AMA: Big4 Consulting to Private Equity, now M7 MBA

About me

  • Top 20 Undergrad with GPA ~3.0 in Economics
  • Big 4 Consulting ~2 years (Not an M&A diligence group, classic S&O)
  • MM Tech Buyouts ~3 years
  • Before school, advised an software company on their $20M Series C capital raise
  • Top MBA Program (Interning in Growth Equity)
  • Can answer questions about:

    recruiting with low GPAs, recruiting Big4 consulting->PE, working in tech buyouts, MBA decision (also was waitlisted at two M7 schools and was eventually accepted to both - so waitlist stuff), looking to growth equity (early stage vs. late stage) after school, or even advising growth-stage companies!

    Also, new WSO Mentor if you would like more personalized help,

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    WSO Podcast:

    Member @VincentGambini shares his very unlikely path from a Big 4 Consulting position to a lucrative private equity fund. How he positioned himself at the Big 4 in order to be more attractive to PE firms, a key piece of advice to his younger self and how he got his big break.

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    Comments (26)

    Apr 24, 2019

    What're your future career goals? Joining a PE shop, starting your own shop, etc?

    How did you circumvent low GPA?

    Work hard, work clean, & most of all do not give up.

    Apr 24, 2019

    In the future I think I want to join an operationally focused PE firm. I've learned that its a big selling point, especially in the middle market, for firms to sell themselves through value-add. This may even lead me to more of an operating partner role, but I do enjoy deals and want to stay close to them.

    More recently I've been exploring growth equity and find the stage very interesting. Helping businesses scale, and being able to work with a more substantial businesses than in VC environment, but still deal with exciting and rapidly growing businesses and teams seems like a great way to spend a career.

    I think there's a burden of proof that comes with the low GPA to prove that you have a strong work ethic. Personally I blame my GPA on experimenting with an engineering major, but I learned quickly that it wasn't a good excuse that firms wanted to hear. Owning the mistake and identifying it as a 'lesson learned' was a better approach.

      • 2
    Apr 24, 2019

    Honestly, how did you get firms to give you an interview? Strong M&A due diligence and strategy experience here from T2 like S&/LEK/OW/Parthenon/Deloitte/ATK/RB, but I keep getting headhunters telling me MBB or bust.

    Apr 25, 2019

    I had no help from headhunters. I think they are hired by the bigger firms to find "safe" candidates who match profiles - which isn't a box you are going to be able to check.

    This meant that I had to run my own recruiting process, driving outreach to firms, starting with coffee chats and working my way into formal processes. Over time I got a few chances to take modeling tests, run case simulations, and do technical super day interviews - that's where I proved that I belonged in the associate program.

    The barrier is definitely higher, but if you can stand out via networking and interview/case/modeling test performance I think it gives you an edge that makes you appear 'scrappy' and like a 'hustler' that can harness that genuine enthusiasm and effort in your work if you are hired.

      • 2
    Apr 25, 2019

    Really glad to hear that your hard work paid out for you!

    How did you manage to get interviews from a coffee chat? And what was your preparation method like? I hear that some firms have more complex modeling tests, and not having much chance to do them in my job (imagine same case for you), am curious how your entire prep process was.

    Apr 26, 2019

    How long did your recruiting process take, by the way?

    And hardest interview questions? I'm seeing these live modeling tests and they feel really intimidating given the level of detail for some is more than I've seen in coaching models (like WSO)

    Apr 25, 2019
    1. What made you pick your MM tech buyout shop? What were or are the criteria that matter the most to you when choosing a PE firm? And what would you advise prospective candidates to focus on?
    2. How did you think about firm size / chances for promotion (or was your firm a 2-3 year and out type)? I'm going through some interviews now and I've realized how hard it is to figure out what might be a better choice.
    3. What is your view on the tech industry and the kinds of companies you'll bullish on? Risks you perceive?
    4. What led you to business school? And what was your process from prep start to getting there/picking your school (e.g. took fewer projects at work to study for the GMAT, how you studied, etc.)?
    5. Would you have skipped b-school and gone to an operationally focused PE firm as you mentioned, if you could?
    6. What did you like about your time in Big 4 consulting? What did you not like?
    7. What did you like about your time in your MM buyout firm? What did you not like? Anything you wish you would have changed about the firm or your experience?
    8. Why growth equity vs. VC? How do you define or view growth equity in this context? I've noticed more firms doing growth equity type deals, but they're still majority buyouts and feels like traditional buyouts.
    Most Helpful
    Apr 25, 2019
    1. What made you pick your MM tech buyout shop? What were or are the criteria that matter the most to you when choosing a PE firm? And what would you advise prospective candidates to focus on?
      Honestly I only had two options and the other one was a healthcare focused fund. I was more attracted to the companies we were analyzing in the tech space and felt like it was a good group of guys (all guys at the time) to work with. Another attractive quality was that they had a history of hiring and promoting former consultants. The healthcare shop I was looking at was almost all former investment bankers and I wasn't sure that they knew how to deploy my skillset as well.
      My advice would be to choose somewhere that you can picture yourself being successful. For some people this will mean more structure, a larger team, and a later stage fund with a lot of infrastructure and templates to follow. For others, it may mean a newer fund with a less developed strategy and track record, but a change to be creative and potentially build a lot of that foundation.
    2. How did you think about firm size / chances for promotion (or was your firm a 2-3 year and out type)? I'm going through some interviews now and I've realized how hard it is to figure out what might be a better choice.
      I didn't really think about it too much, and I think as an associate candidate it is best to ignore it anyways. Firms will make room for people they really like, and even if you get a direct promote to VP it doesn't necessarily mean that A) Your job will actually change materially B)You will make partner faster than if you left for an MBA. As I mentioned before, the better choice is to solve for near term learning and development goals rather than trying to think too far ahead.
    3. What is your view on the tech industry and the kinds of companies you'll bullish on? Risks you perceive?
      I really liked looking at tech companies with higher growth rates because I liked that the industries were less understood, they had a lot of data to analyze, and because they were growing companies, designing the operating models to scale properly was an interesting challenge. I'm very bullish on companies that prove they can reach profitability quickly. It is a sign of management maturity, especially in markets where the TAM is less than most VCs realize. The main risk I see is that managers today are underwriting recurring revenues that aren't really recurring outside of a bull-market. All SaaS contracts are different, and unless the piece of software is incredibly critical - which not all software is immune to being backwards replaced by excel - it will get cut in a downturn. I think the next recession will shake out a lot of the new software investors.
    4. What led you to business school? And what was your process from prep start to getting there/picking your school (e.g. took fewer projects at work to study for the GMAT, how you studied, etc.)?
      I was always interested in business school and even took my GMAT back in senior year of undergrad which I highly recommend. As I began to reach the time limit of using that score I had to make the decision to go back to school, but it was fairly easy. There was little to no sympathy at work for working on an MBA application and writing the essays was brutal. I would highly recommend a consultant's help and to start months in advance.
      An unexpected turn in my MBA application process was when I was waitlisted at 2 of my top schools (and denied from the other 2). It was a difficult and awkward situation at work and had to put in more effort, but ultimately was able to get off those wait lists.
    5. Would you have skipped b-school and gone to an operationally focused PE firm as you mentioned, if you could?
      I don't think so, only because I knew I wanted to take the time in an MBA program to experiment with other roles. I wanted to try earlier stage investing and a more operational role at a fast-growing company. Not being able to cross those off my list I probably would have jumped ship to try them at some point in my career.
      I also think an MBA is a great way to buy time to mature and grow a few extra grey hairs. A big hurdle I've seen younger VPs struggle with is the ability to command the room, sometimes called "executive presence. I think getting a few more years experience (in life - not only work) really helps people prepare to excel at the later stages of the private equity career track.
    6. What did you like about your time in Big 4 consulting? What did you not like?
      I really liked the people I worked with, particularly the partner that kept me on most of his projects. The size of a Big4 firm can be very intimidating and it is easy to get lost in the crowd, but if you successfully navigate to a good partner or group, you can work on projects that very strategic and interesting. There were times when I found myself on long IT implementations, but I networked quickly to get off of them and back to projects where I could build skills more relevant to PE.
      One major advantage (anecdotal) over MBB is that I think Big4 firms put pre-MBA talent in front of clients a lot faster. At MBB firms the core work-unit is a post-MBA consultant and they tend to play that role on client site. This earlier exposure is deserved because Big4 firms work lower in organizations, but I think it helps build a broader skillset more quickly and prepares associates to interact with management team members at portfolio companies.
    7. What did you like about your time in your MM buyout firm? What did you not like? Anything you wish you would have changed about the firm or your experience?
      I really liked getting exposure to high level strategic discussions at portfolio companies and developing the skillset to analyze deals quickly. Both came over time, and there is a frustrating period of waiting your turn and learning, but now being at MBA I see how valuable they really were.
      The part I didn't like was the workload. We had a firm that fluctuated between 5 and 2 associates, and those months when I was 1 of 2 associates were brutal. I would definitely look for somewhere with a stable roster of staff to take workloads to make the culture a little bit more sustainable.
    8. Why growth equity vs. VC? How do you define or view growth equity in this context? I've noticed more firms doing growth equity type deals, but they're still majority buyouts and feels like traditional buyouts.

    I have pretty much eliminated the VC Style growth equity from my desirable career paths. They just don't get as involved with the portfolio companies and tend to spread responsibilities for performance around a larger and more distant board of directors.
    I prefer the growth firms that act more like buyout shops and take sizable stakes. I think they tend to be a bit friendlier towards management than traditional buyout shops and have a more collaborative approach.

      • 7
    Apr 25, 2019

    Your thoughts are much appreciated.

    Regarding the skill sets you developed during your time in PE, do you think they are the same as those gained by your peers at other MM firms or MF firms? To add to that, what are differences in both the work itself, associate responsibilities, culture, level of competency (of group or firm) between these broader buckets of firms (e.g. lower MM, MM, upper MM, growth equity, MF, even VC)? If you've shared experiences with others at your MBA program.

    Also sounds like you tried hard to get off the waitlist for your two target schools. What was that process like / recommended approach for getting off waitlist generally?

    How was a typical day like for you at your firm? How involved were you with portfolio companies / post deal work?

    How were hours at your previous firm (regular/normal, and deal time? Accounting for when your firm had 2 vs. 5 associates)?

    Do you think PE trains one well to take on an operational role? Or is it a combination of personal strengths and other factors that determines whether a PE professional can work well on the operating side? Per your interest, had you maybe had a traditional banking background pre PE.

    Apr 25, 2019

    Posted Twice - Removed

      • 3
    Apr 26, 2019
    VincentGambini:

    Top 20 Undergrad with GPA ~3.0 in Economics
    Big 4 Consulting ~2 years (Not an M&A diligence group, classic S&O)
    MM Tech Buyouts ~3 years
    Before school, advised an software company on their $20M Series C capital raise
    Top MBA Program (Interning in Growth Equity)

    Can answer questions about: recruiting with low GPAs, recruiting Big4 consulting->PE, working in tech buyouts, MBA decision (also was waitlisted at two M7 schools and was eventually accepted to both - so waitlist stuff), looking to growth equity (early stage vs. late stage) after school, or even advising growth-stage companies!

    Also, new WSO Mentor if you would like more personalized help:

    Book Now

    Can you speak to how and what steps you took to get off of the waitlist at those two M7 schools? I'm currently on the waitlist for an M7 school, so I'm looking for advice. @VincentGambini

    Apr 30, 2019

    First I started with an assessment of why I thought I was waitlisted. This will be unique to your application and is probably even different based on the school. Depending on if you have another opportunity to write an additional essay, etc. you will really want to focus on your gaps.

    If there isn't an opportunity to submit an additional essay or materials you will need to get creative with your interaction with the school. An additional visit, a quick email to admissions, or a meeting with a key alumni that you connect with via LinkedIn can all tip the scales in your favor.

    It really depends on the gap that you are trying to close.

    edited - fixed typo

      • 2
    May 6, 2019

    Few questions:

    1. Going through b-school process now, any insight into what materials helped you best prepare for GMAT?
    2. How did you leverage your time in Big 4 consulting when recruiting for PE? What experiences, skills, traits, etc. did you try to highlight?
    3. Who did you find most helpful/responsive at these PE shops when networking?

    Thanks!

    May 8, 2019
    1. I was worried that with the hectic schedule that I had at work that I wouldn't be very disciplined if I didn't hire a tutor. I met with a tutor about 8 times I think (every Sunday morning) and more than anything it helped me stay on track. I would really recommend doing something similar, especially if you are worried that work will take over too much of your time. I have way too many friends who are in a perpetual state of "studying for the GMAT" and I think without physically spending the money every week on a tutor it can be hard to commit to a deadline.
    2. There are really two dimensions to think about when comparing Big4 consulting candidates against other potential associates. The first is the banking vs. consulting dimension which I have spoken about above, but it is about playing to the firms investment strategy outside of pure financial modeling and transaction processing. This means understanding competitive dynamics, potential to add value, product differentiation, and how to manage or plan strategic initiatives after closing. The other dimension is Big4 vs. MBB firms. At Big4 you probably had more client interaction (due to clients being lower in customer organizations), you maybe were trusted with more senior work because there aren't as many MBAs stealing the show, and lastly, and I think the best pitch - is that when it came to strategic work you're not following a "playbook" as often. MBB firms do so much strategy consulting work that they have a lot more resources to leverage. At a Big4 on strategy work it is probably a new area that the firm is still developing. The ability to work well and successfully in a resource constrained environment is a big value add at a PE firm.
    3. Its always a good plan to try and find commonalities like other former consultants or alumni of your college, etc, but that can be difficult. You can always start with associates, but to be honest they have very little effect on the recruiting process and certainly wont be able to break protocol to pull a consultant into a program with mostly bankers. Try for VPs and even partners. I think you'd be surprised how many are willing to speak with aspiring candidates.
      • 4
    May 9, 2019

    As someone trying to get into Big4 Consulting with a similar GPA at a similarly ranked school, how were you able to get past the GPA cutoff? Did you network independently to solve for the GPA issue?

    May 9, 2019

    Yes, but nothing too extreme.

    For me it meant going to the job fair and voicing my concerns directly to a partner (not to recruiters). Presenting yourself well in this context and showing general interest can go a long way. I was able to find a partner who worked in my desired city, give him my elevator pitch, had a follow up call with a more junior resource on his team and worked my way into the recruiting process. For the record, other Big4 firms where I didn't do this - I was most definitely was eliminated during the GPA screen.

    The GPA cutoff is used pretty exclusively by recruiters because they don't have better ways to cut down on the shear volume of resumes they receive. However, the firms often have much more flexible criteria because they understand the importance of harder classes vs. just padding GPA, being well-rounded with extracurriculars, and the ability to present yourself well all correlate to better success in consulting than GPA alone.

      • 1
    May 10, 2019

    Do most PE firms that are operationally focused hire consultants at the associate level? Or do bankers have an equal shot?

    And at these firms, do you think the consultant skillset is better at doing the work/getting promoted versus a banking skillset? Or does it not matter after 1-2 years on the job.

    Thanks!

    May 14, 2019

    A lot of firms claimed to be operationally focused, but I do think that a good test is whether they are actually hiring consultants. If it is all bankers I tend to think that the "operational focus" is more of a firm marketing initiative.

    The only alternative I would caveat is if they run a split model - where bankers work on a transaction processing "deal team" and another team of former consultants and operating partners or industry experts run portions of the diligence and take over post-transaction. Firms like that can also be very operationally involved, but I don't think they necessarily provide a route for bankers to gain an operational skillset, because the deal team stays away from the portfolio companies.

    It is really hard to predict which skillset would be more effective at getting promoted. I've heard it said that succeeding in private equity takes a perfect mix of: consulting skills, finance skills (banking), and sales skills. It is hard to say which career path will help you develop all three. If you are evaluating a specific fund, just look at the backgrounds of those who have been promoted - the backgrounds of the VPs, Directors, and Partners.

    If you joined an operationally focused firm as a former banker, I am sure you could develop some operational skills over time. I do think it is harder to learn than modeling, but a lot of bankers who have worked at firms where they did more advisory-style work will probably come in with some of the "consulting" skillset already developed.

      • 3
    May 14, 2019
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