Strange Success Story: from Philosophy Major to the Buy Side in 4 years

Technically this story starts in 2011. I was a philosophy major, planning to go pursue a PHD after undergrad and spend the rest of my life debating the Big Questions with old fogies in dusty offices for peanuts. Then I went to Paris to study abroad and I realized: I would really like to make a lot of money.

Fast forward on year, where I did a summer internship at Merril Lynch PWM that my uncle arranged. From there I finagled a great internship in PWM at JPM. (Story here: I got really lucky and ended up on a desk of a former investment banker who had gone into the private bank as an MD and we got to work on some PE deals because of that. But, after a summer where I learned a ton but hated my life, I decided the stiff banking world wasn't for me. So even though I didn't have another offer, I declined the FT role.

After that, I had a terrible job at a shitty commercial real estate company. I thought I was being hired to evaluate real estate deals, and instead I was getting coffee and updating the CRM. I was fired after three months.

Regretting my stupid decision to turn down JPM and not knowing where to go next, I did what any 22 year old former philsophy student with no job prospects and $5k in their bank account would do: I backpacked south east asia for four months.

I knew I wanted to stay in the finance world, and after my exposure to PE deals at JPM I knew I was a deal junkie. But I felt like the investment banking world wasn't for me. I felt like the industry was really antiquated, and there had to be a better way to do that job. So I did some research while traveling and I found a company called Axial. It's a tech start up with a platform that connects buyers and sellers around lower and middle market deals. I thought Ah HA! These guys get it. It shouldn't be so hard to find each other. I NEED to work there.

I had a phone interview while I was abroad, but nothing more. I came home from Asia and two weeks later I moved to New York with $500 in my bank account and stars in my eyes. After a really rigorous interview process, Axial hired me. Thank god.

I spent the next two years talking to CEOs who were thinking about selling but didn't know how to find buyers, buyers who didn't know how to find intermediaries or CEOs, and intermediaries who needed a better way to get coverage of lower middle market PE shops and strategics. I learned everything about what it looks like when PE shops are doing a great job on business development. Working for a start up with immersive, and exhausting. I started out making $60k. I made some lifelong friends, and we'd work until 8 or 9 and then go to the bar and talk about work for a few more hours. I was promoted three times in two years and I wasn't looking for a job until a recruiter approached me after I wrote an article entitled "5 reasons to sell to a family office".

It was a family office that focuses only in direct investments in lower middle market companies. I wasn't sure I wanted to pursue it, but I went to the interview. And I fell in love. What they were offering me was a Director role in business development. But it's so much more than that. My boss told me during the interview to think of this job as an apprenticeship in private equity. My job is to source deals, but I can get as involved as I want on the other stuff. I've been here six weeks and have gone to two board meetings, have listened to negotiations for an add-on, and next week I'm going to a site visit to look at a company I sourced.

So basically, now my job is to shop for companies with someone else's money. And I get paid 6 figures to do that. Best job ever.

It felt like a long and very circuitous way to get here, but I want to thank you guys. I have asked for advice here every step of the way. My advice to young monkeys: 1) if you get a chance to get published, take it. 2) you don't always have to go the obvious route. It's much more fun if you don't. 3) Take yourself seriously. What I mean by that is that just because you are young and don't know everything yet doesn't mean you can't add value. Know what you're worth and be confident in that--it shows.

Thanks again WSO! Also, if you're a banker...send me your deals! ;)

Comments (12)

May 13, 2016 - 2:18am
Janizary, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Where did you publish your article?

She states she wrote for Axial, so I'm assuming their website...

May 13, 2016 - 2:19pm
ans2389, what's your opinion? Comment below:

That's right. Although the recruiter actually found me because Generational Equity quoted my article in their blog.

May 13, 2016 - 2:18pm
ans2389, what's your opinion? Comment below:

The short answer to that is I'm still learning!

I read everything I can get my hands on, and I took a class on how to evaluate private companies.

As for the negotiating, the partners do that.

Best Response
May 15, 2016 - 9:54pm
Esuric, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Reading this article, I couldn't help think "this person must come from a very wealthy family."

“Elections are a futures market for stolen property”
  • 4
May 16, 2016 - 12:05am
smplcty, what's your opinion? Comment below:

A philosophy major working in sales? Sounds about right. Not trying to be demeaning in saying's just that I don't consider a BD role in PE to be anything more than a sales role. Still a good/cushy job, though. Congrats on getting it.

May 16, 2016 - 3:21pm
ans2389, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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