By Dave Hendrick

Newswise — Being open to change and hungry to keep learning are critical attributes for sustained career success, according to Piper Jaffray Managing Director Ted Garner (MBA ’90).

Speaking to students at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business during a recent Darden Dialogues event, Garner said he never could have projected the twists his career would take when starting out as an investment banking analyst at Merrill Lynch after college.

“Twenty five years from now my guess is you’re going to be doing something dramatically different than what you’re doing now,” said Garner, who also serves as co-head of diversified industrials and services at the investment and advisory firm. “I never imagined when I started my career that I would have helped found an investment banking company, sold it, bought it back and sold again.”

Garner said the analyst job in the early days of his Merrill Lynch career was a relatively manual job, with the spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3 having just come on the scene. Merrill Lynch sponsored Garner’s two years at Darden, and Garner said he assumed he would work at the company for the rest of his life.

Instead, despite the “fantastic” bull market of the 1990s, both the ongoing grind of life in New York City and the lure of returning closer to home led Garner to explore new opportunities.

“With a firm the size of Merrill Lynch, I just felt like my path was going to be very crowded,” Garner said. “For me, I needed a sense that I could really measure that contribution I was making to my firm.”

In 1993, Garner was recruited to the Charlotte, North Carolina-based middle-market M&A firm Bowles Hollowell Conner & Co., an investment banking firm that appeared to him to be “one of the best jobs outside of New York.”

After five years of helping to build the business, the firm sold to First Union Corp., and Garner again found himself working in the sort of large corporate bank he had only recently left.

So, the day his postacquisition employment agreement expired, Garner resigned and joined with four like-minded partners to open their own M&A advisory firm, Edgeview Partners.

I really thought that I was making a decision for my family instead of myself,” Garner said. “I would be very unfulfilled if I hadn’t at least tried. I would rather fail having tried than regretting something I knew was an irreplaceable opportunity.”

Despite starting the firm the month before 9/11, the company found success, and eventually sold to CIT Group in 2007.

When CIT, caught up in the fallout from the financial crisis, declared bankruptcy in 2009, Garner helped orchestrate a partner-led buy back of the firm that had been sold fewer than three years prior.

Garner and his partners had the good fortune to buy the company as the deal markets began to lift from the depths of the recession, and when yet another suitor — this time, Piper Jaffray — came calling, the company was operating from a position of strength.

“They had a global platform and covered industries we did not cover,” said Garner “It has worked dramatically well. I basically have a business card that gives me license to go hunt a myriad of opportunities.”

So far it’s been a career largely unplanned, but one for which Garner said he felt prepared.

“I thought Darden was five years of experience compressed into two,” Garner said. “You don’t go to business school to be trained for a job. Go to be trained for a lifetime of business and experience.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.