I recently completed a 10 week internship at Makena Capital Management in Menlo Park, CA. In short, Makena is a special firm and I believe they offer one of the most transformative internship programs in the world of finance. Anyone remotely interested in investing should jump at the chance of spending a summer here.
Makena is a fund of funds and invests both directly and in managers across a variety of asset classes (public equities, private equity, real estate, natural resources, absolute return, and fixed income). I was drawn to the fact that I could easily switch gears from private equity to fixed income to real estate with ease. I felt like the firm struck a perfect balance between having a structured program but also allowing for flexibility - there was one intern that expressed interest in portfolio strategy (very impressive team) and a role was carved out for them. Honestly my only complaint was that I couldn't stay longer.
Culture / Performance
On staying late - Makena has evolved past the 'facetime' culture you see in other parts of finance (including the banking firm I was at previously). Hours are flexible as long as you get your work done, well. Some of the interns in my class (9 total) misinterpreted this familial culture and lost their sense of polish but over the course of the summer they understood the balance that needed to be struck.
Performing well at Makena requires both IQ and EQ. Folks are 'social' by design - not only does it promote team camaraderie but the endowment-style model involves interacting with managers on a regular basis. I think some of the interns were caught off guard by this. Make no mistake, hard skills are a requirement at Makena, but I wouldn't advise working there for someone not confident in their people skills.
To me, the highlight of the summer was having weekly 2-hour sessions with Chairman Mike McCaffery, former Rhodes Scholar and CEO of the Stanford Endowment. For each of these sessions we interns were grouped into pairs and delivered 15-20 minute presentations on a variety of topics (e.g. run-up to the global finance crisis, demographic trends in the US housing market). Mike didn't let us off easy - he consistently challenged us to give more polished presentations and to dig deeper into our viewpoints. Mike's engagement speaks not only to the ways in which Makena views employee development but also to the quality of people at the firm. Folks there are truly selfish and were willing to sacrifice their time to help us ascend the challenging learning curve of asset management. Again, no better place for someone interested in finance to spend a summer.
My apologies for being so bullish on the firm, but I was amazed at the level of engagement us interns received from all members of the firm. It was clear from day 1 that they took ownership of our development and wanted all of us to succeed. The junior members constantly reminded us to use them as a resource and the senior folks were just as accommodating, which is rare especially given the pedigrees of many of the MDs.
I grew as an investor over my 10 weeks there, but some of my most fond memories happened outside the office. One of their managers runs an almond farm in central California and we went on a field trip to understand the challenges and opportunities associated with growing crops in a drought-stricken area. Little things like bringing a popular food truck to the office were particularly memorable.
Structure of Program
The first two weeks consisted of a training program designed to get us up to speed on all aspects of the endowment model. Our days were packed with sessions on all aspects of the business. These sessions were all led by folks throughout the firm and we consistently received the same level of engagement exhibited by Mike. Makena sent us to Stanford GSB for a three-day classroom experience led by a prominent finance professor. There were times we were asking ourselves what we did to deserve all of this (cheesy, I get it, but true).
The remaining eight weeks consisted of two assigned summer projects as well as a continuation of various training modules (e.g. Excel challenges). We were given enough direction to get started but the firm purposely left these projects open-ended to challenge our abilities to handle complexity. These projects culminated in presentations to the entire firm and were invaluable experiences.
The interview process is highly selective and a small fraction of applicants get a face-to-face interview. I sat down with four individuals, ranging in rank from analyst to MD. They place heavy emphasis on both proficiency in finance/investing but also 'cultural fit'.
I would recommend Makena to anyone interested in investing who also possesses both the hard and soft skills described above. You'd be hard pressed to find a more valuable place to spend the summer. I'd be happy to answer any other questions about the firm.
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