Rothschild will most likely add another two-to-three MDs this year in Chicago and a supporting cast ranging from analysts to directors. The bank is expanding its L.A. presence as well.
The bank is also looking at additional senior, middle and junior resources to the technology team.
"There is a real opportunity for us to grow our technology team, and we could comfortably grow from two MDs in Palo Alto to many more in the future,” Neissa says. “We got going in earnest in the consumer sector in the U.S. four years ago, and it turned out to be strong, so expanding it is a very good risk-adjusted bet.
“We are in the process of adding more senior resources to that team due to the size of the sector and cross-border flows, plus a supporting cast,” he says. “Restructuring is a great business for us, and we envision adding more senior resources there.”
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