Ex Apollo Associate Q&A (But I Actually Answer)

My little sister sent me the other ex-Apollo Q&A thread today, and I didn’t realize so many people were interested in the firm. I was a mid-tier associate some time in the 2010s, who did not particularly enjoy my experience and left ASAP for other opportunities. I recruited on-cycle from an IB / Ivy background, receiving a number of megafund offers and ultimately chose Apollo.


I do have many friends who stayed and have a good understanding of how Apollo and other MFs operate. Happy to answer any questions as I remember trolling this website for info when I was an undergrad. As an FYI, I will not be responding to any salacious questions about the firm as most of us sign an NDA when we leave, and I rather not piss anyone off.


Edit (April 21): hopefully was helpful answering some questions, and hopefully my sister and her friends enjoyed it. Probably it for me on the questions. I don’t use this forum much, so apologies to any messages that I don’t respond to

 

Athene was the most important deal team even when I was at the firm, long before any merger / Marc taking the helm. The top associate from PE was usually put on the team in my time, but I believe the insurance team is now separate.

Hard to dive in too deep over a quick forum response, but I think the focus on balance sheet financial businesses will continue. Hard for PE to be the growth driver for the firm over the next 10 years when your strategy is buying mediocre / bad businesses for low prices. Cannot scale $$$ in PE with that strategy

 

How do you decide which associate to sacrifice at the end of the year?

 

If we are interested in public markets, do you think Apollo HF exits are unparalleled and worth the year or two or suffering or would you recommend a less painful route through other MFs where we may get marginally fewer looks.

In other words, how difficult was it to recruit out and leave early? (have heard of Apollo's stance against it)

 

Don’t think there will be a meaningful difference in the exit opportunities you see from Apollo or other MF. And realistically, with how competitive the recruiting is now, very few analysts will have the opportunity to get more than a couple MF offers and “optimize”. Would just hope to get lucky and convert a few you like, choosing whichever is the best fit personally

 

Best kept secret is that last few years hours have not been bad at all. However, like many firms, there was significant over-hiring which resulted in many associates having a less than productive few years. 

 

I probably worked 90 hours a week regularly and hit 110 in bad times. I did not like it, and I knew I would be leaving which led to not really caring.

The best associates honestly did work an insane number of hours from what I saw. I have heard that these hours do not happen anymore

 

How about the operational experience at Apollo? Ever overhaul out payscales for your portco employees for example, lol? With that deep value mandate and often distressed targets , i presume working with them/getting them on the same page was a pretty big deal?
How about the whole employee ownership thing KKR touts? Could ever work at Apollo?

 

I honestly can’t remember many divorces or other negative family life stories. But the relationship with our bosses was very professional, almost no personal interactions especially outside of work. So I wouldn’t know much apart from bullpen rumors

 

Associates get no carry. APO associate program is 4-years. ~$400-700k (sr associate at that top range - but remember - that is equivalent to VP at other places where there is carry). It's not all cash and there is deferral. 

 

How would you describe the culture back in the day, is it as bad as people says it to be

NOL
 

The culture was rumored to be very bad from the 90s to 00s. Mostly gone by the time I joined. The culture I experienced was one of a very lean team doing a crazy amount of work. A lot of work hours and stress - work was expected to be by far your first priority. Some people liked that, others didn’t

 

No relaxed days - always a ton of work to go around. Not much to do = new staffing immediately. Busy days are similar to the busy days at other PE firms I’m sure.

I think things are a bit better WLB-wise now. My associate class was <5 and shrunk quickly when myself and others left. Now associate classes are ~10 and attrition rate is much lower

 

Do you think Apollo’s value oriented strategy is sustainable in the long term? Rowan talks about how PE is not a core focus of the firm because it is a growing segment but not a growth segment. How do you think this impacts the experience and exposure of associates coming in, both for the associate program itself and in terms of career trajectory (whether that is upwards or outwards)?

 

While not many IB analysts have a strong view on their personal investment philosophy yet, I’d recommend trying to form some range of preference in investment style before choosing a PE firm. It’s hard to be excited about work when you like a different type of investing to what your firm does

 

Are they likely to get return offers to Associates who go to HBS? I’m also curious about their policy on recruiting from business schools — seems like they take a few each year from HW

 

Can you provide examples of what exactly makes the culture so notorious?

Define 110 hours of constant work - how? In banking people throw around 90-100 but at least 30 of those are FaceTime / dicking off.

Hours aside - I saw a comment that seniors treat associates as resources and have no interaction. Do they flat out ignore when walking by? No wholesome Partners / diamonds in the rough?

What are some of the more legendary culture stories (insane bullying / antics / behaviour)?

Do you feel like you have a leg up having worked there or in retrospect do you not think your stint was worth it?

Finally, do you feel you learned good lessons as an investor or is the approach very unique to something only a firm like Apollo can do?

 

Oh come on there’s gotta be some stories pre-2010 that still circulate the office that aren’t part of an NDA that you can share.

Otherwise thanks and look forward to responses to other Qs.

 

Longer response for some good questions.

The work load and culture are of course very closely tied together. I’d say both were negatively impacted by staffing and mentality of senior people during my tenure there. Apollo has 3 titles in flagship PE: associate, principal, and partner. Teams are usually staffed with 1 person at each level, and during my time, there were more partners than associates. You can imagine how that crushes associates based on pure numbers. That ratio has now improved thankfully.

The second is mentality of senior people. The environment at the firm was always very sink or swim. APO only needs 1 superstar per class or maybe even less to fill their partner ranks. Why not load associates with as much as possible when you’re hoping for a decently high attrition rate anyway? The ones that survive will be incredibly prepared and stellar, the others couldn’t cut it. What they maybe missed in the early 2010s is that the economy changed drastically from the 2007 - 2011 they lived through where Apollo was by far the best job in investing + there were no jobs in general for anyone. By the mid 2010s, the economy was so hot an APO associate had so many opportunities that they weren’t as willing to put up with the grind. The firm adapted - hire more and try to improve culture.

As to what 110 hours of work a week look like, there was always endless work. If every partner is looking at 3 deals and screening 10 more, that’s a lot of work for an associate. During a live deal, the flat structure meant you learned a lot, but the work was brutal. Model, diligence, memo, financing, legal, you know the drill, but a huge portion of work on the associate. The flat structure also meant very little down time waiting for comments - your work was expected to be thoughtful and accurate.

As to whether or not I would do it again, personally no. There were certainly benefits to me, mainly Apollo name brand, the broader associate class network / friends, and some good training. I feel like I could have gotten similar things from other MF offers I had, in an environment / investment style that worked better for me. I also didn’t have the work ethic, efficiency, horse power to full absorb the training. Half of us were just drowning trying to complete the work on our plate without much understanding.

Many of my peers who have either stayed or left for other opportunities disagree with me and would chose to join APO again. I’ll give you a positive story since you seem to be after some good anecdotes. An associate in a different class worked as a PE associate but also often worked with Rowan directly. Don’t know when he slept - 4 am nights and he had a standing 7 am with Marc at least 3 days a week. I’m sure he would not have traded his level of exposure / training / learning for other firms

 

I’ll answer this as well. It’s been said elsewhere in this thread but there were a few carriers of poor culture near the top and most have departed for one reason or another. Josh Harris once requested a deal team meeting, in person (for no reason in particular other than he would be in), on Thanksgiving morning with notice going out late the night before. I haven’t seen anything like this since he left. One of the partners I work with now routinely tells associates to log off by midnight latest, the rationale being they’ll do better work in the morning anyways.

 

Hey kinda unrelated but quick question. So I’m a high school senior who’s always wanted to do MF PE and I'm currently deciding between Rice, WashU, and Umich CAS with the option to try to transfer to Ross (stupidly didn’t apply as a first year). Which of those do you think would be best for MF PE? Is it even possible to break in from those schools after doing BB/EB? Very confident in my ability to attain a high GPA at any of them (1590 SAT). I already have an HF internship for this summer and am close to having an MM PE locked up next summer from cold calling. Thanks!

 

Why are there so many ex-Apollos at Tiger. One is deep value and the other is growth so doesnt seem to add up

 

How is the real estate group perceived, in terms of returns, comp, progression, etc. I am in corporate buyout but particularly interested in moving into this group

 

Small business for Apollo and not a core focus from my time at the firm. Would probably suggest another firm if real estate is your passion.

Apollo does do a lot of RMBS and CMBS if that’s interesting for you. “Opportunistic Real Estate” is one of their smallest buckets I believe

 

A lot of positives: 1) clearly the growth area for the firm, 2) a lot of other firms have exited FIG, so seems like an interesting area if you don’t believe FIG companies are now a highly regulated commodity low return business, 3) people who are in charge of that group are great, 4) exposure to Rowan regularly - sink or swim, but if you swim it’ll be great learning and career

Cons are that the work is complicated, some would say boring, and certainly esoteric and nontransferable to many other opportunities 

 

Pretty competitive to make junior partner, very competitive to make senior partner. I was never going to make partner at Apollo, because I was not a good personality fit and I didn’t enjoy the investment strategy. People who make partner are very strong performers who give their life to firm, or some small cases nepotism. Some very strong performers are even more ambitious and start their own shops.

I’m still in investing - seniorish person at another investment firm.

 

Did your fellow associates leave for HFs because of comp purposes or an unwillingness to deal with the long hours, culture, etc over a long period of time? Or was it simply a factor of preferring public equity investing as opposed to private investing?

 

Mostly preferring public to private investing. Comp at Apollo was strong and is very lucrative in PE in general.

You can earn more quickly at an HF, but your career will probably be shorter involuntarily and there’s more variance in the results. Not sure an average career PE person makes less than an average career HF person

 

Estimate is a bit high because funds most likely wouldn’t turn that quickly and a large portion is deferred / vesting. But would it be theoretically possible for an absolute superstar that makes senior partner quickly? Probably

More likely you hope to make partner at 34 which most won’t, and you hope to make it to a second fund

The fund sizes aren’t growing - when you make partner, you are taking dollars out of another partner’s pocket. Not as easy and friendly as most think to earn the top $$