Private Equity: How Many Models and Bottles Can I Really Buy on the Buy Side?

I was startled to realize over the past Thanksgiving weekend that apparently my 4 years of collective indentured servitude at a bulge-bracket bank and mega-fund was of particular interest to people at WallStreetOasis. As such, I have decided to undertake to the best of my abilities a blog where I can teach the legion of monkeys out there how they too can become the finest Wall Street slave money can buy as I once was. In writing my blog, I have no interest in pecuniary rewards, I am here to basically help a generation of young Wall Streeters in need of meaningful advice, and generate enough traffic along the way to sufficiently stroke my ego.

Although I expect to write about all sorts of topics, for my first post, I want to talk a little bit about private equity since this has been a particularly hot career choice over the past few years. Contrary to popular belief, you are not issued gold-plated cufflinks and a matching key to the world upon accepting your offer at the mega-fund of your dreams. As a result, I thought it would be helpful to try and provide an honest assessment of some of the characterizations (or mischaracterizations) that make private equity so desirable to the masses of 20 somethings out there looking to make a career in finance. Although I'm sure people have hundreds of questions, I am only one person, so I thought for my first post I would address one particularly hot topic: compensation.

$1 million in 2 years, Sorry Kids

The compensation in private equity is in fact, good. Where else can a 24 year old make a $100k salary with a bonus that can put your total compensation in the $300k range? Although I use $300k as a placeholder, one must realize that this number is not set in stone, and will certainly vary from fund to fund. Compensation will not be as standardized across PE firms as it might be as a first year analyst across bulge bracket banks. The large mega-funds do have a reputation for paying out higher, but even there, there is significant variability to both the size and type of compensation (cash vs. equity). One of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard is that you could pull down $1mm in 2 years, sorry kids, but this will not happen to you. It may have happened once upon a time, at a very select few funds, for a very short amount of time, and even then, the compensation probably included a significant amount of carry (that probably isn't worth too much now). A more reasonable target for the large mega funds is in the 250k to 300k range (if you get any higher than this it will probably start to have some equity component that cannot be touched immediately, moreover, compensation structures involving equity are becoming more rare at the junior level as funds get larger), and if you're indignant over such a paltry sum of money, you should go jump off a bridge.

If not Compensation, then What?

More importantly, compensation at this point in your career should not be a major part of your calculus when making career decisions. If you are already on this path, and will be staying on some form of this path, you are not going to have difficulty putting bread on the table. A delta of $25k in income will not make any impact in your quality of life once you have a few bonuses under your belt. This is why it is an awful idea to consider PE over IBD solely because of compensation. The best bankers will make more than the middling PE guy, and vice-versa. In general, people who are good at what they do will make more money. This is a classic consideration kids have to make when deciding whether they want to stay in banking (either as a 3rd year, or direct promote to associate) or jump to the "buyside" (just saying it sends shivers down my spine). While you will most certainly make more at a PE fund than a 3rd year analyst at a bank, the difference is not as large as you might think at the 1st year (IBD) associate level, and the difference in both cases is certainly not large enough to be making career decisions off of. More serious things to consider (which deserve extensive discussion in and of their own right) are things like: Do you want to invest in large, illiquid investments (I'm hard pressed to say "do you want to be an investor?" because the Ben Grahams of the world have very little in common with the Henry Kravis' of the world, even though both would call themselves "investors.")? Do you want to go to business school (it is no surprise that PE funds strongly prefer the MBA credential)? Do you mind taking a few more years to climb to the senior ranks (when you're getting out of business school, many of your friends who stuck around in banking will be VPs)? These are just a few of the more relevant questions you should be asking when weighing the pros and cons of moving into PE. $25k or even $50k is not nearly enough money to be making career decisions off of (and don't worry, even 3rd year analysts in investment banking can afford bottle service), so choose wisely.

In closing my first blog entry, I just want to set a few guidelines. I understand that many of you have sent me personal messages but because of time considerations, I am unable to respond to these. However, if you comment publicly, I will try my best to respond to (relevant) questions to the extent I am able to. Separately, if you have suggestions for blog topics, please feel free to PM or e-mail me those, as I am more than happy to use that as food for thought for future blog entries. Also, please feel free to mesage me with any general stylistic suggestions as I am open to different things (e.g. shorter entries more frequently vs. longer entries less frequently, more irreverent writing style, etc.). Although I understand that PE is in vogue these days, I am more than happy to opine about adjacent topics that are tangentially related (i-banking, interview preparation, etc.). Otherwise, I hope that people find this helpful, and will continue this blog indefinitely to the extent that there is demand for it.

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