Putting M&A Experience to Work

Her investment banking skills came in handy after Aon’s Katie Rooney switched career paths to finance.

Katie Rooney is just about a month into her new role at insurance brokerage Aon Corp. as chief operating officer for global finance and shared services. It’s a quick move forward for the 32-year-old Chicago area native, who previously served as Aon’s assistant treasurer for corporate finance/mergers and acquisitions.

Rooney attended the University of Michigan and then spent the first nine years of her career at Morgan Stanley. Her last position was vice president in investment banking in the healthcare group, where she worked with medical technology companies on all aspects of their debt, equity and M&A activity.

A year after joining Chicago-based Aon in 2009, Rooney led a team that managed the financing for Aon Consulting’s $4.9 billion acquisition of Hewitt Associates, the largest in Aon’s history. She also helped implement a new $2 billion share buyback program and was instrumental in managing capital structure, including optimizing the maturity, yield and refinancing risk of more than $4 billion in corporate debt.

Your M&A experience must have been of value in the merger with Hewitt.
I joke that I was almost an investment banker for Aon my first year or two. But what was really exciting was that I came out of banking, where I had lots of clients, to Aon, where I have one client. I’m living it. I’m living my decisions. You see them play out. With Hewitt, not only was I working through how the deal unfolds, but the integration. Instead of doing a deal and moving on, you see everything, from the start of the transaction, through to integration, and you see how it plays out over the coming years. You feel a real connection to the people you’re working with, and to your company. I feel very passionate about doing what’s right for Aon, because it’s not just a one-time decision.

How did you come to work in finance?
In college, I started out pre-med, but second semester freshman year, I took an accounting class, and it just clicked for me. It was really fun. I really enjoyed what I was learning. I applied to the business program at Michigan in my sophomore year, and came out with a B.B.A. degree. Then I started my career in investment banking, where I saw a number of different industries and started learning more about finance. And about 2 1/2 years ago, I made the decision to focus specifically on finance, and I moved over to Aon.

What drew you to corporate finance?
I’m very analytical, and a lot of the accounting, economics, statistics classes you take in a B.B.A. program are very analytical. That played well into my strengths. Starting as a generalist in investment banking, I was looking at a number of different industries and products, but one of the areas that I really liked was the finance side. I’d spend a lot of time with treasurers and CFOs on certain projects, so when I was ready to make a move out of banking, I talked with former clients, and others in the industry. I felt that finance was a good next fit for me.

What was the transition like?
Investment banking was fast-paced, with an incredibly accelerated learning curve. It opened a lot of doors for me. I didn’t think I’d be in it for nine years, but I was lucky, I ended up working for a lot of fantastic people, and had some great mentors. When I decided it was time to make a change, I worked with a couple of headhunters, and I told them I was interested in finance.

The interview with Aon was a fantastic experience. I sat down with our CFO, Christa Davies, and our treasurer Paul Hagy, and it really clicked for me from a personal, relationship standpoint. At first, I was concerned that in a corporate role I wouldn’t have the same accelerated learning curve and fast-paced environment, but I saw that within Aon, there was a similarity to what I was doing in banking, as well as the opportunity to dive deeper into the finance side. And there was opportunity to continue moving upward.

What has been your biggest challenge or learning experience?
In banking, it was hard, because every deal was different. You had to start from the ground up on every transaction. You were always learning, which is great, and you were always figuring out the right answer for each client. A big challenge was moving from that environment into a corporate environment, where there’s a lot more focus on building the right relationships around the firm, and having the right communication strategies. It’s taking everything to the next level. I am getting deeper into everything I do.

What’s an example of getting deeper into what you’re doing?
It’s understanding the business side. In banking, it’s very transactional; you’re looking at it from a high level. Here, every decision impacts another decision. When I first came in, we needed to raise debt, so we were looking at our capital structure. I found that you can’t just look at it as, what’s the right piece of debt to raise, you need to look at what are the proceeds you need and how does that affect your cost of capital, your capital structure? How does that then play into decisions around cash? There’s a whole other layer of complexity around the decisions you make, but now I’m part of the company, so I can find the information I need to do the analysis.

What has been your most rewarding project?
Probably the most rewarding project was about a year ago now, when we did the public financing. It was very complex, you have to manage different banking relationships and different teams internally, including the board. I think working through it and analyzing the right overall capital structure to know how we should finance the transactions, that was one of the most rewarding projects.

What do you like best about your job?
I love that every day is different. I work with incredibly talented people who I’m learning from, and whom I continue to grow professionally with. I have opportunities, as evidenced by my recent transition into my new role. I’m motivated every day. I’m working with people I really enjoy, and I’m facing a new challenge every day.

Have you had mentors?
Earlier in my career, it was certainly my boss at Morgan Stanley. Now, in my current role, Christa Davies is absolutely a mentor and someone I look up to. She’s really helped me develop a career path. She’s incredibly well-respected around the firm, she’s able to have a work-life balance, and in essence, do her job incredibly well. It’s been exciting to be able to work with her.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in finance?
People forget that in finance, you still need communication skills, leadership skills and a well-rounded experience. So if someone is coming out of college, they should try to get broad experiences, where they can see different areas within finance, because sometimes you might not know what your best skills sets are, and it really leaves the door open for future opportunity. 

Where are the greatest areas of opportunity?
Given the global nature of many companies, there’s a lot of need for international experience. That’s one area where I could continue to learn. More specifically within finance, there’s a tremendous need for more expertise in specific skills sets, like tax and analytics.


To see the 2011 40 Under 40 list, read Ready to Take Charge.

You can find complete coverage of the 40 Under 40 list here.



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