Interview with Ida Valentine, Associate at Barclays Investment Bank and Member of the HBS MBA Class of 2021 [Show Summary]
Our guest today is Ida Valentine. She earned her BA from UNC-Chapel Hill IN 2014, majoring in business administration and minoring in Spanish for the Professions. She joined Barclays Investment Bank upon graduation and today is an Investment Banking Associate in Barclay’s Technology Group. Her “side career” is speaking to children and adults about her experiences overcoming sexual abuse and the traumatic loss of her parents at a young age. Final piece of important information: Ida is about to join Harvard Business School’s MBA Class of 2021. Let’s hear her story.
Ida Valentine: Investment Banker, Inspirational Speaker, HBS 2021 [Show Notes]
Can you tell us a little about your background? Where you grew up? What you like to do for fun? [2:00]
I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve been dancing my whole life, starting at age three through college, competing nationally. I am a Tar Heel – I majored in business with a minor in Spanish and have been in California since graduating. I love doing yoga and love to give back – I am a member of the leadership community of SEO (Seizing Every Opportunity) and volunteer with rape trauma victims.
For the last four years you’ve worked in investment banking in Silicon Valley and focused on technology. What have you enjoyed most about your work? [3:41]
Every day is something new. I knew that I wanted to do something that wouldn’t have me bored within the first year and you will never be bored in investment banking. I work on M&A deals, IPOs, with all kinds of different companies, and I am doing so at a young age. It is really cool to do something meaningful. I remember my first deal when I was 21 – all the late nights and secrecy and then the deal was finally announced and there were articles about it and it was a great feeling. I just love the work flow, deal flow, and learning about different products.
How have you handled the hours while also maintaining your speaker career? [5:04]
It is not easy! I started doing more formal speaking engagements after a year or two in banking. I was able to communicate with my team well in advance of an engagement, and it’s not always the easiest conversation depending on the deal I’m on, but people were very supportive. Now that I am an associate I have more flexibility. I have an analyst that can cover for me when I am gone. If it’s important enough you can find the right balance.
In banking there are a lot of junior banker initiatives. It’s easier to be a banker now than maybe 10 years ago. Saturdays are “Protected Saturdays” and you have to have permission to work then. Saturdays are my days for yoga and to be with friends. There are also lulls in deal flow and I do stuff then. You can find the balance – it’s tough with the first year, but once you get the hang of what you’re doing it gets a little better.
You have an undergrad degree in business from UNC, and you’ve been an Investment Banking Analyst for the Technology Group at Barclay’s since 2015 dealing with M&A. Given your extensive business background, why do you believe you need an MBA? [8:23]
If I were going to stay in IB long term or go the traditional finance route I don’t think I would need an MBA. I am an Associate now which is where an MBA would start, but for what I want to do I need an MBA. My goal after business school is to be an entrepreneur and start something from the ground up. I have a lot of technical experience from banking but need a lot more than that to be a successful entrepreneur, so the network is big for me. What better place to bring people together with diverse backgrounds than an MBA program? I’ve also never run a company and I get to be a CEO everyday with the case method, which will be amazing.
What was hardest part for the MBA application process for you? Why was it so difficult? [11:17]
Figuring out how to fit my personal story into an essay that would make sense to an admissions officer. You can find yourself down a rabbit hole, feeling the need to share every detail of the story, but then asking yourself why would an admissions officer care? That was the struggle I found myself in. I had a three page autobiography and seemingly nothing that could be taken from that. When applying to multiple schools you can’t copy and paste and that can be a challenge in and of itself to write so many different essays. My story is also so emotional – talking about sexual abuse and losing both of my parents in college – and it’s hard to put it in a business perspective. Natalie from Accepted was an awesome coach and was able to give me an outside perspective – “I don’t know if this part of your story is necessary, maybe expand here” type things.
How did you approach the HBS essay? “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?” [15:06]
My first approach (maybe not the best) was I knew I wanted to tell my personal story so I wrote that. It wasn’t necessarily the best approach since I didn’t have in mind the perspective of business school admissions when I wrote it. It was almost a bare confession with no real goals in it. The approach that worked better for me was to have a brainstorm about what I wanted an admissions reader to get out of it. First, I want you to know my story because you don’t know me if you don’t know that. Second, I want you to know what I gained from those hardships I went through – resiliency and the ability to share my story with children and others to find their own success. Third, what my future goal is and how things in my past have helped me and how the MBA degree will help in the future. That structure was so important. Putting together an outline first before writing something down is so important especially for Harvard.
How did you prepare for your HBS interview? [19:47]
I first printed out my entire application and read it inside and out so I could talk about any experience I had written about in an intelligent way. Sometimes people don’t focus on those small questions. I also did mock interviews with anyone and everyone. One was Natalie, my Accepted coach, but also coworkers who had gone to business school. I also interviewed myself, recording my responses. I tried to relax (I don’t think I managed that very well!), but had to trust the preparation I did to coach me through some of the things they might ask. I am glad I focused on small parts of the application because they did ask questions very specific to my application.
What was the most difficult or memorable question you were asked at your HBS interview? [21:54]
I have two. One was not hard but caught me off guard. The very first question was, “Tell me about what you did today before this interview?” It was such a softball question I wasn’t prepared for it. It took me aback, so my advice is to be prepared for softball questions at the beginning. The other question was about one sentence I had written in an essay – I mentioned a case study in undergrad that I was excited about because I was able to embody the business woman and CEO. The key there is to remember every little thing you put in your application is fair game – they asked me about something I mentioned in just one sentence! They will really know your application so be prepared for that.
How did you come to choose HBS? Was it Harvard’s brand? Was it something about their program? Location? [24:58]
Definitely not location – I am from the south and we don’t get really cold winters and I have never owned a true winter coat. It definitely was the brand for me and their entrepreneurship program. I want to go to a school that people know, so when I am trying to make connections it adds credibility – so whether you open your mouth or not they know you are smart. I felt that was important for an entrepreneur trying to make a name for herself. I went to the women’s open house event before I applied and while there heard three female panelists talk about their own experience with entrepreneurship. They talked about how the Rock Center helped them with their business idea and that meant so much to me. It was obvious Harvard would be a great place to foster entrepreneurship. Also, the case study method is powerful, you feel invested in the stories and want to make the right decision.
Can you talk about your other career – quite different from spreadsheets and financial models – as an inspirational speaker? How did you get into that? [28:41]
I did it very informally at first, and didn’t have the goal to be a speaker. To give some context, I was sexually abused by my father growing up. When I was a sophomore in college I finally worked up the courage to report the abuse, and as a result of these actions my father killed my mother and then killed himself. This happened when I was 18. My first speaking “engagement” was going back to my dance studio where I danced from age three through high school. I wanted to have a talk with the girls there about unhealthy relationships to save them going through the same things my mom and I had gone through and to save people from going through what I was going through at that moment. I figured I could use this tragedy to help someone else avoid tragedy. It felt good to talk about, and I realized I really wanted to do this in a more focused away. I wanted to help other people. I joined Rape Trauma Services and go to different schools in the Bay Area to talk about how to deal with complex emotions – loving and hating the same person. I want people to know if they are going through something that they can find success and happiness. Look where I am now, you can get there, too. We should talk about these things more because we can help other people going through the same heartache and trauma. I was focusing on high schoolers and then started my website to reach more people. My focus is, there is life out there waiting, and it doesn’t have to be all about being a victim or survivor.
Some people are crushed and broken by trauma; Some are made stronger. To what do you attribute your ability to pick up the pieces of your life after sexual abuse and the early loss of your parents? [32:55]
I did have a support system around me. I had three older brothers, and when I first came out about the abuse my brothers were very supportive of me. That helped a ton. I also had to go to therapy to deal with the sexual abuse and loss of both of my parents, the notion that this was my fault, and if I hadn’t said anything they would still be here. I also relied on my inner resilience. I didn’t want my dad to win. I had to show my mom and dad that I am bigger than this. I was determined to graduate from college on time, and I was going to keep dancing. I had to find things that continued to make me happy even in the darkness. As I continued to tell my story I healed a little bit each time as well. Once I was able to start embracing that I got a little bit stronger. I miss my parents all the time, but speaking about my situation helps me feel free from the weight of abuse and grief.
Plans for the future both at HBS and beyond? [36:40]
I definitely want to join the entrepreneurship club, participate in startup boot camp, venture competitions, and for the summer head down to innovation lab with team members fulltime during the first year and get fellowship funding to focus on that. In the second year I will continue to focus on school and whatever entrepreneurial idea I have to hit the ground running when I graduate. The travel piece of the program will be useful as well – being in diverse environments can help with innovative ideas. My plan is to go all in, hunker down on whatever good idea I have and focus on that for the first few years after graduation.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [38:35]
The process of business school once accepted. Getting the acceptance letter is so exciting and you can’t think about work anymore, but then you need to think about what it means. You go to an admitted students welcome, go to class, meet professors, learn about venture competitions, figure out where you want to live, and just think about what school will be like after so many years of working. Harvard has you take three online placement tests, so you need to think about how you get back to study mode again, how you turn the school switch on. I have no doubt HBS will provide everything I need, but now doing the Harvard online classes I realize I need some practice getting back into school mode, but am so excited about the opportunity.
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