Breaking into Private Equity from BankingPE
Since some of my longer threads/advice seems to have been buried on the forums, I decided to consolidate it through the blog. Enjoy.
The majority of the below text is sourced from the following link:
Advice for New Analysts Breaking into PE:
The best way to position yourself for PE recruiting will be to develop strong relationships with the senior bankers, particularly the MDs. During PE recruiting, if your MD is not the one who sets up the interview, they will still most certainly be called as a reference. In the PE world, your reference is extremely important. A "luke-warm" reference is instant grounds for dismissal, even if you've successfully navigated the entire interview process. How do you make the MD like you? The most important thing is attitude. NEVER, EVER complain about the work or how much sleep you didn't get the night before. It will not reduce your workload, it will destroy your mental well-being / efficiency, and no one will like you. Plenty of other analysts will bitch late at night, but its important that you keep a low profile and just agree with everyone. The other analysts don't like the "happy-go-lucky-all-the-time" analyst, so keep this in mind as well.
In addition to maintaining a positive attitude, there is obviously not substitution for high-quality work. Everyone finds their own style, but every successful analyst is well-organized. Try to always have every detail at your fingertips and maintain a well-organized workspace. This gives the impression that you're on top of things and have your shit together. It makes a difference. Oh and -- ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK YOUR WORK. If the experienced analysts don't tell this to you every day of training, they are doing your a disservice. You will find mistakes almost every time. Even if they are silly spelling mistakes or poor formatting, these mistakes will give the impression of sloppy work. People will ignore the content, even if its great, simply because of misspellings and formatting. Sounds dumb, but that's the way it goes.
Lastly, make sure you know what you're doing and why you're doing it. It is so easy to be so deep in the weeds that you fail to see the big picture. When work piles up, you turn into a processing machine and ignore everything else. When it comes time to interview at PE firms, you'll be scrambling to remember all the details of the deal, even if you spent hundreds of hours working on them. While I don't havemodeling experience, I know a lot of MM analysts fall victim to templates. For example, if you're using a template to do an accretion / dilution analysis, that's fine, but take the time to understand what it is your analyzing. Knowing that the deal is accretive in year 1 is great, but you'll be expected to know what is driving the accretion. Is it a low cost of capital, the substantial use of cash on the to fund the acquisition, or something else? This is the difference between a good analyst and a great analyst. The good analyst produces accurate work, the great analyst can interpret it.
There are obviously dozens of other minor factors that play a role in your job hunt, but I've found these to be the most influential. You can't change your resume once you start work, so you have to rely on relationships and experience to seperate you from your peers at that point.
While PE shops definitely want to see a track record of success (undergrad institution, high, etc.), the bank you worked at and the experience you gained is FAR more important. While undoubtedly you will be in a less advantageous position compared to your honor roll ivy league peers, it is definitely something that you can overcome. Unlike most interviews out of undergrad, PE interviews are focused on both fit AND technicals. By technicals, I don't mean things like "define ." I mean your ability to analyze an industry, do a modeling exercise live, and articulate about transactions you've worked on.
For example, when myself and my peers went through recruiting, a number of us were put through onsite modeling tests. Essentially, we were put in front of a computer, given some financials, and told to build an, a merger model, or some other related model. Sometimes you're given 30 minutes and its quick and dirty, sometimes you have 3 hours, and sometimes they email it to you in advance and you show up with the model at your interview. One of my interviewers flipped over my resume and had me build a very high level model with pen and paper.
Another example: I was given an Offering Memorandum a couple of days before my onsite interview, with no instructions other than to read it. During the interview, I needed to speak to the strengths / weaknesses of the company, articulate what the investment thesis would be, decide if it was an investment I'd make, and give my leverage assumptions. I wasn't told whether or not notes were allowed, but I just assumed they weren't.
I have numerous other examples of technical-like questions that PE shops inevitably ask their candidates. My point is: Once you've gone through all the interviews, the PE shop will have tons of data from which to assess your candidacy. Yourbecomes a very marginal factor. In fact, from my experience, there is usually 1 candidate to stands out far beyond the rest -- and that's the guy who usually gets the job, regardless of their undergrad school or .
Great post, thanks a lot for the advice. Question regarding what you said about relationships with MDs:
I'm starting in 2010 as a FT analyst at abank that is known to openly discourage analyst recruiting for PE/ /VC/etc. (the bank has been making a firm-wide effort to promote more analysts to associates, break out of the two-year analyst turnover mentality, etc).
Older analysts I've talked to in the office that recruited for PE said they had to do it without help from any senior bankers in the office. Even letting MDs/VPs know that you're recruiting is a big no-no. Several said they interacted mostly with headhunters, but I can't say I know much about that process either.
Any specific advice for a situation such as this one? Thanks in advance
This sounds like a tough situation, but I think you can get around it. When we were interviewing bankers, there were a few that were in the same situation you will be. The expectation was that they would move up through the ranks and talk about exit ops just didn't happen. The solution that seemed to work for them was this:
As you go through your analyst stint, you will inevitably be spending a lot of time with your co-workers. As a result, it is very likely that you'll develop relationships with a few more senior guys that you can trust. While the institutional culture may be one of "promote from within," there will still be senior guys who will be willing to help you out. I'd recommend that you make a point to find and develop relationships with those types of individuals, whether they are associates, VPs, or D/MDs.
When the time comes to give references, you'll finally need to let the people who know you best into the loop. Don't get me wrong, this will be tough, and the culture at your future bank will definitely hinder the recruiting process, but that doesn't mean you have to give up on outplacement.
Besides the above, my advice to you would be to talk to the 2nd year analysts when PE recruiting starts to kick off. They will know better than anyone about how you should go about it and methods that were successful for them. It sounds like you've gotten a high level answer from them so far, but I'm sure they'll have more details to share. On top of that, after a year on the job, you'll have a much better idea of the culture that you're in and will likely be able to navigate the recruiting process on your own.
I have 2 questions:
1. Are your MDs generally discouraging you from moving to PE if they really like you and want you to stay in the team? given that, how would they give the PE / headhunter positive feedback on the person? I just don't quite understand how this works with the MDs.
2. I am a bit scared about that "complaint" point. I think I very very seldom mentioned the hours I worked, but I can recall once or twice I mentioned I worked till 6am last night but it's ok not bad blah blah (when they asked me what time did you leave yesterday etc) still a bit concerned whether I have already left them an impression of "weak mentality". any advice?
1 - Good question. It really is going to depend on the professionals. The bank I worked at openly encouraged moving to PE, so I had a very different experience. However, when I was given my 3rd year offer, they were very open with me. I was told: "We'd love to have you stay around for a 3rd year, but we don't want to encourage it if you're not mutually interested."
Essentially, if you tell your MD that you would like to do PE, he may attempt to convince you otherwise, but he isn't going to throw you under the bus just to keep you around. That said, I'm sure there are MDs out there who care about nothing but their own agenda, but I think this is rarer than you might imagine. If they really do like you, they are going to want to help you out.
Also on a somewhat related note, as an alumnus of the analyst program, you become a spokesman for your old group. If the MD really likes you, odds are you're doing a good job and not struggling through your analyst years. If he sends you off to a PE shop, he now has a very good spokesman for his group working in house at a potential repeat client. Believe it or not, you serve as a great marketing tool for the MD, and they know this.
2 - Sounds like you did the right thing here, I wouldn't be concerned at all. If someone asks you straight up how late you stayed, you can give them an honest answer. A lot of it has to do with your tone. If they ask and you say: "I stayed up til 6am cause the stupid printer was busted and I had to email the file to Johnny to print for me and then X happened, etc." -- that's not good. They know that you're staying extremely late to get the job done, and they expect it. Heck, they don't even expect you to like it. What is expected is that you won't go around telling everyone how hard your life is, cause quite honestly, everyone at the entire bank works hard (or at least has convinced themselves that they do).
If you're really looking to blow off steam, I'd suggest you complain to your other banking friends, your parents (if they don't have a mental breakdown when you tell them what your life is like), siblings, or even your girlfriend. I wouldn't make too much of a habit of it -- they'll eventually get sick of it, but I can be a nice way to maintain your sanity without hurting your career.
For the most part, the analyst experience is the same regardless of which bank you work at (within the different categories --/ MM / Smallcap Boutique). Also, the pay is generally the same within the bands as well. However, if you do choose to lateral, you end up losing out on a lot of the goodwill that you've built up. By not completing your two years, you'll very likely be burning bridges with your prior group, especially if you head off to another ibanking role. Also, you'll need to re-establish your reputation at the new bank, and all those long hours you put in to please your prior MD will mean nothing. When it comes time for outplacement, you'll be at a disadvantage to your peers, as you'll need to explain why you jumped ship for the same job. In addition, your current group will very likely not have enough time to get to know you and evaluate your work, and as a result, your references will suffer greatly. For those of you who think everyone will understand because you jumped from " " to " ," senior professionals in the industry certainly don't think that way, and you'll find yourself in quite a tough position.
Hey Compbanker, thanks for this great post, I've found it very helpful. Can you provide some insight on whether there are any disadvantages coming from an industry group vs. M&A and Sponsors when it comes to PE recruiting? Traditionally, M&A and Sponsors offer the best PE exits but is it possible to come from an industry background?
I worked at an M&A shop, but the majority of my closed deals were in the healthcare space as I became an industry M&A analyst about 8 months into my analyst stint. So, my experience is limited in terms of the experience of someone coming from a pure industry group.
Overall, I'd say that you will be at a disadvantage coming from an industry group compared to M&A analysts when you interview at traditionalshops. PE shops are looking for people who can hit the ground running, and there is no better way to "hit the ground running" than to be familiar with all the documents in the M&A process. I'll be honest, I don't know how much exposure industry analysts get to documents such as merger agreements, management presentations, etc., but I know it is generally less than M&A analysts. As a result, there is already a bias towards M&A analysts over industry analysts.
I will say that, for our PE recruiting process, we interviewed a number of industry analysts. The disadvantage is not so significant it can't be overcome, and in certain situations it can even be an advantage. Healthcare is a great example. There are a number of PE shops that focus exclusively on healthcare companies, and understanding the nuances of the industry can supercede M&A process knowledge. The same can be said for industrys such as technology and energy. If you look at a lot of PE shops that focus on technology, you'll notice that their associates generally worked ingroups as analysts. It's been awhile since I looked, but may be a good example of this.
What do you find yourself spending a majority of your time doing? If there's not a heavy emphasis on modeling, and the fund you're at is not based on a "sourcing" model, what do you do?
I won't go into too much detail, but the majority of my time is spent evaluating new deal opportunities (60%), and portfolio company management (25%). The remainder is internal initiatives whether it be recruiting, fundraising, quarterly reporting, etc. I also sometimes do meetings with bankers or other professionals that come through our office looking to offer their services. I'll give you an overview of evaluating new deals, as that should answer your question.
New Deal Opportunities:
The majority of new deals that come in house come through in the form of a nice, lengthy, overly-repetitive offering memorandum ("OM"). For every new deal that I'm assigned, I need to read the OM. At some point before initial indications are due, our team will get together and discuss the opportunity to decide if its worth pursuing. If we decide its worth pursuing, we will do additional research, run a basic with very high level assumptions, pull together materials into a presentation to the rest of the organization, and sometimes get on the phone with the bankers to answer any clarifying questions. After enough of these, this becomes a fairly quick process. However, I usually have a number of new deals on my plate at any given time (I once had 3-4 OMs dropped on my desk in a single day). This is generally pretty fun though as you get to learn about a new company and industry without putting in much effort (the banker has compiled the whole thing nicely). If there is no banker in the process, you're doing your research from ground zero, and this generally takes much more time and produces less cohesive results, but it's more or less the same.
If the banker accepts our initial indication, myself and my deal team then go to meet with management and typically tour the facility. We are then given access to the company'swith all sorts of data on the company -- data ranging from corporate minutes to detailed financials to tax returns. I'll sift through the entire datasite and try to learn as much as I can. This includes things such as reading customer contracts, evaluating operational metrics (backlog, efficiency stats, whatever -- it depends on the type of company), and of course, modeling the financials. Overall, modeling the financials is just one little piece within the broader picture. Also, during this time, our lawyers are generally marking up the stock purchase agreement. In conjunction with my team, I'm reading the stock purchase agreement and giving my feedback to the lawyers (usually our team will get together and discuss our feedback internally so we don't have multiple people giving conflicting feedback to the lawyers). In addition to dealing with the lawyers, I'm also on the phone with lenders trying to get them excited about the deal. We'll share our internal materials with them and they will have access to the datasite. Frequently they will barrage us with questions which we will either answer, or turn to the management team to answer if we don't know. While all this is going on, I'm preparing documentation for our deal team to present to the investment committee to gain approval to submit a letter of intent ("LOI") to acquire the company. If all goes well and everything checks out, we'll submit the LOI.
If the LOI is accepted by the banker, at this point we'll enter into exclusivity (aka force them to cut off all negotiations with other parties and work exclusively with us) and work towards completing our due diligence. This involves continued digging into the data, but also hiring a large number of third parties to conduct diligence on our behalf. Diligence areas typically include tax and accounting, legal review, an industry study, background checks on key members of management, a review of the company's IT system, insurance, and, depending on the type of company, an environmental review. Each of these areas of due diligence are conducted by a separate vendor, so it takes a lot of management to make sure everyone is getting the information and access that they need. Generally myself and an individual 1 level senior to me will do 100% of the management of the 3rd parties, and between the two of us, we both act as the point person for the different groups. I spend a lot of time going through the materials they produce, and at this stage of the deal, spend a LOT of time onsite at the company conducting my own diligence, overseeing 3rd party diligence, and just spending the time with management. Also, all the while, we're continuing to talk to lenders and I am putting together a final presentation, catered towards the lenders, to enable them to have a day on site with management and hear the story first hand. If all of this diligence goes over well, there are additional responsibilities involved in the closing (preparing the funds flow documentation, reviewing lender term sheets and credit agreements, finalizing the stock purchase agreement, etc. etc. etc.).
Obviously this is just a quick and dirty overview of the deal evaluation process, but as you can see, modeling, while very crucial, is not a major aspect of my job. Given I work in an extremely small and flat organization, I am generally the #1 or #2 guy responsible for all of the activities above. A good deal of the time I'm the only one on the phone with the 3rd parties, the bankers, or the lenders, and I simply report out to the team afterwards. Note that I am on multiple deals at once, though most of them are not extremely active, otherwise I'd be working around the clock.
I might be missing something here, but I do not see anything particularly negative about latering to a
As you suggested the downsides are:
1. start over as a 1st yr analyst. Losing a year is def bad, considering you will be a bitch for an extra year. yet it doesn't seem to alter the career path and will give you a leg up in the future as the brand name is bigger on the resume..
2. No recs from former MM bank. Why is this a negative? Would you just want recs from your bosses at theanyway?
3. I still don't see why you'd have missed the recruiting at megafunds. You work as a 1st yr analyst for another year and then start looking for opportunities in PE. All you sacrifice is that additional year. Am I missing anything here?
On the other hand, the upside is huge. More modeling experience, larger deal team and deal size, more products exposure, bigger platform and ultimately a brand name. It is similar to transferring from a mediocre liberal arts college to a top Ivy target school IMO...
Associates in MM PE care far less about modeling and more about your ability to understand the deal process and companies. In this way, the modeling exposure gained at the BBs actually hinders you rather than helps you. However, you're right, the megafunds (and there aren't that many of them), need model monkeys. As a result, analysts coming from MM IB are at an extreme disadvantage compared toIB analysts given their lack of exposure to modeling. They are simply two entirely different skill sets. As such, don't expect an analyst who laterals to a after having spent a year at an MM to have the same productivity level of a 2nd year at a , and vice versa is also true (yes -- it's true, we had someone from a lateral to my MM).
In terms of lateraling, you're absolutely right that there is significant upside to restarting at aafter a year at an MM (the majority of my downsides were if you lateraled during your first year and didn't reset). However, DO NOT underestimate the impact of starting over as a first year. Working 100 hours a week is absolutely and inexplicably painful, and every analyst I knew dreaded it and day dreamed about falling into a 1 year coma so they could wake up and it could all be over. By the end of my first year, I would have gladly forgone my bonus simply to fast forward through year two, it was so bad. Analysts who decided to stay on a 3rd year were ridiculed and laughed at endlessly, because they actually volunteered to stay on an extra year. Typically, very few people stayed on a third year, despite the large number of third year offers, and those who did were the ones who were unsuccessful in PE recruiting and didn't want to go unemployed in a terrible market (although some did choose unemployment).
How much thought have you really given to your list of upsides? Let's take a look at each.
1) Modeling Experience -- As mentioned earlier in this post, modeling experience is only useful if you're targeting megafunds, otherwise the MM skillset is actually going to help you get the job.
2) Larger Deal Team -- Not sure where you were going with this. Smaller deal teams generally mean more exposure to each aspect of the deal process and less likelihood that you become an expert at a single function. I know a guy who left after a year because his job was to run accretion / dilution models, and that's the only thing he did for his entire year. Also, larger deal teams give you less exposure to senior folks as you're generally just another face in the crowd or name on the list. You also get limited or no exposure at all to senior management when working in large deal teams, as you're frequently the last on the list for a limited number of seats at the table.
3) Deal Size -- Again, not sure what your point is with this. Larger aggregate deal value doesn't qualify you for anything -- especially if you're only a single cog in the machine. I've never heard of anyone getting a PE job offer for having "the biggest deals." Can you clarify how bigger = better? (Serious question, this is a frequent claim, but I've never heard of good support for it.)
4) More Products -- Based on my limited understanding of the analyst role at a , you only get multiple product exposure if you're in an industry group. On the other hand, the product group guys don't. Also, a lot of the reputable MM shops do exclusively M&A, which is generally one of the few targeted groups by PE firms.
5) Bigger Platform -- Not sure how this benefits you. You can't work in more than one group or division at a time. I concede that it would make internal networking a lot easier and give you a larger alumni base.
6) Brand Name -- Okay, you win here. That said, I'd be willing to bet my old MM's brand name carries more weight in MM PE than the BBs, including . Outside of MM PE or internationally, the BBs easily trump me. Given my career objectives, this me well. For those with different career objectives, the brand name would certainly be preferable.
So, feel free to draw your own conclusions, these are simply my thoughts. Also, given the above, I'd say that your analogy of transfering from a liberal arts colleges to an Ivy league university isn't really a fair one.
Do you prefer deals that come from banks or not? If it comes from a bank, I would assume that the process runs a lot smoother and it takes some of the work off your plate, but if there is no banker advising the target, then there is a good chance that you're not competing with any other buyers, right?
It's a trade off, and you've hit on the key areas. When a deal comes from a bank, the data is usually very organized and we have a lengthy document explaining the business. This is extremely helpful for a business that I'm not familiar with. You're right in that the process runs smoother, there are set deadlines and the communication and expectations are crisp and clear. However, there is also a very high likelihood that we don't win the auction due to the competitive nature of the process, which is a major turn off. Also, bankers (and we did this too when I was a banker) like to play games, so you need to sift through anythey might be sending you. For example, if the CEO can't articulate the growth plan because he doesn't believe in it, but the bankers forced him to put various low probability growth opportunities in the OM, it creates the headache of determining what is real and what is created by the bankers. As a result, we pay far more attention to potential acquisitions that are proprietary than we do in processes.
How have you been able to get comfortable with what customer contracts should look like and what specific operational metrics (backlog, efficiency stats...) are important? Is that something that you learned a lot about in banking or have learned on the job once you started in PE? I have been in banking for 2+ years (a generalist as far as industries go) and don't know that I'm that knowledgeable in those areas.
I'd say that this is a difficult area for a generalist, as operational metrics and customer contracts look very, very different depending on the company/service/industry etc. While I had exposure in banking, I'd still say I am relatively new in this area and rely on my seniors for guidance. Sometimes even the senior guys don't know if certain metrics are good or not for the industry. As to which are important, I'd say that once I started looking at opportunities through the lens of an investor, it's enhanced my ability to evaluate opportunities subjectively and ascertain which metrics are important without relying on management (for the most part). I wouldn't be worried if you haven't gained that exposure or that level of expertise yet.
I will note that once you have responsibilities for portfolio companies, it becomes a lot more worthwhile to familiarize yourself with things such as contract structure and operational metrics. It's nice to know that I'll be working with the same companies throughout my years as a PE associate and therefore it is very worth my time to internalize and master material relating to them. In these cases, you would be expected to be an expert regarding customer contracts, backlog, metrics, etc. (depending on the PE shops views towards associate involvement with portfolio companies).
Do you have any insight on sourcing roles? If we were looking at a MM PE shop ($ 2 billion +):
What would pay usually be like (base and bonus)?
Does that kind of role usually lead to eventually working on execution?
I do have some knowledge regarding PE shops that focus on sourcing (I interviewed with, though I can't say I was very excited about the job). My knowledge is somewhat limited, but:
The hours are less than banking, but you're still doing a grind. Expect 70 - 80 hours per week. The pre-MBA programs are generally 3-years long, and then you're expected to go get your MBA. In general, you're given a rolodex when you start, with the names of new companies as well as any existing relationships you inherit from an outgoing associate. Your job is to build a relationship with the CEOs and eventually source a transaction. I can't comment on exactly how much the associates make, but there is an incentive structure in place. Basically, you have a minimum number of calls you need to make to hit your quota. After that, you get additional bonus cash for the number of relationships you develop. For example: If you convince the CEO to let you tour their facility, this directly results in additional cash in your pocket. The big payday comes when you source a transaction that eventually closes.
Here is the catch, it is actually incredibly difficult to source a transaction. I know a guy who, after more than two years in one of these roles, had yet to close a transaction. The good news is, if you source a deal, you get to be the one who executes it. However, you're playing second fiddle to the more senior guys at that point, so don't expect to "lead" it by any stretch of the imagination. Also, if you're executing and continuing to cold-call, your hours just got a whole lot worse. Overall, I suggest you pursue PE shops with a sourcing model only after you've exhausted the shops that give you more traditional execution responsibilities. There are some people who are natural fits for this type of role, but it's certainly a tough thing to wake up every day and get excited about.
For all you that have gone through PE interviews (or give PE interviews), what is generally expected when discussing deals? What is appropriate to list on your resume for deals that have been done?
So that sort of strays away from the purpose of this post, but are those two deals good to list, and what should I expect to discuss in an interview?
In terms of what to put on your resume, almost every IB resume I've seen included a "transaction experience" section. In the section, usually its 1 sentence per deal, and sometimes analysts will include their specific roles, and some will just list the deal. If the deal is closed or announced, list who the seller / buyer were, and which one you represented. If the deal value was announced, I'd suggest putting that in as well. It's also nice to provide a 5 or so word description of the company. Note that it is acceptable to put "Company A" or "Buyer A" if the transaction is pending or not announced. So, any example may look like the following:
Acted as the analyst on the sale of Acquired Company, a global manufacturer of widgets for the telecomm industry, to Buyer, for $x.x billion.
If you were unlucky enough to work on a transaction that died, I've seen people list the deal but put "Busted Process" in parenthesis after the sentence. Note that there really is no set format as long as the reader can more or less understand what the deal was.
As for your question about what you are expected to discuss during the deal, ANYTHING is free game. You will not be expected to share confidential information, but by now you should be capable of "talking around" confidential info to still get your point across. I'd say there are really two areas you should make sure you know cold for each of your transactions, which include: (A) Deal Dynamics & Your Role, and (B) Industry / Company Dynamics.
Deal Dynamics & Your Role: Obviously we're going to want to know what specific tasks you worked on for the deal. You may be asked if there were any key models you built, including high level assumptions you may have made. These might include "Why did you project the top line growth you did? -- what are typical margins for this type of company? -- etc." Don't spend a ton of time memorizing your models though, these types of questions are rare. One area that is likely to be probed is your level of client interaction. I often ask individuals: "If I called up the CEO right now, would he know who you are?" If the answer is no -- you lose major points (note, this is more common for MM IB shops and less so for BBs). In addition to your role, you want to be able to articulate high level knowledge of the deal. This may include things like: "Why did Company A ultimately acquire your client?" -- "Why would it not be a good fit for Company B?" -- "Why might a PE shop be attracted to this investmenT?" etc.
Industry / Company Dynamics: This should be easy to articulate if you played a role in writing the offering memorandum. Basically, you may be asked to articulate what made the company a good investment. Be ready to discuss key characteristics of the company, including things such as: "Low CapEx/WC requirements, recurring revenue stream, dominant market share, etc. etc." In addition to all the company specific questions, they may branch out and speak to the industry. I remember getting asked: "Name an industry that you think would make for a good investment. What about this industry is attractive? What keeps you up at night?"
Honestly, most of my PE interviews did not dive too deep into my closed transactions. Most of them would give me a fresh scenario (typically relating to one of their recent investments) and ask me to think through that.
The best advice I can give you, besides from "know your deals cold," is to make sure you have an opinion on things. If someone says: "What multiple would you pay for Company A," the last thing you want to do is shrug and say you don't have enough information. Tell the interviewer what information you would need to properly analyze the situation, and then give a recommendation based on the limited data that you have.