Headquarters vs. Satellite Offices in Finance
So one evening you’re casually scrolling through LinkedIn, dutifully trying to chart out the next couple years of your life. All of a sudden, you stumble upon a profile with a truly immaculate resume.
Non-target. Goldman Sachs. Mega fund private equity.
But one detail about them puzzles you.
You see that they’ve decided to hide the location tag for all their jobs.
You instinctively do a quick Google search for their name and check their PE firm’s website to confirm your darkest fear: they work at a remote satellite office.
The Satellite Office
A Satellite Office is any office that is not the Headquarters.
Although firms typically centralize their operations in one location, most leading investment banks and private equity firms are large enough that they need multiple offices. Many candidates use this knowledge to their advantage in order to recruit for less competitive offices.
Satellite offices often exist for a few key reasons:
Industry: Firms want to be closer to a specific industry’s deal flow (Houston / Calgary for oil & gas, San Francisco for technology).
Geography: Firms often want a geographic presence in key countries to establish their global footprint (e.g. bulge brackets setting up small shops in Toronto or Hong Kong).
Talent: If the firm’s Headquarters is not in New York, they may still want to have a large office there in order to be closer to the finance talent.
Senior Partners: Senior partners who have enough pull want to move back home or get tired of living in a big city (more common on the buy-side as you don’t need to service clients).
Going to a satellite office is not a bad career choice in and of itself.
I technically worked at a satellite office when I was a private equity associate and I would definitely re-do that same decision. The factor of geography is one of the most important things to consider when evaluating which investment banking offer to take.
There are many extremely logical reasons to prefer a satellite office:
Personal Preference: If you have a personal desire to be in a specific city, then that could obviously trump explicit career benefits. In my case, I really wanted to stay in New York, while our headquarters was in the Boston area.
Industry Specialization: If you want to further your own career in a particular end-market / industry, then city really matters. It is honestly a lot harder trying to be a top technology investor if you’re in New York (and you’re more likely to work on uncool hardware technology… like routers and switches). Sometimes, the path less taken opens up more job opportunities down the road. It becomes more a question of specialization, but angling your career early on to be the super badass oil & gas person can be a great career move.
Less Competition: It’s generally easier trying to sneak your way into a firm through a satellite office, especially if it’s in an unglamorous city. Satellite offices tend to have less rigid recruiting policies and less competition. Working in Manhattan is generally the most popular option and that leads to some interesting job market inefficiencies. For example, did you know that Salt Lake City, Utah is one of Goldman’s biggest offices? It’s actually a very popular option for people to start their careers (and then lateral out of…).
Small Office Culture: Maybe being a super finance bro isn’t in the cards for you or you really liked the partner in a particular office. Culture at satellite offices tends to be a little less intense (though it heavily depends on the managing partner there).
The Headquarters is the company’s main office.
It’s where the key leadership and management sits. Some firms will have dual Headquarters (e.g. some European banks will have both New York and their European capital as their main offices).
Nevertheless, the majority of North American investment banks are unsurprisingly headquartered in New York. New York is the largest financial center in the world and I think it makes a ton of sense to start your career in the firm’s Headquarters.
At the investment bank level, I’d say that the majority of firms probably have 50%+ of their global analyst class at the Headquarters. Most satellite offices probably have between 2-10% of the remaining analyst class.
I view the primary benefits of working at a firm’s Headquarters as the following:
Senior Management: If you’re interested in developing a long-term career with a firm, developing a relationship with senior management becomes key. When it comes to office politics, face time becomes pretty important and you’ll want to frequently interface with the company’s key decision makers.
Cross Functionality: A firm’s Headquarters will often have the greatest number of functions and the widest amount of industry coverage. If you’re interested in working with different teams, understanding how different functions operate, or potentially lateraling to different groups, being at the Headquarters can be super important.
Deal Flow: Generally speaking, a firm’s Headquarters will tend to have stronger deal flow. This is typically a function of having the firm’s senior management present and likely being a more established office. Deal flow is probably more important than being exposed to any specific personnel and it can be worth positioning your career trajectory around.
Recruiting: Generally speaking, recruiting tends to be very geography dependent. This isn’t specific to a Headquarters, but you should try to be in the office that is closest to your desired exit opportunities. For example, if you want to go to a hedge fund, it can be hugely beneficial to start out at a New York investment bank. If you want to do VC, you’d probably prefer to be in the Bay Area. I think this is generally a plus for Headquarters as most finance recruiting jobs are in New York.
Unless you have a strong industry preference, I generally recommend that you start your career at the Headquarters. It tends to provide stronger network-building and work experience opportunities.
That being said, as you continue your career, some very important trade-offs begin to emerge that make the decision much less clear. As we’ve discussed, there are very discernible benefits to working at a satellite office. And in some situations, life will strongly push you to be in certain geographies.
At the end of the day, you need to make a decision that you’re comfortable with. And remember, you can always just hide your location on LinkedIn if things go awry.