Alumnus Sakari Saarela: One of the most important things you can gain from your studies are the relationships with your fellow students

Our alumnus Sakari Saarela, who works as a M&A advisor in an investment bank in London, emphasizes the importance of his study time friends and mentoring in helping him to gain preparedness for working life and to proceed to interesting work assignments in his career.
Kauppakorkeakoulun alumni Sakari Saarela
Sakari Saarela

Who are you and what did you study at Aalto University School of Business?

Hello! My name is Sakari Saarela. I started in the Master’s program in Accounting in the autumn of 2014 and graduated in late autumn of 2016. I studied simultaneously in the Real Estate Investment and Finance program at Aalto School of Engineering and still wish to be able to complete the few remaining courses and thesis sometime in the future.

Why did you want to study Accounting?

I had already worked full time at a small investment bank / consulting boutique for one year when starting at Aalto, and I had done my Bachelor’s degree in Finance. The more technical accounting skills are useful for an investment banker – there are several colleagues in my current team who started their careers working for Big-4 companies in accounting-related roles.

I must also admit that applying to study a Master’s degree in Finance at Aalto did not feel like a realistic possibility alongside working full time as the GMAT score requirements are always extremely high for that programme.

What has been important or useful during your studies with regard to employment?

The highest-value asset I acquired from Aalto is my wife. On a mental level, without Maiju, I would have had more difficulty building a career among other things.

From a potential employer’s viewpoint, the best aspects relating to my studies were Aalto University’s reputation, my grades (which could have been better), and the fact that I studied two master’s programmes simultaneously while working full time. Outside of Finland, employers rarely pay as much attention to which major subject one studied, in strong contrast to employers in Finland.

One of the most important things you can gain from your studies are the relationships with your fellow students. Sparring with peers on job interviews, about job search in general, and discussing career ideas is invaluable.

The recruitment dinners arranged by international banks in Helsinki are fun and useful events (although the older generation will tell you that the event budgets aren’t what they used to be prior to the financial crisis). These events are the surest way of getting your CV read by someone at these organisations.

Would you do something differently in your studies?

Finishing the real estate degree would have been great, but I could hardly have done it without a complete forfeiture of my social life. I attended student parties at a good rate considering the circumstances.

I also passed on the opportunity for doing exchange studies because of work, but I’d recommend everyone to take up the chance based on what I have heard from them who did.

For someone seeking employment in the finance industry, KY Finance’s events are worthwhile even if your major subject is not finance, to the extent you have an opportunity to participate. I should have applied to attend KY Finance’s London Investment Banking Trip. We arranged an excursion at HSBC with my then-colleague, Nicholas ”Niksu” Fellman (KY Finance alumnus) in connection to said trip. It was a fun experience – to my understanding for the students as well.

How did you end up in your current position?

So far, I have always worked as an investment banker, more specifically mostly as a Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) advisor to the industrials sector.

My first summer job started in 2013 with Häggblom & Partners (a forest industry focused investment banking and consulting company), where I subsequently continued working full time until late autumn of 2016. The interview for the position came my way through a friend who interned with them in the previous summer – a good example of the importance of your own contacts already as a student.

I received great mentorship in the company, which is crucial for one’s career. My mentors were the Grand Old Man of Finnish forest industry consulting, Mr. Rainer Häggblom and the current Head of Nordics for the German private equity company Mutares AG, Mr. Kari Nerg. Under their guidance one grew up to a businessman at an expedited schedule and gained a positive attitude towards investment banking work, which many agonise over.

From H&P, I moved to Pöyry Capital (also a forest industry focused investment bank) to London in early 2017. We got into contact through a headhunter and I was a natural candidate for them due to my experience within the forest industry. This was a type of backdoor for me into the London investment banking world – at this stage of my career securing an offer from a large international bank to anything else than a graduate role would have been unlikely.

I enjoyed my time at Pöyry Capital, but the opportunity to work for a large universal bank had to be seized and I signed with HSBC in January 2018. At HSBC, I got to learn about several other investment banking products in addition to M&A, including e.g. leveraged acquisition finance.

After having worked at HSBC for slightly more than a year, nostalgia kicked in on two aspects of the job: I wanted to re-focus on M&A and into a smaller organisation. The call from a headhunter regarding Rothschild & Co’s industrials team was most welcome as I knew the team to be successful and M&A-focused. After the numerous rounds of interviews characteristic to the industry, I started in my current position in May 2019. I have gotten on well in the team and aim to spend several years in London before an anticipated return back home.

What is it like to be woking at an investment bank in London? Tell us about your current tasks.

The job is project work by nature. In each project, I am a part of a 5 to 10-person team acting as a financial adviser to a client, most often in relation to an M&A transaction. In a nutshell, my tasks include preparing corporate finance calculations, helping develop strategic and tactical viewpoints in relation to M&A or more broadly corporate finance, and packaging all this into presentations. As one becomes more senior, strategic thinking and client relationships become a more prominent part of one’s job description in addition to setting broader frameworks for the calculations and presentations.

Working at an investment bank in London is unusual in many ways. An unusually bad side of it are the working hours; very long work weeks are not rare during one’s first few years and everyone is expected to be on call 24/7. The job is often hectic and fast-paced requiring you to learn new things fast. On the other hand, during your junior years, the job includes a lot of dull tasks demanding little brain power. The industry is clearly not suitable for all.

The unusually good sides of the job include e.g. an opportunity to take considerable responsibility at an early stage of your career – you’ll meet the c-suites of large international corporations during your first years. The job is also relatively well compensated.

The best side of this job is however the colleagues who are almost without exception extremely motivated and talented. It’s easier to develop and motivate yourself whilst surrounded by them. Some who start their careers in investment banking in London end up at high-profile posts later on. It’s a pleasure to follow their careers even after they’ve left the bank or the industry altogether.

There’s a brilliant group of Finnish finance professionals, mostly Aalto alumni, with whom we spend a lot of time. It’s always a pleasure to welcome new Finns and Aalto alumni entering the industry.

Further information:

Get to know Sakari’s career path more closely on LinkedIn!

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