Our ‘A Day in the Life’ series highlights alumni in various fields and positions, offering a glimpse of what life after graduation is like. This post comes to us from M&T alum Leo, currently working at a private equity firm on the West Coast.
Please briefly describe what industry you’re in and what your particular position entails.
I work in the private equity industry, which, at a high level, involves acquiring full or partial ownership of companies, improving them, and then selling them at a profit by either taking them public or selling to a private buyer. My firm focuses exclusively on investments in the technology sector. In my current position, I’m responsible for everything from identifying potential investment opportunities, to evaluating their merits and risks (“due diligence”), working with the management team of portfolio companies to improve operations, and managing the deal execution process to buy and sell companies.
What time did you get up this morning before work?
What time did you start working, and what time were you done for the day?
8:30am – 10:30pm
What were some of the projects you worked on today?
- Conference call with a portfolio company’s board and CEO to discuss the company’s current operations and future strategy.
- Another call with a portfolio company CFO and an outside consultant to discuss a few issues related to the company’s capital structure.
- A meeting with my firm’s internal Finance department and outside lawyers to finalize legal documentation and approvals to wire the funds for an investment.
- Drafting and submitting a “bid letter” to a team of investment bankers who are managing the sales process for a company I’ve been evaluating.
- Talk to an expert in the same industry as a company I’ve evaluating to learn about the industry’s competitive dynamics, key players, growth prospects, and success factors to help form my own opinion on whether I would want to invest in the company or not.
- Building an Excel model to forecast future performance for an investment and how it would impact investment returns.
Who specifically did you interact with today, besides coworkers (clients, interns, researchers, executives, founders, etc.)?
External lawyers, investment bankers, management team of my portfolio company as well as management team of a company we are considering acquiring.
Are you currently traveling or about to travel for work?
Not recently since it’s the holidays and not many meetings are scheduled.
What was your favorite part of the work day?
Learning about companies and industries I know nothing about and then having a spirited discussion and debate with coworkers about the company’s potential fit as an investment.
What are some of the challenges within your position that you particularly enjoy?
The fast-paced nature of the work and the intellectual challenge of always having to learn something new and asking good questions to develop insights that can make or break an investment.
How did you end up in your current position?
After M&T, I joined a consulting firm in New York to continue learning broadly about many industries and functions without having to focus narrowly on a single one because M&T trained me to see the value of being at the intersection of disciplines and integrating across defined boundaries. After learning a ton about many different businesses as a consultant, I wanted to have more direct impact on companies as an owner rather than an advisor, but instead of working as a manager in a company, also retain the ability to learn about and work with many different companies to help them improve. This led me to join a private equity firm in Boston, where I got exactly what I wanted and had the opportunity to work with a variety of companies as an investor and have direct impact on their performance and growth.
After graduating from Harvard Business School, I still enjoyed the learning and the intellectual challenges of my job but, having had years to explore different industries and sectors and having lived on the East Coast for 10 years, was ready to return to my M&T roots at the intersection of business and technology and my personal roots on the West Coast. As a leading technology private equity firm located in California, Vector Capital was a great match for what I was looking for and I have enjoyed my role thoroughly since joining.
How did M&T help prepare you for where you are today?
I could not be anywhere near where I am today without M&T. Besides the rigorous education that prepared me for any intellectual challenge my work throws my way, the intimacy of the M&T program and the connection among students, even across different years, has been a critical part of my career.
It may sound like a stretch, but at each step of my career, there has been at least one M&T who helped me along. I got my first job out of college because M&T graduates at the consulting firm helped me prepare for interviews. I was recruited to my first private equity firm because an M&T alum there saw my resume and recognized the value of the M&T education. One of my first visits to HBS as a potential applicant was to visit current students who were friends from M&T, and one of three partners at my current firm is also an M&T alumnus.
Besides helping me professionally, M&T has also been a core part of my personal growth since I set foot on Penn’s campus 10 years ago. The friendships I’ve developed have stayed with me since college and I count many M&Ts among my best friends. I even lived with an M&T roommate in New York, who would later be a groomsman at my wedding!
What advice do you have for those who might be interested in pursuing a similar path?
M&T graduates tend to have all the “hard skills” much better developed than their peers when they graduate, so I would recommend students to focus more on developing softer skills on how to read people and understand their motivations. Spending four years at Penn, and likely graduating into subsequent jobs where everyone around you is intelligent, ambitious, and multi-talented, it can be easy to assume that such is the one path to “success” and also judge anyone who doesn’t fit that mold. I’ve learned that there are plenty of people who are motivated by things that can’t be put on a resume or into a bank account, and if you take the time to understand them and motivate them on their terms, you can become a more effective business person and, ironically, be more successful professionally. Returning from the digression, I would advise anyone interested in private equity to find experiences where they can learn skills on analyzing industries and companies, what makes them succeed and fail, and making decisions with incomplete data. I would also recommend that they learn to think like an owner of a business rather than an outside observer, but without the hubris of thinking they know better than an actual owner or CEO what to do as a 20-something!
Leo is a Senior Associate at Vector Capital in San Francisco. He graduated from M&T in 2006 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Biomedical Science and a Math minor from Penn Engineering as well as a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School with concentrations in Finance, Management, and Business & Public Policy. He is also a 2012 graduate of Harvard Business School, having earned his MBA. In his spare time he enjoys cooking, hiking, hanging out with his wife, and interviewing Penn applicants through the Penn Alumni Interview Program.