Inspired by the recent return of some all-time great WSO members, we will begin featuring a series of posts from forum favorite 'superusers'. This "Then and Now" series will let people share a bit of their story through a handful of questions that touch on their career progression and how this site has supported that.
See posts made by CompBanker, WallStreetOasis.com, and thebrofessor, and expect more to come from @Frieds", @brotherbear", @Layne Staley", @CRE", @IlliniProgrammer", and if we're lucky, even @Eddie Braverman".
When did you first join WSO?
I registered an account in 2010.
Why did you join?
Many people spent a ton of time in the computer lab at my college. It was the best place to work on presentations for group projects and Excel assignments. Laptops ten-plus years ago sucked, and obviously not everyone had the newest ones. Battery life was brutal, displays were weak, and most had a little red dot called a 'nub' or 'pointing stick' instead of the large touchpad common today.
I kept walking past people in the lab reading the same website. I finally found out what it was and wished I'd found it sooner. Back in the day the Vault 'Guide to Finance Interviews' was basically the grail. Mergers & Inquisitions was just getting off the ground. There simply were not many resources for interview prep. There were fewer transparent conversations about the industry and lifestyle. You could only get that the brute force way: talking to upperclassmen and alumni.
By the time I found the site, I already had an offer at a top bank. I was weighing whether to continue with the other firms I'd spent the energy to research and network at. I appreciated the honest conversations on the forums. I loved that the site helped me scale my time. It was easier than digging for alumni to find, cold email, and try to speak with about their experiences.
I did the classic move and lurked without an account for a couple years before registering.
Where were you in your career then?
Young and dumb. I had a few brand-name internships under my belt and I thought I was set. I would be launching my career in a top-five group, I attended a target school, and I wanted to spend a year figuring out whether public or private market investing would be my next step.
I was arrogant, and worse, I thought I wasn't. I was hungry, hardworking, and ready to break through walls, but that's only a humility born out of knowing where you come from and being willing to sweat to make something of yourself.
That's different from knowing your life means no more than any other person's. The first is surface level. It's about what you'll endure. The other is internal and about your relationship with the world. I am grateful life taught me this. It's something I will work on until I die.
Where are you in your career now?
I am in a decision-making role with the freedom to invest across the capital structure. I can access capital at just about any scale. My priority is to find good people and learn as much as I can from them, whether they are an operator or investor. Learning through variety is my favorite, so this works really well for me. I want to grow as a manager so that I can scale my time. I am excited for the decade ahead.
What can you share about your personal or family life?
Where I grew up does not correlate at all with where I am today. I saw a lot of violence and other things I didn't like. The traits I developed that helped me succeed and move beyond that environment hindered me later.
The way you think and act in a 'how do I survive' mentality probably won't produce behaviors that help you relate to or fit in with the people you meet at a Goldman Sachs or Evercore. No shit, Sherlock.
I had a bumpy time figuring that out. It sounds stupidly obvious on paper, but after living only one way, it was difficult to identify all those flaws and begin addressing them.
What this translates to is that I have a narrow core group of friends who truly know me, have seen me grow painfully, and respect me. I have been very intentional to build towards and with them. I make all the time for them. We have made career and geographic choices based on each other. Our conversations are honest, hard, fun, and fulfilling. I am so fortunate.
Outside of that, I have another narrow group of people who I have certain commonalities with. If you share an uncommon hobby, property in a similar location, or a specific lifestyle component like a hypercar or an overlapping investment, those people are the very few you can talk about them freely with.
One thing worth pointing out is how wildly isolating success can be. Our society is weird about money. The pursuit of it is celebrated, but we are incredibly judgmental of those who have it.
It can complicate your family relationships, distance you from people you've known a long time, and limit what you can talk about comfortably.
Sometimes it's because you become a dick. I know lots of those guys. They're conspicuous in what they have and voluntarily voice it.
Sometimes it's not because of you, but because of a flaw in someone else:
- Greed: people want your things - a relative asks for money, you say no, they paint an entire story about you across the whole family.
- Jealousy: you can't possibly deserve the things you have - someone sees something expensive you bought for yourself (a car, a second home, an expensive toy) and mocks you sarcastically.
- Gluttony: giving a metaphorical inch and losing a mile - you take a group of friends out, someone orders a $5,000 wine and then looks blankly at you.
- Sloth: people who want help without lifting a finger of their own - someone asks you for an introduction or a recommendation, you take the time to point out what they can do to prepare, and they refuse to do the work but still demand the favor.
- Lust: people spend time with you only out of selfish motives - you realize s/he's not pursuing you for who you are but for what you have.
It's easy to joke about ("smallest violin in the world"), but I don't think it's kind or respectful to minimalize the psychological or emotional burden someone may bear.
For the younger people on this site: if you envision meaningful financial success for yourself, it's smart to think through ahead of time the challenges or compromising positions you may find yourself in.
I believe this is worst for 'strivers', the self-made who got there through their own efforts. Wealth in general brings a set of challenges, but it's certainly a different problem set for anyone who earned it rather than was born into it. My children, for instance, will have a different relationship to money than I do.
I'm not married yet. I would like to be; I think fatherhood would be one of the most meaningful things I could experience in life and I would like to do that in the context of a traditional nuclear family.
I believe a family starts as a couple. Before I can be a good parent, I have to be a good spouse. Being a loving, caring, present partner is an immense challenge. It's more difficult when you practice a demanding profession.
The people I am most impressed by are the ones who work on themselves the hardest. I want to emulate that. I continue to find stellar books providing science-based perspectives on love, commitment, intimacy, and attraction. There are also many on character development.
Having a stable, caring relationship seems like the prerequisite for stable parenting. I want to find someone who has a similar mindset. Being young in New York does not correlate well with that.
Looking back on your career, is there anything that you thought you knew starting out which turned out to be wrong?
Working hard and being smart isn't enough.
Life put a number of hard things in front of me at a young enough age that I developed the mindset that you could overcome anything simply by buckling down and grinding through it. When you're intimately familiar with sink-or-swim moments, it's jarring to realize you're being judged on your ability to dance. It's an entirely different muscle movement. Without the muscle memory, you freeze. The grim smile of perseverance fades to a grimace of confusion.
The thing I failed to grasp early on was how much how you do things matters. Perception and relationships with the people whose opinions matter affects your success more than your work product. That only increases the farther you progress into your career.
A painful experience in my final summer analyst position taught me this most poignantly. I was frustrated because I had left another strong bank where I felt people were heavily invested in my success. It was a gamble. I felt that joining one of the top-five groups people worship on this site would set me up for whatever recruiting I wanted to pursue.
I learned the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. The absence of the latter can be catastrophic. Small things can mushroom quickly if there isn't a warm voice in your corner.
Were there any opportunities that presented themselves along the way that you didn't take? With the benefit of hindsight, do you wish you had taken one of them?
No, I feel remarkably fortunate for how things in my life have unfolded.
During school I had a few pangs of regret or envy when I thought about my school choice. I studied business in undergrad. If I were counseling a teenage son on that decision, there are a few factors I would want him to reflect on.
The heavily pre-professional focus seemed to attract few people that were intellectually curious. I don't mean people that weren't passionate. My class was full of people who were very driven, goal-oriented, and committed. What I discovered was that very few of those people were willing to do anything without an immediately identifiable benefit.
The students that loved exploring for its own sake stood out. They tended not to be in the 'hard' courses that had competitive registration. They weren't at the recruiting events; you didn't hear about their offers. Five years after school, I saw them starting small businesses, running their own consultancy, several rounds of financing into their growing startup, living abroad, or something similarly unique. When I caught up with them, they seemed to have a really healthy relationship with their self.
What I realized was worse was how the culture suppressed any deviation from the norm. Looking back, I remember so many conversations where an interest or passion would sneak out of someone's mouth and they would quickly bottle it up, almost as if they were afraid or embarrassed of it.
It felt like the school collected a lot of really talented, interesting, capable people who were painting themselves into a narrow box. The closer graduation came and the more the pressure of 'where are you going to place' seemed to dissipate, the more of people's true self you got to see. As if they were free to voice it because the dust had finally settled.
College is most valuable as a time of exploration. If I were advising a child or a mentee, I would encourage them to find a school and topic to study that encourages exploration, that has no strong norms other than intellectual curiosity, and that promotes learning how to learn.
That brilliant Kanye lyric captures my feelings well: "Everything I'm not made me everything I am." I discovered so many things I'm not built for or don't fit well. Trial and error. There weren't many things that I didn't reach for.
What do you think has made you successful in your career? Are there any particularly interesting or unique challenges that you've faced along the way?
It is so valuable to examine everything on a psychological plane.
There is a finite set of levers behind any position any person you encounter in any context has chosen. The more you invest in identifying and mastering those levers, the better you will be at addressing them.
This also applies internally. You can grow to excel at interrogating yourself: why do you feel the way you do, is that an appropriate way to think about things, and what is the best action you should actually be taking?
Any investment you make in the caliber of your thinking is going to pay dividends globally in your performance. Investing in a single aspect of your performance will benefit only that element.
My worst performance has come when I fail to examine the underlying why behind whatever I'm facing.
Once I burned a relationship with a Forbes 400 principal. I wanted him to introduce me to other peers to help fill out the vehicle I was trying to capitalize. I had a great deal lined up, the structure was really favorable, and I knew by name some specific people he could connect me to who the thing was center-of-the-fairway for. It should've been an easy lay-up: me, him, them.
I got frustrated with the fact that he kept overlooking my request for a meeting in town and was annoyed to keep seeing invitations from his chief of staff every month for a shooting trip. I thought it was hard to justify taking five days on some remote ranch with no service, and I couldn't shorten the trip by chartering out of the nearest FBO because at the time I didn't have the money.
My dumb ass basically pressed so hard on the meeting that they stopped responding to me. I slogged on and never got the thing done. Another buyer closed before I assembled the capital pool.
Two years later I was on (you guessed it) a shooting trip in South America. I only knew the guy who invited me. Everyone razzed me a bit. It was fine. I was the only American, everyone was European or South American. I was at least a decade younger. I was the only one who showed up without a girl (most of them had companions of some sort of arrangement). We had a great time, shot a couple thousand birds, ate at great places, saw some sights, had some nights.
I figured that was that. Maybe I'd see some of them on future trips (the guy who arranged it is something of a super-connector in London).
I was wrong. Several of them sought me out in the following months, asked about what I was involved in, and either gave me a deal, money to do a deal, or someone else with one of the two to offer.
The memory of the American billionaire hit me one day like a truck of bricks. He just wanted to make sure I wouldn't embarrass him. Hell, he probably wanted a private setting he controlled where he could tell me sensitive things about himself or them. It was idiotic of me.
My lesson was that people in a position of strong financial and social capital really want to get to know you on a human level before they do anything with you.
Turns out this isn't an uncommon mistake for people who are relatively young for their seat. Again, it's painfully obvious on paper, and doubly painful because I'd learned a smaller version of the same lesson years before.
Today I take pains to think through why the thing matters to the person saying it to me. It's helped me uncover investment opportunities that weren't immediately apparent, ask smarter questions in diligence, screen potential employees or vendors or partners more aptly, and engineer better outcomes in negotiations and sales and many other instances.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
It's very easy to exert yourself tremendously on something without thinking about why you're doing it. I love the saying about missing the forest for the trees. Regardless of where we are in our career, we can always benefit from thinking critically about the task at hand.
The analyst who wants to get a private equity job might drill really hard on making the most complicated model possible so they're a step ahead when recruiting season rolls around. It powers him through the late nights. That's valuable to an extent, but does it really prepare you for the impetus behind the interviewers' questions?
No. They really want to know that you understand what matters in private equity. When you're deep in some slides late at night, pull back for a minute and think about why what you're writing makes the company more attractive to a financial buyer. It will do volumes more to make you compelling in an interview room.
A private equity associate might be so focused on perfecting the deliverable the partner asked him for that he never stops to think about the unspoken dimensions he's being judged on as a potential vice president for the partner track.
It's important to master your work product, but you can move up the ladder of life way faster by improving and leveraging your strategic understanding. It will manifest many compelling things for you.
Some will be easily identifiable: a promotion, a lateral role, or a better bonus. Some will be more opaque: a company that doesn't fit your fund's strategy but is one hundred percent worth owning, or a brilliant person whose skill-set yours complements where it might be worth launching a thing together ...
If you develop the habit of keeping your head up, you may begin to see cool things other people miss. I try my best to share through anecdotes how to do that. Hopefully people get value out of it.
I deeply appreciate the things I've picked up over the years from this site. Patrick, you don't get thanked enough.
People don't necessarily grasp the impact of this site. I have run into people in real life who have referenced things I've written anonymously on here.
One I'll never forget was a conversation at some charity event with a senior HR person at Perella. I asked about their talent initiatives. "We have seen such an uptick in applications the past few years," she said. They couldn't figure out what changed when their recruiting process hadn't really. She said she discovered the 'David and Goliath' post, asked some of their analysts as well as HR peers at other firms, and got several answers confirming it was a known thing. She laughed about it as the best free gift they'd ever gotten. That made me think about how far-reaching things on the Internet are.
Thank you to all the people who send me thoughtful messages, I enjoy thinking through the problems you're facing. I apologize for how slow I am getting to some of them.