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After completing his undergraduate degree in fine arts, Richard Byrne ’85 was anxious to receive an MBA and pursue a career in advertising. He liked the idea of running his own agency and was eager to start down that path.
He began to second-guess his plan, however, when he arrived at the Kellogg School of Management and noticed a list of starting salaries by industry for the previous year’s graduating class posted in the placement office. He was dismayed to see that advertising was listed last and quickly scanned up the survey to see what industry came in at the top.
“I was looking at this list and thinking, 'You know, advertising is great, but maybe I should consider this investment banking thing,’” he laughs. Suddenly, he began to contemplate the idea of becoming a deal maker.
Byrne didn’t completely give up on advertising that day, but his interest in banking was piqued. The next two years at Kellogg allowed him to fully explore both avenues. “Kellogg gave me a really solid, multidisciplinary education in business, well-steeped in all of the fundamentals,” he reflects.
In the end, he took a sales trader position at Merrill Lynch, a decision that launched his now 33-year career in the business.
After a couple of years as a sales trader, Byrne said, “I vowed that I didn’t want a job where I was just regurgitating other people’s views. So that’s why research was so appealing to me.” Merrill Lynch happened to be starting a high-yield research group and was pleased when he volunteered to support the initiative. His assertiveness paid off: He made several successful, high-profile recommendations, became a top-ranked research analyst in several sectors — including casino gaming — and eventually became the firm's global head of credit research.
“You don’t have to know everything, but if you create an expertise for yourself then you become invaluable,” says Byrne.
He was subsequently promoted to run global leveraged finance, and eventually left Merrill after 14 years. He migrated to Deutsche Bank, where he served in many senior capacities including global head of capital markets, and ultimately, chief executive officer of Deutsche Bank Securities.
After 14 years at Deutsche Bank, Byrne left to become president of a small alternative credit manager called Benefit Street Partners, which was founded by his former colleagues at the bank. He relished the chance to take a crack at something more modest with a much different growth trajectory than what he was used to at the big banks.
“Post-regulation had created a great opportunity for firms like Benefit Street to invest in areas of the credit markets that banks were de-emphasizing"he says.
Byrne didn’t join Benefit Street Partners immediately, though. “In my position at Deutsche Bank I had to help clean up the residual effects that the 2008 financial crisis had on our bank," he explains. “It was a miserable time, but I’m proud to say that Deutsche Bank was one of, I think, only two money-center banks that didn’t receive government money in a bailout despite the fact that we were one of the biggest lenders in the world.”
That drive to finish the job he started has followed Byrne to Benefit Street Partners, where he has helped the firm grow and thrive with assets under management increasing from $3.5 billion to $25 billion in the five years since he joined.
And though investment banking and the asset management business is as tempestuous as ever, it’s that characteristic that makes it so multidimensional and fulfilling to Byrne, and so much more than merely an industry on a list in the Kellogg placement office.