'Wrong gender, color, country' - Aiyengar, JPMorgan's rising star

Tue Feb 4, 2014 5:18pm EST
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By Nicola Leske and Dhanya Skariachan

(Reuters) - Fifteen years ago, when Anu Aiyengar went for an interview to become a mergers and acquisitions banker at a major Wall Street firm, she got a stark, disappointing message.

"You have three strikes against you," Aiyengar, who was born in India, recalled the interviewer telling her. "How can I hire you? You are the wrong gender, wrong color and wrong country."

Aiyengar, now a managing director at JPMorgan Chase & Co, is seen as one of the rising stars within the largest U.S. bank's M&A group, advising clients in sectors ranging from retail to industrials.

Over the past 15 years at JPMorgan, she has worked on around $200 billion worth of transactions. Last year, she advised on such deals as auto parts retailer Advance Auto Parts Inc's $2 billion purchase of General Parts International Inc, and office supply company Office Depot Inc's $1 billion acquisition of rival OfficeMax Inc. JPMorgan was ranked No. 2 in M&A deals by value globally last year.

Being a woman, she said, has proven to be an advantage in connecting with clients, so much so that many become friends or mentors. "Maybe it's stereotypical, but I do feel that listening skills are pretty important," she said.

Former OfficeMax CEO Ravi Saligram said Aiyengar gained his trust with her analytical skills and because she spoke her mind.

"She's not afraid to push back," Saligram said. "She was not a ‘yes' person."

Still, Aiyengar said she rarely comes across other women in her business, a reflection of how corporate America and Wall Street remain male-dominated, even if the kind of overt prejudice that she experienced fifteen years ago has receded.   Continued...

People walk inside JP Morgan headquarters in New York, October 25, 2013. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz