This is my story of how I got into PE. Just want to point out that there are some non-standard paths out there. I thought I would share it if it can inspire some kids on the website.
Below is the full story, but from all those past years, these are some of the major things that I learned:
1. Be nice to everybody, you never know who is who, and it is a f*cking small world.
2. There are no shortcuts - stuff always catches up with you someday, somehow.
3. Take risks early in life so that you can fail early (small consequences) rather than late (big consequences).
4. Learn to do small talk and network with older people early.
5. NEVER trust headhunters with your career.
6. Actively date foreign chicks.
7. Constantly push yourself to learn and fill every knowledge gap you have in your job.
Here is the story:
I was one of those well-below average students in high school in some European country. By some miracle somehow, I managed to get my high school degree (barely passed - I hated school with a vengeance). But with my crap grades, no uni would accept me in this entire country.
So the only alternative to some post office job was to go overseas. Its a long story, but I eventually ended up going to some bottom third-tier university in some far-away third-tier English-speaking country on some kind of scholarship (my family is poor). It was no joke though, I can tell you. My English was really crap, and I could not understand anything at all during the lectures (it was a business course). Anyway it sucked big time, and by the end of the first year I was just passing the classes, and failed a couple. Having a poor English also meant that I was not able to get decent internships. My first internship was a blue-collar internship processing ham in a cold storage factory!!
But not speaking English ended up having some major positives:
- I started to take a lot of finance, maths, programming classes in my second and third year, because that only involves numbers. I was hungry and studied hard and actually became quite good at the stuff and somehow managed to graduate in the top 10% (but remember, this is a shitty school, so it was quite easy with some hard work).
- I dated the "foreign" chicks that also had poor English :) I dated some Asian chicks and took some language courses and after some time I became fluent in a major Asian language, which I always used to differentiate myself
So after graduation I end up working at the meat factory in some random admin job.
- - This is where the real shit really starts - -
>>> 6 months into the meat factory job, lucky star strikes. I was living in a "luxury" flat (because we were 7 people sharing a 2 bedroom, hippie style) and there was a expat-banker living in the same building from my home country. He used to live in the Asian country that I knew the language of, and we kind of connected and I managed to get some banking back office job through him.
>>> 6 months into the shitty back office job, I realise that I want to work in the thing people call "front office" that seems to be the promised land. I start to work my butt off and made a strong impression on the boss building some kick-ass VBA excel macros to spot mistakes (thanks programming classes) and working my ass off and reading lots of technical shit. I then asked him to recommend me to some graduate programme somewhere, so that I can work in the front office. Failed. Then I call that expat-banker that I met before - he has now moved and is working in a major European financial centers. I get my boss to call him and tell him how good I am and then he managed to get me a spot in the graduate programme for some corporate banking job (relationship banking)
>>> 1 year into the corporate banking job, I realise that M&A is where its at. My boss always tells me there are two kings in banking: traders and M&A bankers. Luckily its the peak year for M&A and I managed to get an analyst spot in a shitty boutique (shitty seems to be the trend) !! Headhunters would not see me, HR would throw away my CV, so it took a lot of networking (and rejections) to get there and get my "story" right.
>>> 1 year into the M&A job (closing 0 deals and churning stupid pitchbooks), I realise that bulge brackets are where its at. But no way I can get there with my shitty degree, from a shitty boutique, I want the shortcut - the MBA! Work my ass off on my GMAT and essays from 1am to 4am every day, spin a nice story, use the language angle, international angle, how I moved from BO to FO, etc. talk to all alumn that want to listen to me - i'm in the hardcore mode. LBS...in. Insead...in. Columbia...in. MIT...in. HSW...in!!!!!!! (one of those three schools)
>>> 1 year into the HSW MBA, I can't believe how out of place I am amongst those students from Goldman and McKinsey. But I now understand that PE is where it's at - seems that every other guy is going for PE. After some reading, PE sounds really cool, I'm shooting for PE too man. I get the Apax interview, the BX interview, the Warburg Pincus, you name it. And I fail them all. Why? I can't put a model together. I never got the deal flow or experience in the shitty boutique. And I am not "like them", you know, I don't have the pedigree. Whatever, I decide to shoot for a banking job with a big name to "clean" the CV and learn some modelling. I land a job at a bulge bracket.
>>> 1 year into the bulge bracket, I get my ass badly kicked but I can do lbo models now. I start to shoot my CVs around, fail about 8 PE interviews, but finally get my PE offer from a mid market fund, $1bn AUM. Got all the interviews through pure networking (headhunters still don't want to see me), and prepared for interviews through casual networking, lots of reading, and preparing with analysts / associates also wanting to make the move.