Why Frank Quattrone became an investment banker (again)

November 24, 2010, 4:46 AM UTC

Some career advice from  a pro: When considering a second act, don’t forget about your first.

Quattrone at Web 2.0 (Kevin Krejci/Flickr)

Here is what has amazed me about Frank Quattrone’s second coming, nicely chronicled recently by Fortune’s Mina Kimes. Quattrone decided, after a career of accomplishments and some devastating professional setbacks, to be exactly what he’s best at: an investment banker.

It all seems obvious now. Quattrone goes way back with everyone in the industry. The securities underwriting business is weakened, and the bulge-bracket banks are suffering because proprietary trading isn’t what it used to be. What a great time to be a traditional M&A advisor, getting paid solely for advice, just like investment banks used to. But it wasn’t obvious when Quattrone started his new firm, Qatalyst Partners, in 2008. Quattrone simply was playing to his strengths.

He gave a rare interview last week at the Web 2.0 Summit, and it was a good one. His interviewer was Benchmark Capital’s Bill Gurley, and while most people in the audience won’t have caught the reference Gurley made to his own debt to Quattrone, Gurley once was a protege of Quattrone’s at what was known as the DMG Technology Group. (Gurley also changed careers after the experience, from research analyst to venture capitalist.)

In the interview, Quattrone said he’d done some “soul searching” before starting Qatalyst. In the Q&A session, (in which the only other questioner was my friend, the career-switching Cory Johnson … He’s back too baby!), I asked Quattrone to elaborate on the soul searching. He said he’d thought about doing three things before choosing to do what he knows. One was private equity, an idea he set aside when he spoke with a former colleague now in the private-equity dodge and realized that shaving operating expenses wasn’t for him. A second thought was philanthropy. Quattrone decided that was more of a retirement pursuit for him. A third was to get involved in the trendy “green” technology world. He said if he were 40 — he is 55 — he might have taken that idea more seriously.

Learning new careers is time consuming. Applying one’s existing knowledge is instantly marketable — and at least in Quattrone’s case, obviously the most satisfying.