Military Officer to Private Equity


I've lurked for a bit and am looking for some mentor ship and advice. I spent six years in the Marine Corps as an Intelligence Officer and am currently an MBA Candidate at Fuqua. I've spent the first half of my MBA experience talking to current bankers with backgrounds ranging from a Deputy CEO of HSBC to a Senior Partner at Carlyle.

A good deal of what I've done is try to gauge where I fit in and can add value. The advice I've received is go boutique and go emerging markets. The issue is I do not have any prior banking experience nor a heavy quant background. It seems guys in my position typically go BB post MBA, do you think this is the only path?

Any ex-officers or anyone with advice on how to leverage my background directly into making deals in places like China and Nigeria would be greatly appreciated.

Any advice preparatory work I can be doing now is also welcomed.

Thanks in advance for your intelligent responses.

Comments (30)

Nov 2, 2011 - 7:35pm

check out Emerging Capital Partners - i believe they focus mainly in africa (not sure if nigeria tho):

a lot of private equity funds in africa focus on the sme sector - where the companies are also trying to be sustainable and eco-friendly, so it's a 'hot' area. competition is stiff, but there are usually opportunities for people without the traditional finance background. in fact they sometimes like that.

i don't know much about china.

good luck.

Nov 2, 2011 - 8:23pm

Generally speaking, most of the competitive post-MBA PE candidates have either pre-MBA PE experience or at least IB experience, though this is not always the case. Because of your non-traditional background and lack of finance working experience (I am assuming you joined the Corps out of college, correct?), I would reccomend working at a BB or solid MM for the associate-level IB experience, then transition into PE after 2-5 years. In that time frame, you should be able to build the skill sets you will need to set you up for a job in PE. I think that would be the "path of least resistance" into an eventual career in PE.

The main issue is training. While most IB's have a robust training pipeline that can mold you into a finance professional from scratch, PE firms generally dont. This is why undergrads and MBA grads with no finance exp are rarely hired into PE.

Try your best to get an internship in a PE firm. If you cant, get an IB internship.

Also, are you focusing on emerging markets because that's what you want to do, or because that's what you were told to focus on?

Man made money, money never made the man
Nov 2, 2011 - 9:39pm

I think CPH has military and PE experience.

looking for that pick-me-up to power through an all-nighter?
Nov 2, 2011 - 10:10pm

Thanks for all the comments.

I was in Shanghai in August and can understand the lack of guaxni holding up laowai from being successful there. I have a friend at a boutique IB firm brokering deals between China and Brazil, very successfully and my contact at Carlyle mentioned he's had quite a few huge wins in China.

To answer some of the questions, yes I went directly from college to the Corps and the Corps to MBA so I haven't racked up any credible banking experience. Emerging markets is my focus both because I'm being told that's where the opportunity and is and it's where I'd say I have a higher comfort level operating than your average American.

So the consensus seems to be it's likely going to have to be the typical associate level at BB, for 2-5, unless some killer networking allowed me to slip into IB or PE post graduate.

Any other thoughts?

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:19am

i sent an email to the armed force association a little while ago but haven't heard back from anyone yet. maybe you check wso more often? are you willing to pm or exchange emails?

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:20am

Military to PE? (Originally Posted: 07/27/2012)

I'm an academy grad going to a top 10-15 B-school part-time while still on active duty. I just finished my 1st of 3 years at the program. My ultimate goal is to get into PE. Are there any other options excluding IB in terms of experience to ultimately break into PE?

Does a rotational post MBA program (GE EFS, Tishman Speyer, Trammell Crow, etc.) make any sense or does that limit an exit strategy? Much appreciated.

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:23am

MPG = Military_PE_Guy, another user on this site. Wasn't aware he was still around, though I havent really been either.

If your goal is to get into PE out of your MBA program, I'd stop doing part-time, get into a full time program, and try and break into PE straight out of you MBA. Dont take my word for it though, wait for some more responses

"You stop being an asshole when it sucks to be you." -IlliniProgrammer "Your grammar made me wish I'd been aborted." -happypantsmcgee
Dec 21, 2012 - 3:25am

Very difficult/next to impossible to go straight into (legitimate) private equity straight from an MBA program with no banking or consulting experience. I agree with D M, though, that a full-time MBA will be better viewed than part-time. As for the rotational programs you mentioned, GE EFS is not going to get you very far, the other two will help you if you want to get into real estate private equity, but not on the corporate side.

By and large, most of the people who get post-MBA PE jobs had pre-MBA PE experience following analyst programs at a bank or consulting firm.

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:27am

Military in PE (Originally Posted: 08/12/2011)

Are there many former military folks in PE?  I know military experience is valued by a lot of companies and the right kind of experience will help you get into a good business school.  Coming out of a top MBA program and having strong military leadership experience opens a lot of doors but I'm curious about PE in particular.  It seems like reading the threads throughout this forum that the big thing PE firms look for is having experience in deals and valuations/modeling (most typically IB background).  So I'll obviously be disadvantaged in that regard but there are a lot of intangibles that I would bring to the table that my counterparts wouldn't.

I suppose one option would be to go into IB for a bit first then try to make the switch.  But again folks on here have stated that post MBA IB experience is less of what PE firms are looking for than the entry level analyst type work.  Just trying to think through my options in the future.

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:28am

I'm curious about this as well, but I think that in general most PE firms are more concerned about your modelling skills and not so much intangibles like leadership skills etc. I might be wrong though. I'm in a situation where I'm trying to leverage my military experience into a PE firm, but I'm also a first year analyst so it's a little bit different for me. Even though I think you're at a slight disadvantage, remember that networking trumps all.

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:29am

There's a guy on this site who is a military guy, though I think he's been pretty busy with work. He did land a job at a pretty reputable PE shop without much finance experience. However, the circumstances were a bit different (i.e. the firm in question for one reason or another had a specific idea of who they wanted). I'd agree that there are definitely intangibles that you would bring to the table, but I'd say those would come in at a later time (VP/Principal/MD). As an associate, there won't be too many instances that the qualitative quantities come into play; they want you to be able to hit the ground running, work hard, and not need too much hand holding.

I think you could definitely find some military guys in PE and try to network that way. Personally, I've seen a lot of ex-military guys shepherd younger counterparts in this industry. Outside of that, I'd say that any recruiting done through a b-school's OCR/private equity club would just lump you in with all the other potential PE candidates. Experience will trump military most likely every time.

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:31am

It'll be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a post-MBA associate PE job without finance (specifically valuation/modeling) experience. Most of the work you would be doing is associate/analyst work coming out of the gate and no one will want to take the time to train you.. most PE firms will expect you to come in and hit the ground running.

Like Serendipity said, ex-military guys will pull for each other, so your best bet is to try to find and network with these guys. With the right backing, you should be able to land an interview and at least get your foot in the door and a shot at the job.

My advice to you is to apply for both PE and IB jobs. You probably won't get any PE interviews, but you may get ib interviews. If you get an IB offer, take it and start working as a post MBA associate. You may not get the extreme modeling experience analysts get, but you'll learn to navigate models and learn about deal dynamics, valuation methods, etc. Once you have a year under your belt, start applying to PE associate jobs and at that point, you'll have a much better chance than you do now and hopefully get a few interviews. While you're doing all of this, you should be networking with ex-military PE guys and working those relationships as they will most likely be the ones who will be willing to interview you once you have some finance experience. In addition, although I stress ex-military networking, you should also be networking through the alumni network of your bschool. If you graduated from a top MBA program, there should be plenty of PE contacts to network with. I would guess that 80%+ of non-campus PE hires are through referrals, so work those relationships!

Good luck!

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:32am

Thanks PE Guy, that's kind of what I was thinking. I haven't been to business school yet, I'm applying right now for next year's class. Ideally I would like to separate from the military, go to business school and then go direct into PE from my MBA. It sounds like that is probably a very very unlikely scenario. More than likely I would need to at least spend a year or two in I-Banking after my MBA to get some finance experience. I'll try to interview with PE firms obviously while in school but just trying to set my own expectations reasonably.

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:33am

Military to PE (Originally Posted: 05/28/2012)

I am an MD at a mid market PE fund. Service Academy grad. Figured I would give my two cents on the whole military to PE question...

Military experience is nice. I like to see it. In fact I will always take time out of my schedule to talk to a veteran or current military member who calls or emails me, even if it is a totally random cold call. However, please realize that not all military backgrounds are the same.

I admit it, I discriminate a bit based on what someone actually did in the military. For me that means I am more likely to bend over backwards for someone who was in the same service/branch than someone who did something totally different than what I did. I suspect other veterans have the same attitude even if they don't realize it.

Simply put, military experience is not a determinant on who we hire. We need transaction experience not military experience. Also, as I am only guy with military experience at my fund, we aren't going to take a chance on someone with no finance experience just because they were in the military. If, however, a pre-MBA analyst candidate is coming off 2 years as an analyst at a legitimate bank and has a couple of years of prior active duty service, I would think that they would be a very strong candidate (although personally I have never seen any pre-MBA candidates who were active duty prior service).

A post-MBA candidate without any transaction experience is in the same boat as a pre-MBA candidate. They really don't add enough value to justify the expense and aren't someone we would hire. A prior service MBA who spent a couple of years as an associate at an investment bank is probably in the same position as other MBA's with only sell-side experience trying to get into PE: Without any buy-side time it's tough. Really tough.

All that being said, each fund and its managers are different. Sometimes being at the right place at the right time is the most important thing. The guy on here who was able to network directly from the air force to a PE analyst gig obviously didn't have any transaction experience, so it can be done, but it's the exception rather than the rule. My advice would be to network as much as possible, but have a backup plan as the odds are long.

As a side note, Service Academy guys suck at networking. We are really bad. While I don't bother with linkedin, I am listed in some alumni data bases as being in private equity. I think I have received less than 3 networking attempts/cold calls/emails from other service academy grads over the last 5 years. Considering there aren't many folks listed as being in PE in the first place it means no one is even bothering to network.

Dec 21, 2012 - 3:34am

Your PM inbox must be flooded by now

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