Remembering Your Career Through Your First Mini Bar Can Inspire Empathy

Remembering Your Career Through Your First Mini Bar Can Inspire Empathy

Team Jefferies,

At the Jefferies 2024 Senior Leadership Offsite a few weeks ago, we spoke at length about what every single person deserves from their leaders.  The operative word was EMPATHY.  It is a privilege to be a leader at Jefferies and that means never forgetting the challenges, emotions, motivations, priorities, fears, dreams and experiences of the thousands of people we care about.  

The more we thought about it, the more we realized that the message should be directed not only to a subset of Jefferies, but also to all of you whom we rely on every day and whom we need to join us in embracing the responsibility and privilege of being strong, empathetic partners to those around us.  Peers need to care about fellow peers.  Reporting lines should not dictate how we think about and treat each other.  “Managers” are not the only ones who need to understand what is happening in the minds and hearts of all those around them at Jefferies.  Knowing about each other and caring about each other must be a part of all of our responsibilities.  

One never knows what is really going on in someone else’s heart and mind, but one way we can gain some insights is to remember what we ourselves thought about at various stages in our own careers.  Today we are sharing with all of you some historical personal thoughts from periods throughout our own careers.  These experiences are still fresh in our minds, even though some of them are from many decades ago.  We believe there is magic in being able to remember your own history.  We also believe that while we are all very different individuals, there are many thoughts and emotions that we all seem to have in common.  We share this with all of you with the hope that it resonates and refreshes the feelings and memories each of you have had along the way in your careers.  Some of you may be in the thick of the very early experiences we had (for us it feels like yesterday), and others may be further down the trail of experiences.  Regardless, we all have either been there or will soon be there.  By sharing these experiences, fears, insecurities and dreams, it is our hope that it will help each of us relate (just a little better) to our fellow Jefferies teammates.  After all this is what makes being at Jefferies special.  

With the context set, let’s take you all down our personal career memory lane:

Who remembers what it was like in the early years?

  1. That insecurity of not knowing why you were hired into this business and the burning desire to add value in any way you could, just to prove that you belonged at your first company (or Jefferies, if this is you today). 
  2. That feeling when someone asked you where you worked and what you did, and you were able to answer that you were in finance and worked at XYZ company.  How proud were you?!
  3. When you got your very first review and you were doing well.  And then they told you what you needed to work on to improve. While part of you was adamant that they were wrong, the other part thought they might have a point and you were determined to do better.
  4. The first time you got a bonus check at the end of the year. It might not have been huge, it might not have been what you hoped for, there might have been way too much taken out for this thing called taxes, but it was yours and for the first time you had some money in the bank.  For the first time you felt, I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to be ok.  
  5. The first time you were in a meeting as the person who did the talking.  You couldn’t believe anyone was taking you seriously, but they were.  You couldn’t help but be overly self-conscious, and in that strange way you became aware of hearing your own voice and that was awkward…but you made sense, damn it.  You really did!  So you kept talking.  You had an opinion, and it was based on thorough work and a whole lot of preparation.  And real people were listening.  Wow.  
  6. The first time you were interviewing someone.  The disbelief that you are on the right side of the table for once and that the person you are talking to is beyond nervous and is in awe that you have your act together. How in the world could they possibly impress you?  If they only knew that the truth was that you couldn’t believe that you were the one asking the questions!
  7. The first time the company actually paid for you to go away on a real business trip.  You packed your bag, stayed at a real hotel and debated indulging in the mini bar.  “Would they know if I took something and enjoyed it?  How much does it cost?  Would I get in trouble?  Do I deserve it?”  Regardless, the fact that you had your own mini bar made you feel like a real adult.  Finally, you are a bona fide professional!

Then quickly you find yourself in your middle years:

  1. You made a real difference with the outcome for a client and your input, ideas, creativity and persistence resulted in something amazing happening.  You had a real seat at the table!
  2. Or you did an actual real trade, made a difference by helping on an important research report, solved a mess in operations that saved money or avoided a loss, added a thought on a legal or accounting issue, or helped solve an important HR issue or marketing opportunity.  None of us can forget those formative moments.  You realized for the first time that maybe the company is lucky to have you!
  3. You got a real bonus check.  Not one that matched your idealized “number” and set you up for life like you used to think it would—but one that made a real difference in your life.  You could now think about making a down payment on a home.  You could pay off significant debt.  You could help your parents, siblings or other people you cared about.  There was even some real after-tax money in your checking account left over.  Instead of the feeling that you had “made it” and were “set,” it just motivated you even more to keep going.
  4. Your first serious promotion to a real level of responsibility.  The knowledge of how hard you worked to get there and how good it felt to get acknowledged.  It might have come early, or maybe a little too late in your mind, but you earned it, and you were proud that people you respected agreed. 
  5. The first client you physically met, developed on your own and did an actual deal with.  Maybe it wasn’t a client that others were dying to do business with.  Maybe the client had a setback or two and was out of favor, which is usually why they are available.  But the bottom line is that you put yourself out there, went out of your comfort zone and created something out of nothing.  If that isn’t cool, nothing is.  
  6. The first negotiation where you were matched against a much more experienced dealmaker on the other side of the table, and you just blew them out of the water with your preparation, poise, demeanor and style.  You let your personality shine through and that combined with all of your hard work resulted in a huge win for your client.  More importantly, you realized your personality, sense of humor and individuality were big advantages in your career.  You realized that just being yourself was actually an advantage. 
  7. You came to realize that you need to have some balance in your life or you weren’t going to make it.  You figured out that if you want to work 100 percent of the time, this job will encourage it.  You also realize that there is more to life than this job and you are going to have to make some work sacrifices, ask for help when you need it, be there for your significant other and family, and take care of your personal health.  You realize that you are not a superhero.  Sacrifices are real and costs add up.  You need balance and you are not ashamed to admit it.
  8. You made a decision to switch your job.  It could be a personal affront that you blew out of proportion, or it could be justified.  It could have been someone giving you a great sales pitch and thinking that the grass is greener at a vulnerable moment, or it could be your mentor is leaving and the opportunity could be a game changer.  It could also just be that your firm leaves you, which happens a lot in this industry.  Regardless, this experience is beyond emotionally complex, and it suddenly takes on a life-or-death level of importance.  You realize how much of your identity and being is wrapped up in what you do and who you do it for.  You realize this is not your job, but your life.  And the people around you are not co-workers, but they are your family.  For the first time you realize how personal this all is.  

And in a blink of an eye, you are senior in your career:

  1. You wake up one day and realize that you are the person all eyes are on.  
  2. People are depending upon you for their careers, their ability to start and support a family of their own, purchase a home and build their lives. 
  3. You are the one people come to in times of confusion, stress, hardship and opportunity.  
  4. You are the one who needs to take all the arrows whether you deserve them or not, so you can protect your people around you.  
  5. You are the one who must always remain calm on the outside, even if you are a complete wreck on the inside.    
  6. You are the one who is supposed to have all the answers to every question, without hesitation and with authority.  
  7. You are responsible for the revenues and the business model.  If it doesn’t work, there are ramifications for everyone and it is up to you to constantly anticipate and adapt.  
  8. You allocate people’s time and are a major factor when it comes to their balance and happiness.
  9. You are the one who is truly accountable and while you worked your whole life to be here and have truly earned it, it still doesn’t feel real.  
  10. You realize your years of giving back and being philanthropic have put you in the position to do something even more meaningful and important.  And you are doing it because it is the right thing to do and it helps give you even more purpose and personal satisfaction, not because of any other reason.  You realize that your personal life, career and charity must have purpose or it was all for nothing.  

The point of this message is that if you are early in your career, you have a lot to look forward to.  Savor each step and pay attention to everything and everyone along the way.  You are not alone in your dreams and fears and every single person next to you and more senior than you has had the very same emotions along the way. 

If you are more seasoned and even the most senior, even though others believe we all have our act together, we are all still that very same person who debated whether they could take something from the mini bar on that first business trip and not get into trouble.  Let’s celebrate that every one of us either share or have shared these similar feelings and emotions along our respective paths.  If we can honestly remember who we were at every step in our careers, we will each look at the other people in our company as individuals to care about and not just as co-workers to achieve objectives.

We believe what makes Jefferies special is our people.  Every firm has super smart, ambitious, tenacious, talented and committed people.  At Jefferies, all of those traits are a given as well.  It is how we treat each other along the way to building our Firm that will distinguish us from all others in our industry.  Our people all deserve respect, empathy, kindness and mentorship.  This theme applies to all of us and has nothing to do with what level in the organization you currently find yourself.  Life and careers go very quickly.  Let’s all win together and lay the long-term groundwork for a firm we can all continue to be proud to call our home.

Yes, we took from the mini bar,

Rich and Brian

CEO, Jefferies Financial Group
[email protected]
@handlerrich Twitter | Instagram
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President, Jefferies Financial Group
[email protected]
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