Getting Ahead

You Don’t Need a Business Degree to Break Into Finance—and This Bioengineering Major Is Proof

Person with long red hair sitting in an office
Shira Rieke, an investment banking analyst at Macquarie.
| Courtesy of Macquarie

When Shira Rieke decided to major in bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, she never imagined she’d end up pursuing a career in finance. But that’s exactly what happened—and today she’s an analyst in Macquarie Capital, the corporate advisory, capital solutions, and investing arm of Macquarie Group.

“While I loved studying engineering, I wanted to build my business skills and apply this dual background to a new field,” she says. “It was during the engineering entrepreneurship portion of my studies where my interest in a finance career was piqued. I began to see the vital role financial institutions play in helping companies of all sizes finance the different stages of their business.”

As for what type of role she was looking for after graduating, Rieke’s vision was clear. “I wanted something fast-paced, where I was learning every day and working on different projects,” she says. “I wanted a role where I was collaborating with people who are real industry experts and enthusiastic about a field.” And she found exactly that at Macquarie.

Here, Rieke shares what her job entails, how Macquarie encourages all employees to share their ideas, and advice for succeeding in an internship or new job.

What led you to your job at Macquarie?

I initially interned with Macquarie in the Commodities and Global Markets group, which covers sales, trading, financing, and hedging. I enjoyed it and learned so much, but I realized by the end of the summer that I wanted a role where I would work on longer-term projects that are built and developed over time. I networked with people in various groups around the bank until I found my current group and perfect fit.

What I have appreciated about Macquarie is how my team works to make sure my role is constantly developing, whether that’s being exposed to different aspects of deals or finding opportunities to grow my role and responsibilities as I continue to carve out a career here.

What are you responsible for in your role?

My role is to invest equity into principal projects, which can translate into almost anything. It can mean that my team will work on public-private partnerships with the government on a new courthouse or highway, or it could mean a private development deal helping grow solar developers or wind farms. It could also be investing in a public company.

My tasks also differ based on the deal. I could be working on a financial model myself or collaborating with the rest of the deal team to understand the various inputs to structure the model appropriately. Our team might also look to see what partners or external advisors might be required.

Another big part of my role is supporting internal approval processes. This means working directly with senior team members presenting to the investment committee. Depending on how creative the project is I might also help the management teams and external leaders to develop a business plan for the company.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far at Macquarie, and how did you overcome it?

Coming from a non-finance background, I faced a steep learning curve when I first joined. Even with the extra finance courses I took at school, I knew I still would not be at the same level as my peers joining with finance undergraduate degrees. Luckily, Macquarie provides a five-week training program for new graduates, which is immensely helpful. I requested materials in advance and studied as much as I could before training started. It also helped that Macquarie hires interns from diverse backgrounds, so I was not alone.

I soon found my footing with the support of my team members. They answered my questions and made time to sit with me. Every project has its own unique challenges, but if you have a supportive team you can turn to, you can get through anything.

What do you like best about the company culture at Macquarie?

One hundred percent, the people. Everyone here is open to putting in the time to develop people into roles where they can be successful. Everyone also wants to hear your ideas, even if you're at the junior level. Companies often talk about a flat structure, but it’s actually true at Macquarie. People invite discussion. Coming from an engineering background I have a unique perspective and my team is open to hearing it. This is inspiring especially when you're new and speaking with people who have been doing this for a long time. They might not all be ideas we pursue, but the fact that people are willing to discuss them with you speaks volumes to the culture. This openness is what keeps unconventional ideas circulating and an entrepreneurial spirit alive within the organization.

What skills from engineering do you use in your current role as an analyst?

Probably the most obvious skills are quantitative skills. In engineering, you are working with numbers all the time, so I felt extremely comfortable with that. Bioengineering specifically is a combination of a variety of different types of engineering applied to biology. Throughout my training, there were constantly new components of the curriculum that you would have to pick up very quickly. I think this translates directly to finance and the variety of projects you might work on. You have skills from the last project that will carry over, but the speed of learning is going 100 miles an hour. You must learn quickly to be able to support your clients, ask insightful questions, and apply your curiosity in a way that will add value.

How do you see the impact of what you do play out in everyday life?

One of the things I liked best about bioengineering was helping people with my work. I’ve also found that same satisfaction in principal investing, particularly in infrastructure. I can see clearly the very real impact regardless of what deal I am working on. I know that at the end of the day, it will have an impact on someone’s life.

For example, my work could be helping to build a bridge or to improve telecom connectivity. It could allow someone to sit in traffic 30 minutes less so they can be at work or home faster. It could mean that someone has a better internet connection so they can work or study from home.

What advice do you have for anyone starting an internship or new role?

At the beginning of an internship or a new role, it’s all about your attitude. No matter your major, you will never learn everything you need to know about a job in school, and no one expects you to know everything when you hit the desk. The only expectation is that you come with a good attitude and a willingness to work and partner with others. With that combo, there is little you will not be able to accomplish.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

Speak to as many people as you can to understand what the job involves. Be certain you are interested and want to do the work. Ask questions to understand what the company culture is like and what the job entails. This is how I realized I wanted to be in finance, at Macquarie, and in the specific role I now have. The more people you speak with, the more you realize what you want to do.