Liz Myers was only a teenager the first time she got to pose a question to Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting.
Three decades later, she can’t recall the question, though she wishes she could.
“He asked me recently what I asked. I couldn’t remember and I’m emailing everyone: ‘Does anybody remember this?'” she said during an interview at the New York headquarters of JPMorgan Chase.
Of course, for Myers, the bank’s global head of equity capital markets, speaking to billionaires isn’t such a rare occasion anymore.
At 45, she leads a team that generated more than $US1.5 billion in fees last year alone by helping companies like Alibaba Group navigate their initial public offerings. It’s a position that makes her one of the most important women on Wall Street.
A married mother of two, Myers has spent her entire career at JPMorgan. She’s also the only woman to run a global equity capital markets business for a major Wall Street bank.
Myers sat down with Business Insider for an hour-long interview, during which she came across as humble and down to earth — she’s attained her position largely out of the media’s spotlight. Passionate about mentoring other women at JPMorgan, Myers is someone who has clearly invested in relationships with her colleagues, clients, and former classmates.
“I not only have the utmost respect for Liz, but am in awe of her,” Alexandra Lebenthal, the CEO of municipal-bond firm Lebenthal Holdings, told Business Insider. “She is one of the women who have reached the top echelons of Wall Street, but she wears it with modesty and grace. Liz is a power player, regardless of her gender.”
Talking stocks at the dinner table
The middle child, with two brothers, Myers grew up in Grosse Point, Michigan, a Detroit suburb located on the shore of Lake St. Clair. Myers’ father, Michael, is an anesthesiologist. Her late mother, Judy, was an interior designer.
At their household, there were two copies of The Wall Street Journal waiting on the brick doorstep each morning. Both her parents were interested in investing, and, at dinner, business was the usual topic of conversation.
“When people grow up in family dinners, some people talk about politics. We talked about companies and sometimes stocks,” Myers said. “Even though neither of my parents were in finance, they were both interested in business.”
It was Myers’ mother who managed the family’s finances and investments. She felt that savings should be invested.
In the early 1980s, a family friend told Myers’ mum about a talented stock-picker in Omaha, Nebraska, named Warren Buffett. Her mum started to read about him and soon became an investor in Berkshire Hathaway.
Myers’ parents started making the pilgrimage to Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting, which at the time was held at the Orpheum Theatre — a much smaller venue than today. Eventually it became a family tradition with Myers and her two brothers joining their parents for the trip in the late 1980s.
Family dinners to Princeton ‘eating clubs’
Myers was a bright student. She was well liked by her peers too.
“In high school, she obviously was smart and worked hard, but I think most of her friends remember her more as kind, fun, and a great person to be around,” one of her former classmates said.
She graduated from the University Liggett School — Michigan’s oldest independent coeducational day school — in 1988. That fall, she moved to New Jersey to begin her first semester at Princeton University.
There, she joined Kappa Alpha Theta and later became the sorority’s chapter president during her senior year.
The real highlight of social life on campus, though, was the school’s famed eating clubs — beautiful, sometimes historic houses where upperclassmen dine and socialise together. Myers ended up joining the Cottage Club and served as the group’s food chair.
Premed to econ
At Princeton, Myers didn’t immediately know that she wanted to work on Wall Street, and early on she had a stint in the premed program.
She ended up focusing on economics, and she was one of two students on the university’s economics department liaison committee, which worked with the faculty on curriculum and business/finance-industry connectivity.
During her senior year, investment-bank recruiters from New York arrived on campus.
“When I interviewed with banks, they said: ‘Why do you want this?’ And I said: ‘Because I’m interested in learning about companies, and I’m interested in business.'”
That answer was good enough. Myers received four offers, including ones from JPMorgan and Salomon Brothers.
Today, Myers is cocaptain for JPMorgan’s recruiting program at Princeton.
Back to Omaha
In the spring of 1992, Myers and her family made the trip back to Omaha. They always made a point to speak to Buffett during the meetings.
At the reception at Borsheim’s jewellery store, Myers approached Buffett, who was also the interim chairman of Salomon Brothers after the bank got tangled up in a bond-trading scandal.
She told Buffett that she had received an offer from Salomon. She thanked him and then let him know that she would be joining JPMorgan. Myers recalled him graciously saying, “Congratulations. I hope you send your extra business our way.”
While at JPMorgan, Myers continued to make the trip to Omaha. Once, as a young consumer M&A analyst, she asked Buffett how he would vote if he had a board seat in a company that wanted to make a hostile takeover bid for another company.
After getting married, she made the trip every other year. When her mother died in November 2011, Myers and her family stopped going.
It wasn’t until Buffett came to a recent JPMorgan CEO Summit, an annual event that the bank hosts in March, that Myers reconnected with him. As it turned out, she had already made plans to attend the meeting that year.
“It wouldn’t be a Berkshire annual meeting without having Liz in attendance,” Buffett told Business Insider. “It keeps Charlie and me on our toes to know that we have some very smart shareholders — led by Liz — evaluating whether what we say makes sense.”
Charlie, of course, is Charles Munger, vice chairman at Berkshire Hathaway.
23 years at JPM
Myers began her career in 1992 in the mining and metals group in corporate finance at JPMorgan’s 60 Wall Street office. It was the culture and the training that attracted her to JPMorgan.
“I came to JPMorgan because it was known for having the best training program. I felt a strong affiliation with the culture, which was very client-centric — do the right thing for the client regardless of what the right thing for the bottom line is,” she said.
During her first few years at the bank, she also worked in the technology, media, and telecom group and then the consumer M&A group.
She left JPMorgan in 1995 to get her MBA from Harvard Business School before returning to join the firm’s equity capital markets group in 1997.
In the last 18 years, she’s ascended to be one of the most influential bankers on Wall Street, becoming the global head of ECM in December 2012.
Inside JPMorgan, Myers has a reputation for being charismatic, detail-oriented, focused, a good listener, and inclusive of other people’s opinions and ideas.
“She’s such a good leader,” said one JPMorgan insider who’s worked with Myers and would only speak on condition of anonymity. “She’s able to focus on the big picture and running the ECM business at the highest level.”
She’s worked on transactions across a number of sectors, including financials, technology, real estate, industrials, healthcare, natural resources, and consumer products.
The JPMorgan insider who’s worked with her said she makes it look effortless.
“From a client perspective, you wouldn’t know that she’s working at all — she’d know that much. She’s incredibly smart and knowledgeable, not only about the product, but about the sectors.”
It’s the range of clients that Myers really loves about her job.
“I get to work with so many different clients — particularly in my seat now — multiple industries, multiple geographies,” she said. “After 18 years in the group, these last three years running global, it’s been a great opportunity to expand my horizons, not necessarily about the product per se, but about culture and business culture overseas.”
Investing in other women
Myers is heavily involved in the firm’s recruiting and mentoring efforts, especially for women.
“She’s an outstanding role model, not only because of her extreme success, but from a character perspective. Any woman on Wall Street would want to look up to her because of that,” the JPMorgan insider said.
Investing her time in helping others develop their careers is something she’s become really passionate about.
“As you look around, you realise that you’ve become … accidentally in some ways, a role model for others. So you sort of owe it to others to help out. I’ve had a lot of male mentors in my career and female mentors. I always encourage people to support both because you need both mentors and sponsors.”
Myers and other senior-level women at the firm have been encouraging women at all levels of their careers.
For the last three years, Myers has served as the cohead of the investment bank’s senior women’s network in the US. She’s involved in the bank’s mentoring programs for female employees, campus-recruiting programs targeted toward women, and reentry programs in the investment bank aimed at hiring women who’ve been out of the workforce for a number of years.
Her door is open to women to come for advice and mentorship. Sometimes women at the firm just want to ask her questions. Other times, women come seeking advice on a particular situation. But most often, women come seeking guidance on how to advance their career. No one will ever leave Myers’ office without a new contact.
“If a woman comes to me, she will never leave without me introducing her to someone else, even in another area, even if they’re not looking for a new job,” she said.
Following the footsteps of a mentor
Myers was a protégé of Jimmy Lee, the legendary deal maker who died earlier this year and often the public face of JPMorgan’s deals. Myers remained behind the scenes, but Lee always made a point to give her and others recognition. It was actually Lee who encouraged Myers to engage with the press and build up her public profile.
The two worked on a number of landmark deals together, starting with AIG when they helped the Treasury sell down its investment when she was running the Americas ECM business. More recently, they worked on Facebook’s IPO and that of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba Group.
This summer, Lee died of a heart attack at the age of 62 while exercising in his Darien, Connecticut, home.
His passing left a gap at the heart of JPMorgan’s team of dealmakers. He was a larger-than-life figure on Wall Street.
Lee worked closely with a number of top executives at JPMorgan — particularly Myers, who says she learned from him the importance of having a personal connection in the workplace.
“What I admired about him, and I try to think about emulating and prioritising, is how important it was to develop a personal relationship with clients,” Myers said. “It’s not an accident there were 2,500 people at his funeral. Those people felt personally invested in.”
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