As JPMorgan Chase & Co. searches for its first major acquisition in more than a decade, Anu Aiyengar will have a hand in shaping the giant bank’s future. She’s the co-head of its global mergers-and-acquisitions business, as well as the only person of color and only woman to hold that position on Wall Street. It’s been a remarkable trajectory for an Indian immigrant who moved to the U.S. as a teenager to study at Smith College, shivering through the bitter Massachusetts winter in a $5 coat.
“M&A was traditionally a male bastion—often cigar-smoking men in suspenders—and now she is at the top of the field, because she is simply outstanding at what she does,” says her boss, JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon.
Advising companies on M&A is one of the prestige roles in investment banking, generating both huge fees and headlines when a deal comes together. Aiyengar was promoted to her current position in February, almost 20 years after ignoring one Wall Street interviewer who told her she couldn’t be hired for M&A because she was of the wrong color, gender, and country of origin. Her year began with a bang when JPMorgan advised ETrade on its $13 billion sale to Morgan Stanley, a deal that earned the bank $81 million in fees.
That same deal has put JPMorgan and other big banks under some pressure. In the years since the 2008 financial crisis subsided, there have been hardly any major acquisitions by top Wall Street firms. Morgan Stanley’s buying spree—it also snapped up a fund company JPMorgan had approached—may have signaled the start of a wave of takeovers. At a conference in December, Dimon joked that bankers at other firms with good ideas for acquisitions should give him a call. If JPMorgan does find a tempting target, Aiyengar will be among the key executives helping to negotiate a deal.
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