Last Thursday, 492 eager Harvard students submitted resumes and cover letters to the Office of Career Services, with hopes of winning jobs in consulting, investment banking and similar fields. The season of recruiting has begun. We can hear the gears of corporate war machines turning as the giants of finance and industry pick their future leaders.
These several hundred students constitute a sizable portion of the graduating class. Judging from the tsunami of would-be Alex P. Keatons that flooded over OCS last week, it would seem that investment banking and consulting are popular fields.
But their popularity is by no means universal. In certain circles at Harvard, "I-banking" and "consulting" are dirty words. Students seeking jobs in these fields are branded as "sell-outs," people who have forsaken their altruism and liberal ideals for lucrative careers.
Blanker criticism of all who enter these industries is unfounded and unfair, and demonstrates more ignorance than idealism. Attacks on investment banking and consulting stem primarily from a misunderstanding of what people in these professions actually do. Perhaps some people have watched the movie "Wall Street" too many times for their own good. There's more to the business than trading rich people's money and ignoring the poor.
Investment bankers bring together parties that need funds and parties that have funds to invest. If a company needs more capital in order to grow, to build a new plant or to hire more employees, it calls in an investment bank. If a city needs money to improve its ailing infrastructure, it also goes to an investment bank.
The investment bankers set up a financial structure that allows the party to raise the capital it needs. People looking to invest money for their future can buy the stocks and bonds that the investment bankers have underwritten.
Investment bankers also advise companies involved in mergers and acquisitions. These transactions have acquired a bad reputation because of the buyout frenzy of the 1980s. But they are not, contrary to popular opinion, inherently evil. Many of these transactions, so long as they are properly regulated, can have significant long-term benefits for the economy as a whole.
Consultants have key roles to play in this economic system as well. There are several branches of consulting; most consulting companies that recruit on campus are management consultants.
Management consultants are essentially doctors for business. If a business has a problem that it needs solved, it hires a consulting firm. Consultants investigate the situation, diagnose the problem and then offer the company possible solutions.
Investment bankers, in addition to single-handedly supporting Brooks Brothers, have a crucial role to play in the international capital markets that drive economic growth. Consultants keep businesses in business. Given their real social utility, careers in banking and consulting are worthy ones to consider.
We do believe, of course, that these jobs should not be the primary or only career avenues available to Harvard students. We continue to hope that future career fairs will include representatives of a variety of different career paths.
But there is nothing wrong with working in banking and finance. Simply because the social utility of these fields is more difficult to explain or comprehend does in no way diminish their contribution to the public good.