AMA: Private Equity Portfolio Company CFO

PE-CFO's picture
Rank: Gorilla | 509

Pre-MBA Work History:

  • I attended a private, Catholic university in the Midwest where the curriculum was focused on asset management and included a student-managed portfolio as part of the university's endowment.
  • Alumni through that program helped me land in the analyst class of a $500 billion asset manager that went under during the Great Recession. Fortunately I was gone by then. I sat on a trading desk in NYC and went through the two year analyst class before returning to the Midwest.
  • I became an investment banking analyst at a middle market, boutique investment banking firm in the Midwest. I was a generalist and worked on a lot of deals in a lot of industries as this was the years right before the recession. I found the role through my own hometown network.
  • I left IB to become a pre-MBA associate at a $150mm middle market PE fund in my same city. We had just raised the fund which allowed us to do 4 investments during my 2 years, which were during the Great Recession.
  • I also earned my CFA charter, which is still active today.

Post-MBA Work History:

  • After my pre-MBA associate position, I attended business school full-time at a Top 20 school in the Midwest. It was not my top choice, but it did serve me well.
  • I did my summer internship at a middle market PE fund on the East Coast. I found the internship through my own network and it was unpaid. The PE fund was upfront with me at the beginning and said they would not be hiring anyone full-time.
  • As the PE hiring market was so difficult in the few years after the Great Recession, I used business school to shift from M&A Finance to Corporate Finance. After graduation, I joined a Fortune 500 manufacturer in a leadership development program. I rotated quarterly through different functional areas for two years. After I completed that program, I joined Global FP&A within the company.
  • Within 6 months of working in FP&A, I was recruited by a head hunter to join a middle market FinTech company in my city that had just been acquired by a PE fund. They had just started to build out their finance and accounting department. I started as the Director of Finance and over 3 years built out the full finance and accounting function: systems, team, processes, reporting. I worked very closely with the CEO, founders, and PE fund on a daily basis. I left there as the SVP of Finance.
  • I left the FinTech company because I was recruited from there with a really good offer. I became CFO of a middle market MarTech company in my city that had been acquired by a PE fund. The company needed a finance and accounting department to be built. I am in the midst of doing that and am enjoying it very much. I work closely with the PE fund.
  • I've finally figured out my career path. I plan to work for PE backed companies to get them to a successful exit. Rinse and Repeat. I am 37 years old.

AMA:

I can answer questions about shifting career focus and the differences between each (Asset Management to IB to PE to Corporate Finance), networking and interviewing, making strategic career moves, exiting gracefully, getting an MBA, earning a CFA charter, dealing with rejection and failure, general career and professional development advice, importance of mentors, or anything else on your mind.

Do you want a 1 on 1 mentoring session with me? Here's my mentor profile - click here.

@AndyLouis and @WallStreetOasis.com

Comments (124)

Jul 9, 2019

Fascinating! Will enjoy reading the Q&A. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

    • 1
Jul 9, 2019

Thanks. Just need that first question... :)

Jul 9, 2019

Well I'll help get it started. Why would you prefer to be CFO of an operating co within the PE structure, manage up, and sell, rinse / repeat vs. becoming the long term CFO of a non - PE owned company? Is it primarily carry comp, the environment of change, etc?
I imagine you can get a similar rush managing a company and doing M&A from the inside.

Jul 9, 2019

PE usually gives management pretty juicy options/stock and run the company much better than an entrepreneur/founder owned company would. Family owned companies are even worse.

Jul 9, 2019

lol agreed

Jul 12, 2019

Do family owned businesses tend to be more stingy with management compensation?

Jul 9, 2019

There are a few reasons why I like the PE structure.
1. I have a lot of PE experience, so I understand the objectives. I've sold companies to PE funds, worked at a PE fund, and am on my second portfolio company. I've been a board observer and now an executive that answers to the PE fund. I know that PE needs to eventually sell and am comfortable with that.
2. My comp is aligned to the PE's interests in the form of vested equity. So if the PE fund does well I do well, and vice versa. This gets us all working in the same direction.
3. I don't want to work for a non-PE owned company, especially one that is private. I don't want to work for a lifestyle business where an owner makes all the decisions. While I have a boss (CEO), I feel like I answer more to the PE fund.
4. I am excited to eventually sell this company and then see what the next opportunity is (even if it is with the same company).

    • 4
Jul 9, 2019

I'm more interested in your pre-MBA experience. Could you elaborate on your first role out of undergrad in regards to the recruiting process, day-to-day responsibilities, comp range, etc?

Also curious about your transition from the public markets and investing into investment banking. What made you want to pursue IB after doing AM and Trading? I feel like there is not a lot of cross-over between the roles.

Jul 9, 2019

My first role out of undergrad was on the index fund asset management team for a major asset manager/investment bank that is no longer in business. My team managed $60 billion. I was hired in 2004 to the analyst class. The firm would hire 400 new analysts a year between asset management, wealth management, sales & trading, and IB. I went through 6 weeks of training, which was like business school with real college professors. The firm hired smart people, not just finance majors, and then taught them finance.

My day-to-day responsibilities was a little of everything: I answered RFPs, I put pitch books together, I put portfolio reviews together, I calculated daily fund performance, and I helped the traders with ad hoc analysis and special projects. Although I didn't trade, I sat on a trading desk. My base was $60K with a 20% bonus. This was 2004, remember.

So generally speaking, I found index funds to be really boring. I was more interested in companies themselves: how they competed, how they made money, how they grew. My college experience was all asset management. People were telling me to look at PE. I learned that to get to PE I needed to do IB first. So I set out interviewing for every IB I could. I knew that I likely wasn't going to get into bulge bracket, so I focused on the middle market in the Midwest where I had personal connections.

I was not prepared for IB interviews. I didn't know about the vault guide. I didn't have mentors in IB. I couldn't even answer what three ways you value a company. But I was honest and told them exactly why I was interviewing and what I believed I could do with the right training. I think that part of interviewing is being in the right place at the right time. I found a firm that believed in my story and hired me.

You are right, there was not much cross-over from public to private. I was basically starting over after 2 years. But the way I look at is that whatever job you are in doesn't have to be for the rest of your life.

    • 6
Jul 9, 2019

What type of IRR does the investment have to have for any equity comp to become relevant? what if the company becomes a dog?

Congrats on the career trajectory, sounds exciting

Have you sacrificed salary to get options? Guess i'm wondering what is the mix over the investment life-cycle of salary vs deferred comp?

    • 2
Jul 10, 2019

The hurdle rates are going to be different depending on the equity structure. For example, the PE fund will likely require a certain return, say 2x, before management is in the money. At my last company (FinTech), the PE fund has a preferred return that was dominating the equity value. I really didn't see my shares being worth very much, so when the MarTech company offered me my current role, my equity wasn't holding me back. I was 75% vested and per my agreement I still own what was vested. I just don't see a big payday from that company.

If the company becomes a dog then you'll want to leave. That is certainly a risk in this career path. But I'm part of the executive team so it is up to me and my colleagues to not make it become a dog.

I haven't sacrificed salary as far as I can tell. When I look at CFO compensation market data for my size company in the Midwest, I am right on market with salary and bonus. I have a 40%-50% bonus target, which is 80% dependent on hitting our EBITDA target and 20% dependent on some personal goals. My equity is not an option. I don't have to purchase it. It is given to me and vests over 4 years. If we sell before 4 years then the vesting accelerates. So I am happy with my salary and bonus structure in the short-term.

    • 3
Jul 10, 2019

Great insight. What are typically equity packages like for C level, CEO, CFO, etc.

By that I mean, say you hit 2x in 5 years, if you spread out your equity over the 5 years, what percent of annual comp would that work out to. Or phrased differently, clearly the goal is a positive exit when someone like yourself takes the job and when you're thinking comp - base + 40-50% cash bonus, what's the percent (range) you're "anticipating" annually from the ultimate exit. How much does this vary by position. For larger companies does is the exit piece simply larger with annual comp roughly in line or does everything scale accordingly.

    • 2
Jul 10, 2019

When you think about a lifetime career in the PE-backed CFO role vs. investor/partner in PE both financially and personally (e.g., family life, personal interests, etc), how would you compare the career paths given what you know in having worked in both?

Jul 10, 2019

Good question. From what I can see with PE is I think you'll likely make more money as a successful PE partner. I think you'll have to work a lot more and travel a lot more. I also think you'll develop less transferable skills should you want to leave PE. So you have more risk should your fund not work out. I've seen some long-time PE partners fired for a few bad deals and they don't go work for a company. They typically become a fundless sponsor.

PE is very valuable. What they provide companies like mine is very important. First and foremost, they provide access to capital that we would never be able to access on our own, both debt and equity. This provides us options and growth opportunities that we would never get on our own. They also bring relationships. They have access to executives, consultants, talent, and referrals that we don't have access to. They also hold us accountable to the results.

The downside is that they don't really know how the company is run. That is not their job. So they very much focus on the numbers. They can lose sight of what we are building and why, especially if results are taking longer than expected. They can't really help us operationally. Their data requests can be distracting to running the business especially when they want multiple scenarios or comparisons to how the company used to be.

Fortunately for me, my PE fund is very balanced. When they want something out of the norm, they offer their associate to help put the analysis together. As a smaller company, I don't have the luxury of having a financial analyst with prior IB or PE experience on staff. Hopefully some day!

Regarding my personal life, I feel like I am doing something rewarding and I have control over my schedule. I work a lot, but on my terms. So if I want to take PTO (I just went to Europe for two weeks), if I want to leave early, if I want to work late or on the weekend, I make that call. I know what needs to be done and I have the freedom to get it done. I pass that down to my team, as well. I don't get unexpected surprises (like a new deal) where I need to drop everything and hop on a plane some where. My life isn't disrupted in that way. So I am able to have interests outside of work. When I was in PE, I would be normal for a month and then a deal would hit and everything in my life would be disrupted. I didn't like that. I actually thought IB was better from a life standpoint because it was just consistently busy.

    • 7
Jul 10, 2019
PE-CFO:

I also think you'll develop less transferable skills should you want to leave PE. So you have more risk should your fund not work out. I've seen some long-time PE partners fired for a few bad deals and they don't go work for a company.

The downside is that they don't really know how the company is run. That is not their job. So they very much focus on the numbers. They can lose sight of what we are building and why, especially if results are taking longer than expected. They can't really help us operationally. Their data requests can be distracting to running the business especially when they want multiple scenarios or comparisons to how the company used to be.

This is so spot on. Many young professionals in finance and plotting career paths (my past self included), don't have any idea / don't think about transferable skill sets and/or lack there of on the investing side - be it public or private markets. And regardless how how "operational" focused a fund might be, its not the same thing at all.

Buyside can be an excellent career; however, its one that comes with risks in terms of optionality and transferable skills if things don't work out for what can be a ton of reasons.

    • 4
Jul 12, 2019

What you said about the lifestyle differences is speaks to me.

Would you have chosen to stay in PE for a while longer if you had the chance?

Jul 10, 2019

Any advice for gaining the additional finance/accounting/controller skills you don't really get in a traditional high finance (e.g. IB/PE) role? Was your 3 years as a Director necessary for you to get the full skillset to become a CFO or would it theoretically be possible to jump to a CFO role as a VP/Director in IB?

    • 1
Jul 10, 2019

Good question. I don't think there is only one way to do things. Everything is situational. I think you frequently see IB professionals move to key finance roles at former clients. It makes sense because during an IB process you are building a personal relationship and getting to know the business. I've seen VP of IB friends become CFOs of small companies. I think IB backgrounds are really desirable in FP&A roles. FP&A is a great way to get into a company and see the whole picture because in FP&A you work with all departments on actuals, forecasting, and budgets. From there you can move into different roles.

For me, my best experience, as much as I didn't like it, was the leadership development program and then FP&A at the F500 manufacturer. It allowed me to see a lot of the company in a short period of time. I think one of the biggest keys to being a successful CFO is understanding how the whole company works.

I don't believe anyone would have hired me directly as a CFO if I had been in IB or PE longer. I think I made it to CFO because I was aggressive about making moves from the leadership program to FP&A to Director of Finance (then promoted twice to SVP of Finance). Then I was hire-able as a CFO. That process took 6 years post business school.

I became a CFO through the finance track, not the accounting track. I have never booked a journal entry. I am not a CPA. I'm not an accountant. I am clear about that when talking about myself. That being said, I've learned a lot of accounting on the job and through my education and CFA charter. However, I rely on a strong controller. My first hire has been a controller. I turn the controller loose on the accounting (day to day, audit, tax, monthly close, etc) and I manage the controller. That allows me to focus on the operations, strategy, capital markets, budgeting, forecasting, and reporting.

    • 10
Jul 10, 2019

Succinct and solid. Thanks for sharing.

Jul 10, 2019

Thank you.

Jul 10, 2019

Can you expand a little more on how to "exit gracefully"? As a young man working in real estate, I have entertained other career paths and am unsure about whether or not to take the plunge. Obviously the choice to do that at the end of the day lies with me, but if it comes to that, how do I go about maintaining relationships?

Jul 10, 2019

There are a few things you should consider doing to exit in the best way possible:

  1. Resign face-to-face to your manager. Not over e-mail, text, or IM. Be thankful for the opportunities that you had.
  2. For whatever reason, the accepted standard is 2 weeks notice. Give at least 2 weeks notice (keep in mind you could be asked to leave earlier). When I can, I've given more than 2 weeks.
  3. Work hard until the end. Whenever your last day is, put in full effort until that day.
  4. Establish and execute a transition plan. If you have day-to-day work or are working on a deal, list out what your responsibilities are and offer suggestions on who should take over. Be ready with this when you resign.
  5. Don't bad mouth the company. If you are leaving because you hate the place, don't say it. Just tell them you are going to a new opportunity and you are really excited. If you have an exit interview, keep it constructive.
  6. Don't try to take people with you. Minimize your disruption.
  7. Send a high level goodbye with your personal contact e-mail. The people you want to stay in touch with you will. If your next job is in the same area, you can meet for lunch or breakfast periodically.

If your managers and coworkers are sad you are leaving but happy for you in your new opportunity, you've exited gracefully.

    • 7
Jul 12, 2019

Thanks for this! How might one try to exit gracefully when leaving for a competitor? (PE firm for PE firm, where the current firm might have knowledge leakage concerns)

Jul 10, 2019

Thanks for doing this! I'm looking to be a rotating CFO, so to speak, at a PE firm someday, similar to you. At the very least, I'd like to be a CFO of a business unit/company before I retire. I'm at a bit of a crossroads in my career and am wondering if you had advice on the next steps I should take to attain my goals.

I'm currently in FDD and have 2 years of audit experience with the Big 4. I now have 5 years of experience and am also starting to get burned out on FDD because the lifestyle is difficult. I'm considering the following options and wanted to get your thoughts on which would make the most sense:

Do FDD at another firm and pray it's better culturally. I actually kind of like FDD because it's basically doing ad-hoc financial analysis for deals. I could stay on this path, but I'm hesitant because the lifestyle/culture sucks and the skillset I'll gain is limited, given the limited scope of work.

Technical Accounting Advisory - Even though I'm a CPA and have audit experience, my knowledge of accounting guidance and whatnot is weak. Through FDD, I know about how financial statements link together and how to talk through the financial statement implications about certain business changes. I don't know anything about ASC 606, etc., however. Is this experience relevant, particularly if I go into a group that specializes in M&A/carveouts, or is it overkill for being a CFO?

FP&A in-house - pretty self-explanatory. At this point, should I just cash in my chips and go into FP&A to learn the actual ins and outs of running a business, even though it's less sexy and won't have as high of comp potential in the medium-run?

Other?

Thanks again for doing this!

    • 2
Jul 10, 2019

It all depends on where you want to be. I am a big fan of getting different, new experiences. So if you've mastered FDD then I have to think you could always go back to FDD if you wanted to. I don't know if TAA will get you closer to CFO. ASC 606 is definitely important relevant, but you can learn that on the job (that's what I'm doing!).

I think FP&A is definitely valuable and well respected. You're right about the comp, I did take a step back for two years at the F500 manufacturer, but it was extremely valuable experience and put me on the path to where I am now. Money is important, but it is not the only consideration. If you view it as a path to something bigger/better then I say take the risk.

Since you have a CPA, you could also consider being a controller for a company/industry or CFO you really like. Controllers often move to CFO.

    • 1
Jul 10, 2019

Do you think obtaining your CFA and MBA helped accelerate your path into management? I am currently in the summer before my final year of undergrad, so I have been thinking a lot about positioning myself best for success in the coming years. Thanks for taking the time for this thead!

Jul 10, 2019

I don't think the CFA charter has helped me in management. The CFA charter has nothing to do with management. I think having an MBA from a Top 20 school definitely helped me get hired and was viewed favorably by the companies that hired me. I believe I am more well rounded because of my MBA.

Regarding an MBA, there are couple of ways to do it. If you want to go full-time, I think you should have 3-5 years of work experience first. Full-time MBA is a great way to make a career switch. If you are happy with where you work and what you do, you should consider part-time (maybe even company sponsored) as a way to accelerate your career within the company or industry you are in.

    • 4
Jul 10, 2019

Very interesting, thanks for doing this. These types of opportunities have presented themselves lately and the biggest concern I have is identifying and implementing new financial systems & software. My work experience has been with global companies so obviously this would be unfamiliar territory as these systems are already in place. Can you talk about your experience with having to do this for the first time? Was it easier or harder than expected? Thanks!

Jul 10, 2019

Implementing new systems and software does seem daunting, but don't let the fear of the unknown stop you. It will be a great learning experience to go through it the first time. Also, you're typically never in it alone. Likely you would have a team around you that would help you. You also will probably have a consultant or implementation specialist from the software company. You'll want to build a project timeline and manage the project, knowing that it will take time. Then after it is implemented, you'll continue to make changes as you use it. We still make updates and changes to our accounting software, two years later.

    • 3
Jul 10, 2019

It's not everyday people get to discuss careers with someone as diverse and experienced as yourself, so I imagine you learned some valuable things over the years.

If you had to start your career all over again, would you do anything differently?

What is some advice you would give to those just starting out in the finance world?

What is one skill you recommend everyone learn to be successful in their career?

Most Helpful
Jul 10, 2019

I apologize, I thought I answered this but it doesn't appear to have saved.

Doing something differently - I believe all my experiences got me to where I am now, which is where I want to be now. I think maybe it took me longer or was more winding. If anything, I could have probably skipped the asset management. If I had gone straight to IB that might have been better. It did get me a big name on my resume and I lived in NYC for two years, but what I did there has no relevance to what I do now. If I could have done better on my GMAT, that would have been good. I scored less than 700 which limited my options. I think that impacted my ability to find the job out of business school that I really wanted.

Advice for starting out in the finance world - I have two pieces of advice:
1. Put your career in 2-3 year windows. At the beginning of each window, set 3-4 goals for yourself. At the end of each window, evaluate how you did. Some goals you'll have exceeded and some you'll have fallen short. Then set 3-4 goals for the next 2-3 year window. I've not worked anywhere more than 3.5 years. This isn't bragging or complaining, it is just a fact about me. I used those 2-3 year windows to get the most out of what I was doing. I wasn't always in the role that I thought was ideal for me, but I made the most of the situation. Anyone resourceful, hungry, and smart enough can do the same.
2. Own your own development. No one cares more about #1 than #1 (that's you!). If there is something you want to work on, a role you want, something you want to learn, then go for it. Have frequent career discussions with your manager. If you don't speak up, no one will know what you want and you'll be less likely to get help from mentors, managers, peers, friends, family, etc.

One skill - Art of Negotiation. I have to negotiate all the time - for myself, with stakeholders, with vendors. I don't think I'm a good negotiator. I think I jump to what I want too quickly. No patience for the dance. I'm getting better but I have a long way to go.

    • 11
Jul 12, 2019

Hi PE CFO,

Thanks for being open to chatting on the forum. I find this post both helpful and interesting given a job opportunity I was just offered. I am a Consulting Manager within the Finance/PE team of a big 4 strategy group and was just recruited to by a respected middle market PE fund into one of their newly acquired portfolio companies. In conjunction with the CEO, COO, Fund, and many others I'll be helping lead the PC's growth strategy (role is Head of Strategy/M&A/Value Creation, etc. - without being too specific).

Questions for you:
1) Technically being an outsider of the company, hired in by the fund in coordination with the CEO and COO, I'm mildly worried about my perception within the team and the buy in from others not on the exec team on the strategy I'll need to implement to be successful within the company. Any recommendations for success based on your experience?

2) The fund sold me on the idea that if I succeed in this role and the realized "exit" goes well, I'll have a number of different opportunities across other portfolio companies as an interim executive OR that I may have an opportunity to come into the fund as an investment/operating partner. Do you find these type of "exits" to be a reality based on your experience in the industry?

3) As a leader within the PC you're not just managing expectations of your executive team, but also expectations of the fund. That being said, what's the most challenging part about being in this position?

Thanks for the insight!
ScooterMcgoo

Jul 12, 2019

Thank you for taking the time to do this AMA!

1) Between IB and PE, which one offers more transferable skills to a role like yours?

2) What are the most important skills an IB analyst should aim to develop if one is keen to pursue the route to C-suite management one day?

Jul 10, 2019

describe your leadership style and memorable experiences or figures who influenced such.

what do you look for in folks when determining if they have leadership potential (beyond middle management)?

Jul 10, 2019

My leadership style is more hands off. I believe in setting expectations and then letting the person run with the responsibility. I like to do weekly check-ins with my direct reports to just go over priorities. I have an open door policy. My expectation is that issues are brought to me to resolve, not me having to find them. I also offer flexibility. I don't care if someone wants to start their day later or has to leave early for something as long as they are performing. I believe in transparency. It all seems to be working, but I'm only a few years into being a manager so I have a lot to learn.

My best managers have been the ones that haven't micro-managed me. They have given me responsibility or assignment and then let me figure it out. They've allowed me to take new responsibility because I asked for it. They've also been available to help me with problems or issues. Importantly, they've allowed me to tag along for important meetings, calls, or working sessions so that I can learn from them. They've also had open door policies with me. They've been interested in my career and where I want to go.

I consider myself very fortunate that I've never worked with jerks for bosses. I guess finding that out is part of my evaluation process when considering somewhere to work.

I think leadership potential is demonstrated, and it can be demonstrated at all levels. It is taking initiative, identifying issues and proposing solutions, being my eyes and ears, helping peers, etc. My controller is younger, less than 30 years old, and he was super hungry to manage people. So when I promoted him to controller I gave him 4 direct reports. We talked a lot about how to manage and I am letting him run with it. He meets with each direct report weekly and he comes to me with issues he needs help with. He demonstrated his leadership ability prior to the promotion by working closely with the team he now manages to help them better their processes.

    • 4
Jul 10, 2019

Do you have any interest of being a CEO in the future? Do you feel like your background and coming up the finance route has pigeon-holed you into CFO-only roles?

I'm on a similar career path but 7-8 years behind you and deciding if I want to stay in an FP&A role or branch out to a strategy / business operations. What have your peers in these strategy / ops roles end up doing? Curious because there doesn't seem to be strategy-focused roles at MM PE-backed companies and route to COO seems to be prioritize pure ops experience.

Array

Jul 10, 2019

As of now I don't have interest in being a CEO. I know that CFOs can and do become CEOs, but I think for me it isn't really a personality fit. I don't feel very visionary or inspirational. I'm more cut & dry and analytical. My CEO is very visionary, inspirational, and overly positive. I'm the opposite, lol. I think we have a good balance. I comfortably tell people I make a great #2.

I do think about a post-CFO career path, something in operations. I do have a good sense of operations and could see myself as a COO. We aren't big enough to need a COO, but maybe the next company would need one. I have talked with my CEO about taking on an operational role, even if it is temporary or a project, and he is open to that.

I am also open to acquiring my own company with the right CEO. I believe I can raise the capital. I just want to get a little more experience first.

I've seen my peers in operations all migrate towards a commercial/brand role over time. I feel like if you've mastered finance you should go try operations as I believe you can come back to finance. Also, I've seen really successful operations people who had finance backgrounds. Understanding finance in an operations role is killer.

I'm not a big believer in "strategy" roles, and you're right that smaller companies don't typically have them. I don't mean to insult anyone here, but they feel a little fluffy. One of my good friends was in strategy at a F500 CPG and he spent two years putting 100 page decks together for his VP's crazy ideas. They rarely went anywhere. Now he's moved to a commercial team focused on healthcare products.

    • 4
Jul 12, 2019

By "strategy" do you also mean more corporate or business development roles? Or more like internal strategy consulting?

What are the traits of a good CEO, CFO, and COO, in your opinion? And the most typical or best path to arrive there? It surprised me when I realized recently how many CMOs got promoted to CEOs at public companies.

Jul 10, 2019

I know you mentioned an MBA was helpful for your transition to the operating side, but do you think it's essential for those thinking about moving into portfolio operations / CFO-track? Assuming background in private equity up to the VP / Principal level and some operating experience already. Basically if you're competing against candidates with MBAs, are you an auto-ding without one?

Jul 10, 2019

No, I don't think you'll be auto-dinged. I've been stressing in this AMA that there is no one way to do things. There are many ways to get where you want to go. You have to be resourceful to find the way that works for you.

I don't believe an MBA is a must-have. It all comes down to the decisions you make and how you explain them. I very naturally explain my decision to get an MBA. Pre-MBA I did M&A finance. I had no idea how a company was run so I went to business school to start me on the corporate finance path. It fits my story because its the truth.

I do think having a Top 20 MBA has benefited me in a crowded market place against candidates that don't have an MBA. It certainly hasn't been held against me! However, there are also plenty of executives without MBAs. They just have to tell their story a different way.

An MBA or other credential does not make up for experience. It might open some doors, but you still have to walk through and explain what you can do. I think developing a track record of success, a network that will vouch for you, and a reputation for hard work and integrity are most important.

    • 2
Jul 12, 2019

How valuable is the operational learning of a MBA versus simply getting an operational role at a company coming out of finance, seeing as most IB/PE professionals do possess a decent of interpersonal skills essential to their job that are valuable to corporations (e.g. work ethic, ability to crank and get things done quickly, communication, etc.)?

I took and audited a lot of classes at my university's business school (Top 15) so was always curious since the most operationally focused of those classes still involved case studies and regular lectures, with the exception of more compsci-typed classes

    • 1
Jul 11, 2019

What are the things you like and dislike the most about your job?

Jul 11, 2019

Likes:
- Being at the top of the company allows me to have almost total information
- I control my own schedule and can travel as much or as little as I want (we have 5 offices)
- Being part of a competent team that makes decision; influencing everything we do
- Having a talented team report to me
- Paid well for what I do
- Working with the PE fund in the PE model where our interests are aligned
- Challenging work environment because there is always something to build, grow, improve, or enhance

Dislikes:
- Finance is repetitive at times: monthly close, reporting cycle, board meetings, audit, etc.
- We have significant bank debt from the LBO that we have to service which limits what we can do
- Forecasting revenue accurately in this business is basically impossible; too complicated
- We are still transitioning from a lifestyle, founder-run business to a PE model; can be painful at times
- Ad hoc requests from the bank or PE fund can be distracting

    • 4
Jul 11, 2019

Graduating soon with a Bachelor of Technology in Electronics from one of the top schools in India, but it was too late when I realized I don't want to work in Technology. Have an offer as Operation analyst but I want to shift to Finance. Have no idea where to begin and I have no connections in the field as I come from a middle class background. In the past few months I have been reading about IB,PE,and HF. Please suggest me a suitable way to shift to finance.

Jul 11, 2019

Assuming you are going to take the offer, get in the company, do really well in the first year, and start networking with the finance people in your company (every company has finance). Job shadow, find a mentor, ask questions about what they do. Express interest in joining their team. Talk with HR about why you want to move in to finance. If you are an A-player, they will likely try to accommodate you. Make sure your story is succinct and clear on why finance. Have patience but don't give up.

Do the same in your network. Ask friends/family to introduce you to finance professionals who you can network with. Apply to openings and go on finance interviews. Even if you don't get the job, you'll learn a lot interviewing. It is a grind, so be prepared.

Look into local or online classes you can take on finance and accounting.

If none of that works, use business school as a way to pivot to finance after working for a few years.

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Jul 11, 2019

.

Jul 11, 2019

Before I answer, what are the "leadership" components of the leadership program? I've seen "leadership" programs that were fakes with no actual leadership components.

Jul 11, 2019

.

Jul 12, 2019

Just finding this thread, awesome job, man!

Quick background and a simple question from me, if you can offer any insight.

I'm in my low-30s, work at a Fortune 200 Broker Dealer/AM and am looking to make a career shift. It's a psuedo-Compliance/Risk/Product Management role. Make good money, but not satisfied.

My goal I think is to go into Trading/Research/PE and am unsure on how I should start my next steps. MBA seems to make sense, but the best University in my metro is top 40 I believe.

My main concern with trying to hop into an analyst role in PE or trading is that I'd be considered too old to start there and wouldn't get any interest.

Do you have any advice on how you would approach this situation?

    • 1
Jul 12, 2019

I'm not an expert on trading or research, but I think those are probably very different from PE. I would suggest narrowing it down a little more and then honing in on what you can offer. Do you have to stay in your town for business school? I would suggest expanding your geography to find a top 20 school. MBA is a good way to switch careers, but I am hesitant to tell you it will help you get into PE. You might be able to get into an IB as a post-MBA associate.

With your background, I might consider a treasury role if you want to get out of the broker/dealer.

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Jul 13, 2019

Thank you for the response.

I completely neglected to put an analyst role in PE along with trading and research for my interests. My apologies. Does the IB piece still hold true that it may be more realistic than hopping into PE post-MBA.

Moving for an MBA may be difficult as I'm married and my wife has a solidified career. But it is definitely something to think about.

I truly appreciate you answering my first post.

    • 1
Jul 12, 2019

Great AMA. My question is more tactical in nature. Did you feel adequately prepared by your prior experience to tackle the day-to-day responsibilities of the CFO position? I am referring to things like handling ERP implementation, working with systems, compliance, etc. Was your FP&A experience necessary or do you feel that you would have been well prepared from your work with portfolio companies during your tenure in PE?

I am considering a transition from PE to CFO in the longer term and am evaluating the best way to prepare for this transition.

Jul 12, 2019

I didn't jump from FP&A to CFO. I grew into it over 4 years. FP&A helped me understand the budgeting and forecasting cycle. Then I went to a middle market company as a Director of Finance and just worked it from there. I had to learn everything on the job through figuring it out myself, calling on mentors and industry contacts for advice, and relying on my coworkers to work with me on new areas. Through my diverse background I had picked up pieces here and there that augmented what I was learning on the job.

I don't think you'll ever be fully prepared. I'm learning new stuff everyday and facing issues I've never seen before. I just follow an internal process of gathering information and then tackling. I make mistakes and learn from them.

    • 3
Jul 12, 2019

I am currently COO of a FinTech company and have been COO for 4 years now. Would it be hard to transition to a PE firm?

Jul 12, 2019

I think you could do it on the operating side of a PE fund. I am not sure you could get right into investments. I think you might need more than 4 years of experience too. Anything is possible, but I think I'll need 10-20 years of corporate experience before I go to the operating side of a PE fund (depending on the size and scope of the fund). I'm working on building a process/playbook for myself that I would follow when the PE fund puts me into one their portfolio companies.

    • 2
Jul 12, 2019

Interesting thoughts. Thank you for answering the question.

Jul 12, 2019

Hi ! I would like to get to know my chances and a career path of trying to make into a mid to top tier PE/IB firm.
I am doing my MBA from a Top 20-25 IIM in my country and have 0 years of work experience before joining B-School.(In India, you can do that) in finance majors. I will give my CFA I this December. I want to join a PE/IB firm in the US/Europe (any location is preferred). So would like to know your opinion on me reaching there. I also plan on doing a second MBA from a global Top 10-15 B-School within next 4-5 years to re-brand myself and get access to opportunities which are not available currently .

Jul 12, 2019

I think you need to separate PE and IB. I honestly don't think you have much of a chance jumping straight to PE. You will want to focus on IB. I'm not an expert on this. Maybe someone with bulge bracket experience can comment on whether larger banks require authorization to work in the US. The companies I've worked for have required authorization to work in the US.

I'm confused by the two MBA rationale. Seems like a waste of time and money to me. I don't think the CFA charter will help much for IB or PE.

So I don't have any concrete answers for you. I think you need to narrow your focus a little more.

    • 1
Jul 12, 2019

I'm currently interning with one of the worlds largest companies as a FP&A intern and am a rising senior. Last summer I worked at a small consulting company. I'm deciding between corporate finance and then IB but like you I never had the banking background. What would your recommendation be? The accounting part is mainly steering me away from the LDP program. I know it's an uphill battle for banking being from a non target school in the south. I've been applying early, have a solid gpa, and have side projects I've been working on.

Jul 12, 2019

Apply both routes and see what offers you get. You don't need to make any decisions today. If you really want to do IB now and don't get an offer, try in another year or two.

I think IB is a great place to start, even if you only do it for two years (I only did it for three years). Then you can move into corporate or PE if you want.

    • 1
Jul 12, 2019

Thanks for the response and yes that's sort of the path I've started to take. How about as far as IB interviews go? Since I don't have prior banking internships how should I approach the interviews.

Jul 12, 2019

Thanks for the great insights!

I read a lot about new important skills for future CFOs such as data visualization and advanced analytics, as well as how many CFOs can potentially become CDOs. I am considering getting a degree in business analytics, on top of my MSF, instead of an MBA. What are your thoughts on this trend and do you think those new skills would become much more relavant for future CFO roles

Again, thanks so much for sharing!

Jul 12, 2019

Data is critically important. I am good at reading and analyzing data. I don't think I could become (or would even want to become) a CDO (assuming you mean Chief Data Officer). I think as a data scientist you have to be able to code (python, R, etc.). I do use data daily though and my company is making big investments in data collection and visualization.

I think a degree in data analytics and an MSF could be very useful. I don't know if it is more or less useful than a traditional MBA. You seem clear on why you are doing it, so you should be able to make it work for you. I might even set you apart from regular CFOs like me!

    • 1
Jul 12, 2019

Keep the questions coming! If I miss your question, let me know. I might miss it in the thread.

    • 1
Jul 12, 2019

First off, congrats on your career thus far. I'm about to be a senior in college at a non-target, working at a small PE fund this summer. What would be the steps you would take to break into PE out of college? I know it can be difficult because the path is mostly structured to be college to IB to PE. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to do this thread.

Jul 12, 2019

Thank you! I think you have the answer before you. Ask the PE fund where you are interning. Ask them if they will hire you full time. If they won't, ask them why not. I think going straight to PE from undergrad will be fund specific. Generally, I think you'll have to do IB first. However, there may be opportunities to network into a PE out of undergrad. Ask your PE fund how to do it!

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Jul 12, 2019

Thanks for the AMA. I often have conversations with our port-co finance teams, so this is helpful to hear the other side. Three questions: (1) From what you've seen in your finance roles at difference companies, what changes (process implementations, new hires, etc.) make the biggest difference in improving the function? (2) Any tips on managing major projects like changes in accounting software? (3) Any tips for the PE/CFO relationship? How can I make sure I'm asking things that are good uses of our finance team's time?

    • 1
Jul 12, 2019
  1. Automation and scaleability. Today we are X size but in 4 years we plan to be 4X size How do we scale what we are doing? How do we continue to automate to scale it? I think about this and have conversations with my team about this weekly.
  2. Put a project plan together. Make sure the key stakeholders are aligned with the plan. Have regular status meetings, review a project tracker, and hold people accountable.
  3. I appreciate this question! Don't ask for a bunch of ad hoc things unless you really need it. And if you really need it, offer your associate to do the heavy lifting. Ask where you can help. Ask your CFO what other reports he's looking at or sharing internally (i.e. management reporting). I have a bunch of other reports I create monthly and review with my management team. Ask the CFO to also share any management reporting with you. I bet there will be a lot more insights in there. Offer to connect your CFO with other CFOs in your portfolio to discuss best practices.
    • 2
Jul 12, 2019

Thank you for the AMA! I am in my early 30s with a non-traditional background in int'l econ. Have been working in a corporate strategy role for almost four years (with two companies in the same industry for complicated reasons). Currently trying to figure out my next step, as strategy teams typically don't see the results of their work. It can be frustrating sometimes.

My industry is very capital intensive, and companies are either owned by large PEs or governments. The strategy team works pretty closely with internal M&A and corporate finance teams. Had plans to get an MBA but went with CFA as I needed more technical skills to be more effective at my job. Pass Level I and II and thinking about doing Level III in 2020. Appreciate any advice you can give me. Thanks!

Jul 12, 2019

I want to dispel this notion. The CFA charter an the MBA are not the same thing. They are not interchangeable. It is not an either or decision. They do two totally different things.

Since you are so close on your CFA charter, just finish it. It may not directly apply to your work, but it won't hurt you.

You may still want to consider an MBA. You didn't really say what your career development and interests are, so it is difficult to advise you. Please add some more context.

    • 1
Jul 13, 2019

Thank you so much for the insights! Agreed with you on the difference between CFA charter and MBA.
It was my work situation that led me to the CFA path at that time. I will finish it with your words!

For career goal, moving to a corporate finance/development role internally or to the investment side, i.e., PE, VC, or boutique IB of the industry will be good. Our industry is small and complicated (space, rocket, satellites), so there is a small and specialized investment community. Having worked for two largest companies in this space, I have a lot of industry knowledge. I also worked with the PE sponsor of the first company on competitor monitoring and internal data requests for about a year.

Is networking the way to go? I do know some people but haven't been focusing on "selling myself" much. Hope it helps.

Jul 14, 2019

Do you think there is meaningful differentiation between the operational engagement / approach of sponsors? Perhaps along the vectors of sponsor/check size or industry-specialized vs a more generalist track record.

Whether it's simply the sponsor marketing or reality, everyone claims they are doing differentiated, value-creating operational work with portfolio companies, vs just riding (de)leveraging

Thank you!

Jul 15, 2019

Yes, I think there is a difference between funds' approaches to operational engagement. The funds I worked at had limited to low involvement on the operating side. They didn't have anyone on staff that was focused on operations. At best they backed CEOs to find a company they wanted to acquire. I think larger funds start to build out operational teams and develop methodologies and processes. Smaller funds have advisers or they back specific CEOs to find companies in their industries of expertise. PE funds also have access to a lot of consultants they can drop in if help is needed.

    • 2
Jul 15, 2019

I am loving this thread and thanks so much for sharing!
Could you offer advice on how to select a company that can give exciting/challenging experience for people in finance roles? (Whether it should be a F500 or in some specific industries?). I heard people say that if a company is heavily involved with M&A, the work will be more exciting and not routine.

    • 1
Jul 15, 2019

There are things I would look for:
- Do you have a passion for the product or industry?
- Yes, M&A could make it more exciting.
- Are they financially stable? Check SEC filings.
- Do you like the people?
- Do you like the geographic location?

Sometimes you may not be able to be so choosy, but let's say you are passionate about auto, then you would be pursuing roles in Detroit, for example.

As you are doing your due diligence, you'll want to network with people there, even informally. Use LinkedIn to identify people to talk to. Then ask them what it is like. During an interview process, you could ask to speak to someone at the company in a similar role.

Also, ask about rotations. F500 typically rotates people every 2-3 years within the company, which can be very exciting. But if you really like a role, you likely won't be able to keep it. So there are pros and cons.

    • 2
Jul 15, 2019

Do you find the temp executive market to be something that will grow and become more normal? Like Cerius and the like.

Jul 15, 2019

I don't know if it will grow or stay the same. The PE fund put a temp in the CFO role while they were searching for a permanent hire (which ended up being me). The temp didn't really do much other than keep the lights on. I'm guessing there will always be a market for rotating temp executives.

Jul 15, 2019
PE-CFO:

I don't know if it will grow or stay the same. The PE fund put a temp in the CFO role while they were searching for a permanent hire (which ended up being me). The temp didn't really do much other than keep the lights on. I'm guessing there will always be a market for rotating temp executives.

Thanks for your response.

One more question: Do you find it important career-wise to move around or is it something that you think better suits you personally?

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Jul 16, 2019

You are providing awesome and quite useful information to these kids! It should help them think through some early career stage issues and position themselves for the future they crave. Great Stuff!

    • 1
Jul 16, 2019

Thanks very much! It has been fun!

    • 1
Jul 24, 2019
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Jul 24, 2019
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Jul 27, 2019