Breaking into Canadian PE industry with non Canadian/US experience

Hi Guys-
Is there any chance to get into the Canadian PE industry with around 10 years of non Canadian/USA PE, investment banking/asset management experience. Experience was mostly diverse-

1) Starting with Asset Management analyst for 3 yrs in local AMC AUM of around USD 500 Mn- South East Asia
2) Investment Banking analyst for 4 yrs in regional bank totaling deal size of USD 300 mn in IPO listings/debt & equity syndication- in Asia
3) Currently, PE Associate for 3 yrs in a large Multilateral Development Bank (AAA rated) PE Fund AUM of around USD 1 billion - covering MENA, Central and Western Africa, Asia.

Will highly appreciate your advice.

Comments (18)

LoneWolfBD, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Will appreciate if you can share with me a list of current PE shops in Canada where I can start networking given my current experience. Thanks a lot!

Best Response
kanon, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Why Canadian PE market? Are you Canadian and looking to return home, or have family ties? Or is it a matter of thinking Canada would be easier than US from a visa perspective?

If it's the latter, I frankly don't think Canada is any easier to get sponsored. If anything, it might be even harder given: (1) scarcity of PE opportunities (far fewer firms and activity, leaner teams, new opps not frequent)

(2) Over supply from on-the-ground Canadian finance professionals looking to get into PE, and Canadians in US/overseas looking to return home (and stay in PE)

(3) Given (1) and (2), it's difficult for any large players (e.g. CPPIB) to sponsor non-Canadians, unless they check all the boxes, beat out all applicants from #2 materially (to justify the effort) AND is willing to take a pay discount relative to U.S. And remember, there probably already are high performing Canadians looking to come home (so they don't come with the burden of needing sponsorship) and would take the discount. And smaller firms (anywhere from bigger MMs like Birch Hill or Torquest, to smaller teams like Signal Hill or Ironbridge) probably won't sponsor).

Your experience is interesting and unique from an international exposure standpoint, but it would be incredibly difficult to "place" you. Would you come in as a Sr Associate? A VP? (Relevant direct investment exp probably too light for VP title). Also, while the background and international exposure is interesting, it (cynically speaking) doesn't add any material value to Canadian PE firms that are primarily North American focused. Sometimes there are Canadian teams that look at international deals, but the big pensions have offices in UK and Asia to cover those. And MMs don't look beyond North American investment opps.

The bigger players that hire the most often like CPPIB are moving more towards the traditional PE track model (~2yrs IB/consulting >> pre-mba Associate >> MBA or Sr Associate >> so on). CPP for example might be willing to look at post-MBAs that previously did consulting or banking without Pre-MBA experience, but even then they are looking at mainly your MBA business schools">M7 schools. They are more focused on your "tried and true" profiles and tracks/yrs of exp vs. looking at someone that is interesting and brings diversity of experience (in addition to your traditional IB background)

With your experience you should probably be looking at Asia. Or a fund that focuses on Asia (which aren't generally based in Canada).

LoneWolfBD, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I really appreciate your time writing this.

  • I am a Canadian PR, so there is no "sponsoring risk".

  • I am just returning back to Canada for a health concern of one of my family members otherwise, as you've advised the best shots are in Asia for me.

  • I agree with you as being a somewhat "misfit" with my current background in the context of North American PE. To be honest, I understand this and thats why I am flexible even in getting into the early stage roles (senior analyst/associate) because I strongly believe that if I can break into the industry, I will be able to move up with my skill set and hard work. I know the entry barrier is really high, but I will hate myself leaving this industry without just giving it a shot. I know it sounds dumb but I am really passionate about what I have been doing throughout my career.

  • Having said that, do you think (in parallel to apply for analyst/senior analyst/associate positions) I should also try to get even a 3-6 months internship with any of the PE firms to break into the industry. I don't want to play the MBA card now to break into the industry rather do a top MBA after working in Canada (if I can successfully break in) for 2-3 years to jump ahead and get a higher role if I can perform well in North America.

  • With this kind of background, how should I network. I have 6-9 months of time to invest in networking into the industry. Will highly appreciate if you can suggest any specific strategy to follow.

Thanks again for your practical suggestions.

  • 2
12468086, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Mate the PE scene in Asia is booming from what I've heard. It sucks you have to go back to Canada for family reasons but seriously it would be easier getting to the top in PE than in Canada due to the foundation of the industry itself.

td2013, what's your opinion? Comment below:

How you should network is a different topic. Just to add to the point above on scarcity of opportunities, not only are there limited number of decent PE shops / pension funds, recruiting cycle and openings are also unpredictable. Your best bet is to look up a list of firms you'd be interested in and reach out for coffee to stay in the loop.

kanon, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hi OP, mtnmmnn Had a great post below on where you could look and additional considerations. I'll try not to repeat but to add to it:

You mentioned you're aware you're a "misfit" and also fine with taking a lower title to get into the market, then kill it while you're there. To echo mtnmmnn and also to my point above - your experience looks solid, but it's international (not US), and PE hiring is quite homogeneous. They don't really recognize international experience and investing in quite the same light, because there is greater weighting towards local, North American market expertise.

Also, you may wonder - "hey, I've got some 10 years of IB, AM, AND PE experience - I have what they're looking for and then some, and I'm a steal because I'm offering myself up as an Associate. Why wouldn't they take me vs. some kid just 1-2 years out of IB who hasn't worked a day in PE?" So a few reasons:

(1) "tried and true" track / homogeneous hiring - PE likes to hire what they know - people from Canadian/US IB programs that have done local deals (or consulting). Something outside of that is seen as an unknown variable, even if you have IB experience. If you hire from that track and the hire doesn't work out, then they'll think "well, he/she came from a legit background and guess it's a numbers thing, they can't all be winners". Conversely, picking someone different (even if they have the technical background) and them not panning our sticks out like a sore thumb.

(2) Unwillingness to hire overqualified/older candidates even if the candidate genuinely doesn't mind. It's because they think that person will likely want to see promotion sooner, and the firm may not be able to give an accelerated promotion to them (no available room, budget, team structure design, wanting to see more traction within role). Even if they're willing to take the initial discount, the experienced hiremay become disgruntled in a year or two if they're not getting the promo, and leave. Then the firm had to hire again, or deal with a disgruntled employee. It's presumptuous, but I think it could also happen, which is why it's a consideration.

(3) ... Even if you're fine with the discount, the firm may not be because it creates tension for your peers. Your younger peers might think "they've hired this super experienced guy at the same level as me, and I'm going to unfairly get benchmarked against him now." And similarly, more senior in title, but junior in experience peers will feel awkward.

(4) Other reasons: like maybe unfairly assuming you are not good because you've been an analyst for more than 3 years.

You also mentioned thinking about an mba after you build experience in Canada. MBA programs have been trending younger and younger. Most people going into a program have 4-6 years experience. With 10 years, it's already harder because of ageism. I think Wharton and Booth might be a bit more age-friendly, but not sure. But anyway, it would be tough, unless you're looking at an EMBA program. And if you are, that's not traditionally used for career switching.

mtnmmnn, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Very good post and completely matches my experience.

To the OP, I gather from he fact that you are a PR and not a citizen that you haven't lived much in Canada if at all. As mentioned above, Canadian PE (outside of a few pension funds that have offices abroad) is an extremely local business and it's crucial to have a significant amount of Canada / US experience to be able to be competitive in any process (I can't emphasize (1) and (2) enough). And I want to be clear, it's not because I don't think you have a good background and experience, it's just that you'll be competing with a LOT of people that have more relevant experience. Also, the typical search for an experienced PE professional is long, again due to the scarcity of openings and the over-supply of candidates so I would say 6-9 months might be average if not a bit tight so for someone that seem to have a limited network and knowledge of the space, it's probably not realistic.

I have connected with quite a few finance professionals that immigrated to Canada (mostly Indians bschool alumni) and they all found that they weren't nowhere near as competitive as they thought they would be (mostly due to a mix of foreign experience not being valued as much, even if acquired at a brand-name place and lack of Canadian knowledge and experience). Ultimately, they found that the transition wasn't as seamless or natural as they expected and I'd say the a significant number ended up taking jobs that were below in stature and pay than what they initially targeted.

I don't want to sound discouraging or anything, but just want to make sure that you are going down a path that's very tough with no certainty of success and I want to make sure that you do it with your eyes wide open. I would encourage you to perhaps cast a wider net, not just so you have a backup plan, but also so you can target roles where your experience can be a competitive advantage. For exemple, Canadian asset managers tend to do EM investing from Canada and given you have direct experience in the space + very relevant experience from your PE role, I would think you would be received and viewed quite positively if you targeted those roles.

LoneWolfBD, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks a lot to everyone (especially to both mtnmmnn and kanon) for sharing these points. I really do appreciate it.

  • "Casting a wider net"- is the most important advice among all. Though I have started to do my research on the AMs covering emerging markets, if possible can you please share with some names of asset management companies in the same universe.

  • As I said earlier, this relocation is largely based on family issues, I will surely come back to Asian PE market within 3-4 years of time. That's one of the main reason for me to make every stones unturned to stay within the industry so that I can at least come back with the relevant sector expertise. Your perspective of having a wider net will really help me to devise a strategy well fitted with my future objective. As a senior in the industry, what is your advice in terms of expanding the "net", I mean which other industries (outside of Direct PE experience) should I be targetting in Canada, so that I can capitalize on that to make an entry into Asian PE again.

Thank you so much for your contribution. This has been really helpful.

  • 2
mg4853, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I'm in a similar situation. Let me know.

LazyChimp, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hi, did you eventually make the move to PE? I too am on this uphill battle and could use some guidance from you.

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