William Blair Reputation/Top Groups/Exit Ops?

Hey guys,

I'm wondering if anyone has any information on William Blair's top groups, their reputation in the middle market relative to other MM firms, and the exit ops that are available to WB analysts.

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Comments (88)

  • Prospect in VC
Sep 24, 2019 - 4:43pm

very curious as well; seems like people say it places into UMM funds but I can't see any significant proof of that (one-off associates, that's it).

Sounds like every group at Blair is pretty solid but unclear.

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Sep 24, 2019 - 10:20pm

Tech, especially software, and Healthcare are respected. Given Blair's recurring work with the sponsor community, analysts place quite well in the UMM for a MM firm.

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  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Sep 25, 2019 - 12:50am

Sorry man but they really don't place into UMM. LMM or MM if you're lucky. I worked there and had to transfer to a BB/EB to get looks from respected PE funds

Sep 25, 2019 - 1:16pm

Perfectly fine. My cohort from undergrad in Blair's Tech team placed extremely well. My sample size may not be indicative of the firm's broader placement.

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  • Intern in IB - Gen
Sep 25, 2019 - 2:24pm

Exit opps are solid for MM PE and UMM is definitely doable, especially for top groups (tech and healthcare). Tech especially is very small (only a few analysts in SF/Chi/Bos) so there's not a lot of good data on exit ops, but top analysts definitely have good options if they choose to leave. However, Blair does a lot of A2A so many top analysts end up staying.

Source- close friends w associate in SF, he had some very solid exit opportunities but instead chose to stay to go A2A

Sep 25, 2019 - 2:44pm

Appreciate the additional insight here, especially with regard to A2A promotion being much more common at Blair. I think few understand the staying power of Blair's Tech group in the sponsor community--we see them in nearly all of our pitches. Their tech deals typically crest billion dollar valuations supporting anecdotal evidence of their UMM placement.

The same is not true for all groups at Blair based on conversations with my classmates.

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  • Managing Director in IB - Cov
Sep 25, 2019 - 4:58pm

for reference - Tech is the largest group at Blair in terms of revenue and they also have ~40-50 analysts dedicated to tech - so not sure I would classify as very small.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jun 3, 2020 - 11:13am

Bump on this- have an offer (accelerated timeline) but its exploding, need to decide if its worth taking the offer vs rolling the dice and going for EB/BBs. How big is the difference in exit opps between Blair and EB/BBs? Can a top bucket analyst at Blair land at a good UMM fund?

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Jun 3, 2020 - 6:23pm

Bump also heavily considering this
Decline for GS/MS/JPM/PJT/CVP/BAML/BARC(and even UBS/DB/WF/JEF?) Banks that have not finished recruiting, I am not saying they are better than WB

  • Prospect in _none
Jun 3, 2020 - 6:42pm

Yea idk what your situation is, but for me, biggest factors are exit ops, growth opps thru the job, culture, and salary. Obviously, all of the above names you mentioned make heads turn and make it a lot easier to enter a megafund PE firm but wondering if that's the end all be all for this. Does the fact that you probably got to play a larger role in a pretty good-sized deal at a MM bank matter to any of these megafunds, even if the GS kids only did slide decks all year long? Also, what does grad school opps look like for a top MM bank like WB? Ideally, wanna go back for an MBA at some point at a top school.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jun 3, 2020 - 8:54pm

It's a tough question, I'm super torn rn. Looking on LinkedIn seems like WB analysts have a huge range of outcomes- some solid UMM exits and a few people to HBS, but also plenty of analysts going to do super unimpressive things. Seems like the top performers can still land some solid looks though?

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Jun 3, 2020 - 9:43pm

I work at Blair and I think a big part of that is by choice. In my class there are a lot of people with 0 interest in PE and a lot of people who just want to get a job that pays fine and want to stay in the Midwest, seems different compared to other banks where everyone is bought in on PE.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jun 9, 2020 - 9:01pm

also curious. from what i've heard MMPE placement is good, UMM is possible, MF is almost impossible, but would love if anyone has any specific knowledge on it. looking at LinkedIn is hard because the exits are very inconsistent (some really good PE firms, lots of not as good exits) so I don't know whether it is that some analysts have trouble exiting to good firms or if it's just Blair analysts are less likely to go prestige hunting for the best PE firm.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jun 25, 2020 - 8:43pm

bumping this need to decide on an offer- have WB offer in hand (exploding soon) and am in the pipeline at some mid-tier BBs but need to decide what to do.

How big is the difference between WB and a place like BarCap, CS, etc? What about UBS/DB? Everyone on here obviously cares a ton about prestige and thinks BBs are always better than MM, but does Blair being the best in the space give it any value vs a BB that is struggling a bit more (like UBS/DB?)? Are my exit ops going to be significantly worse from WB compared to BarCap/CS? Thinking about PE and b-school.

Jun 25, 2020 - 8:59pm

Would make a separate post about this....curious as well

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  • Intern in IB - Gen
Jun 25, 2020 - 10:55pm

Your exits at CS and barcap will be much better in terms of PE . Blair has its benefits as a "culture" bank. Don't let that fool you, healthcare and industrials are still sweatshops. Plenty of very small deals, (as well as some impressive large ones sprinkled in). Some great MM PE exits at Blair, but both CS/Barclays will open your MANY more doors in the UMM/MF space that wouldn't really be even possible from Blair.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jun 25, 2020 - 11:17pm

I definitely agree that MF is probably off the table if I go to Blair, but the vast majority of BB analysts (even from places like GS) don't make it to MFs, and many don't even make it to UMM. So even if I do end up at BarCap/CS, it's not like I have a guaranteed path to a MF or anything like that. Looking at LinkedIn, Blair analysts (especially from their better groups) end up at good UMM shops like GTCR and places like Summit, TA, etc, which I think is a solid exit from a BB as well. Aside from the small chance of MF that I'd be giving up by going to Blair, aren't my exits realistically pretty similar (MMPE with a shot at UMM PE)?

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jun 26, 2020 - 8:46am

Pretty sure its only aerospace and defense? That's what it was originally, not sure if they do anything else there now.

Most Helpful
Jan 29, 2021 - 11:50am

Ok, I work at Blair and wanted to clear some misconceptions about the job, exit opps, future goals etc. If one of you wants to message me I will gladly hop on the phone with you and explain the difference between firms and whether the firm would make sense for you. Glad to answer your dumb questions either anonymously or not.

In regards to comments, first off, let's clear some blatantly false information above: the analyst above claiming he lateraled from Blair to another bank in order to "get looks" makes me think he/she is lying and possibly either someone who was canned from the firm, or an undergrad who maybe was rejected from WB and received an offer from a BB and wants to feel superior. Lateraling from Blair to a BB to "Get looks" would be deeply irrational and you just don't see it. I haven't seen anyone lateral to another bank at the junior level (aside from a few senior analysts being poached by former Blair MD's who went to new firms). I challenge you to find this outcome on Linkedin--it just doesn't happen. The truth is, if your goal is to work at a large private equity firm, a more linear and reasonable path is just leaving banking after a year, working in private equity at an upper mm or mm and then transferring to a larger PE firm once you have 2 years of buy side experience. More common is actually seeing people lateral from places like Moelis to WB because they want to be a long term banker and see a better long-term career trajectory at WB.

The second comment that is just horribly wrong is tech's size: its not small. There's about 50 analysts at the firm in the technology group. It's also the biggest group at the firm...

Third comment is regarding mm banks and what I think is largely just a misunderstanding of the job and career path propagated by people who have no clue what they are talking about. WB calls itself a "Premier Boutique". Regardless of what your thoughts are on that branding and how true it is, they do this because they are now a global bank and creep outside the MM frequently today. Deals range from about $100m- $4B with deals above $1B being not common, but also not rare. Especially in the better groups, you will likely work on a $1B+ deal at some point. That said, the businesses the firm looks at are largely growth businesses that are closer to $400m. Now, the misconception undergrads have is that somehow this is worse, or makes you less qualified than a BB experience. Really it's just a different stage in the life cycle of a company. Much in the same way one wouldn't say venture capital investing is worse than investing in public equities, investing or banking in the middle market isn't worse than investing or banking for large companies it's just different. In fact, WB by and large, has realized they can be enormously profitable and many of the MD's made a deliberate career choice to target the MM because they realized they could be wealthier doing many mm deals rather than hunting for a few large deals at a BB. The people at the bank are smart and are as sharp as any analysts you would find at a BB or EB. Also, in terms of pay at the PE level, it's not exactly tiered where you will certainly get paid more at a megafund versus a MM. Some MM's might have a better path to carry which could optimize your long term earnings. The obsession with megafund and UMM exits is really weird on this forum and I encourage you to do some introspection to understand what exactly you find interesting about firms that size or what you are looking for.

Now, for exits, here's where culture really comes into play. WB does pride itself on having less assholes per capita and holding midwestern values. Also, because it operates in the MM and has headquarters in Chicago, the people who feel their self worth comes from name dropping KKR at a NYC bar don't work at Blair and likely didn't even interview here. Instead, you get many individuals who are likely trying to stay in the Chicago area and who came into banking with an open mind and who usually begin to gain serious appreciation for growth businesses. After a 2 year stint at WB, you will have 2 years analyzing growth businesses and transactions that are largely around the $400m mark. Most people after having this experience don't decide, "Hey, even though I gained all this experience looking at growth businesses, now I want to interview and go to an investment firm that targets non-growth businesses outside my expertise." It's a bizarre career move and takes some convincing and explaining making those exits harder. Is it possible? Yes, certainly if you are smart and capable. But, you are fighting against potentially less relevant experience and a less common career path, so networking likely will need to play a huge role.  With a compelling reason and being determined, individuals from Blair have exited to large funds, it just really isn't what most analysts want to do and is harder.

In terms of should you accept or reject the offer, there's another post on this website that breaks down the difference between WB and other firms that does a good job, but succinctly, its a question of do you want to look at growth businesses or not? A BB will be more relevant to large PE because it is facilitating bigger deals and investing in bigger deals. A good MM, or WB, facilitates smaller deals so it will be more relevant to investing in smaller deals. You likely will see more deals at a good mm, but won't get to see complex carve outs, distressed companies, or multi-segmented $5B+ companies. No one can decide whether you should reject or accept an offer, but I will say the only option you really are eliminating/ limiting at WB is moving to a large PE firm after 2 years. But, if large PE is your goal I would ask whether you would rather gamble on whatever BB offer you think you might get with the option that you could do WB for a year, MM PE for 2 years than join a megafund. That said, I'm willing to bet if you choose WB you will eventually learn why no one does this. 

Seriously, glad to talk you through this if you give me a message.

Jan 29, 2021 - 12:38pm

Hey, thanks for this breakdown. Really nice to see real info amidst this sea of WSO bs. I know this isn't directly related to anything you said, but could you describe the Boston office. More specifically, what groups are there and how are they differentiated from the Chicago and other offices. Thanks again.

Jan 29, 2021 - 12:59pm

Boston has about 25 people in IB. It's largely technology--a co-head of tech is there as well. There's also some FSG and healthcare. In terms of differentiation--this is a HUGE HUGE HUGE point about William Blair. The firm cross staffs. What this means is there is no difference between being an analyst in Charlotte, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, SF outside of location. I'm on a deal currently where the MD's are in SF, the VP is in Boston, and the analysts are in Chicago and SF.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Jan 29, 2021 - 12:43pm

Can you walk through the different groups?

This emphasis on growth is interesting, but let's say you're in the industrials group - what kind of growth companies are really in that space? Seems hard to reconcile in my head.

Jan 29, 2021 - 1:11pm

First, the group at Blair is technically called S&I (Services and Industrials). I think your view of industrials might be like a steel company or something, which isn't exactly all that is done in that group. There are plenty of businesses and innovations that occur under the header of that space (you can go on the website and search for the specific companies and recent transactions done by that group to get more granular). For reference, Blair has C&R (Consumer and Retail), Healthcare, S&I (Services & Industrials), and Technology. Along with product groups with limited to no analysts such as ECM, LFG, M&A. All this info is available on the website just so you guys can fact check me/ future prospects can view this and see for themselves. 

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jan 29, 2021 - 3:05pm

Can you provide any insight into comp at the analyst level? Is it dependent on group and bucketing or relatively flat across the firm? 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Jan 29, 2021 - 3:27pm

Because of this emphasis on growth, are people mostly existing to growth equity type shops? I'm looking at a lot of these growth equity firms' teams pages and they seem to be hiring mostly the BB/EB types anyway. Why aren't Blair & other MM shops more represented in this area, if what you're saying is true?

Thank you for all the detail on this forum, this is great great stuff.

Jan 29, 2021 - 3:41pm

A few things here: 1) the MM drops off quick. There's like 4 names where I would say the above comments are true with people being equally as competent and the experience being great, but all MM banks aren't weighted equally. So there are way way more BB and EB candidates proportionally trying to break into that space overall. 2) There is significant self selection--I know a ton of analysts actually went to work for companies rather than recruit to the buyside. Blair also retains a high percentage of analysts like 25% to associate, so that alone makes the exists smaller. 3) I don't know which firms you are looking at, but you might just know only a select few and that's giving you a skewed perception/ understanding. Keep in mind as well, Chicago is the headquarters and most individuals don't want to relocate to a completely new city after their 2 years. So most PE exists firmwide are to Chicago firms which are less well known by undergrads/ younger individuals.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Jan 31, 2021 - 1:33pm

How actively is a2a encouraged at Blair? Is it something most analysts seriously consider or is it still a small minority of the class that takes it. 

  • Intern in IB - Gen
May 17, 2021 - 7:07pm

Do you have any insight into the sponsors group, specifically the nyc office? Looking on linkedin it looks like there's only 3-4 people from that group in nyc , but a lot of people on linkedin don't say what group they're in so hard to know for sure.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 17, 2021 - 10:57pm

Do you have any insight into the sponsors group, specifically the nyc office? Looking on linkedin it looks like there's only 3-4 people from that group in nyc , but a lot of people on linkedin don't say what group they're in so hard to know for sure.

Yeah, the group (firmwide) is only VP and above. There are some analysts, but they don't really do IB/ work on transactions. Instead, they more facilitate buyer relationships. The whole group's purpose is maintaining and building relationships within the sponsor community, which is more a senior banker job. It's not really like other banks.

Also, curious what your interest is in the sponsors group at the firm?

  • Managing Director in IB-M&A
Jan 29, 2021 - 7:15pm

TMT UMM PE associate here.

Touching on exit opps first since college monkeys seems most curious about that. Can echo, MF/UMM will be rare. I've gone through 2 recruiting cycles at my UMM. Headhunters have never presented to us WB candidates (or any MM bank candidates for that matter, outside of female/minority). Could be selection bias in that WB analysts proactively told headhunters they don't want UMM or MF (I don't know if so).

In TMT, specifically software/tech, WB is king amongst the sponsor community. Their transaction experience and market knowledge far exceeds any other banker in this space. Sure your (insert BB/EB) might be running sellside this time but more often than not WB either sold it before, was the runner up in bake offs, or know the CEO/business deeply. 

WB tech is a sellside machine. They are the only bank that consistently sends sellside models in the first round. Their sellside models look like something we'd build on the buy side (sometimes unnecessarily more complex). I imagine WB analysts can model the shit out of any straight forward tech company out there. But what is missing that might potentially bar them from entering UMM/MF (especially MF) is the complexity of business. Rarely does WB run carve-outs, multi-segment / conglomerate-like processes, complex structures, distressed (in my experience). This is where the true UMM/MFs excel...stuff that isn't a straightforward vanilla software LBO but rather hairy/complex/multi-faceted businesses (now I agree UMM/MFs do more vanilla software given valuation levels/check sizes).

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jan 30, 2021 - 12:19pm

WB incoming analyst in tech group- if I'm interested in UMM/MF TMT PE, what would you recommend for career moves to get there? Should I lateral to a BB/EB After a year, or do you think I could work my ass off to recruit for UMM PE out of Blair?

  • Managing Director in IB-M&A
Jan 30, 2021 - 2:35pm

Working your ass off doesn't always translate to good outcomes. Obviously day-to-day work and good deal experience will help prepare but PE interviews (or interviews in general frankly) are a combination of (i) background, (ii) problem solving (experience helps), (iii) articulation/being polished, (iv) personality, and (v) lots of luck.

Above follows the "tunnel" of candidate selection to offer. So going from resume selection (i) is most important here to first round (ii) and (iii) to final round (iii) and (iv) to an offer (v). If you're dead set on UMM/MF, the question is then how can you maximize your chance of being at the "top of the funnel" i.e., resume selection. Everyone knows UMM/MFs have bias towards BB/EBs. So yes, if that's what you want, you should look to lateral. Whole separate conversation about attractiveness of UMM/MF vs. MM or some of the more "growth buyout" types that I think WB analysts exit to very often. If you're young and don't know what you want, setting your eyes on UMM/MF is fine but do explore your options as much as you can. 

Jan 30, 2021 - 2:43pm

I answered this question above regarding lateraling or not. But, I would love to have this dialogue for people to see because I think it is important and something I didn't understand until actually working in banking. And maybe you can answer these questions well, but I'm betting you can't likely (which is ok) in which case I would say maybe do some more research and call some people to get a more informed opinion (This will help you when you recruit). Not necessarily saying you are wrong and I'm not trying to belittle you, but more want to get to the root of why you think before you have started a banking position, known any of your colleagues on a fulltime level, or even seen a transaction (no your internship doesn't count), you already KNOW you want to go to a TMT megafund. I'd start with the following questions--I promise this will create a better outcome for you long term whether you actually do go to a MF or you do something else:

Work Related: What defines UMM or MF? Where is the line for LMM, MM, UMM, and MF investing and what makes you think UMM or MF investing will be better (however you define better)? Do people at MF's always get paid more at every level? What is the career path for the average MF associate versus a MM associate? Are there meaningful differences in MF and MM fund business school exits (do you even plan on going to bschool)? Are you interested in a specific size of a business and how does that change business strategy for portfolio companies and for your firm itself? Do you have an interest in operational experience? Are you planning on exiting your PE firm eventually? Do you believe you will get paid more, or will be able to work with sharper people at a MF--is this always true? How does the day to day responsibility differ for MF associates and MM associates? What does the macroeconomic outlook look like for mm funds versus MF's and does that change in a downturn?

Personal: Are certain funds more focused in geographic areas/ would you be willing to move anywhere to work for certain funds? Do you desire to live in a certain city, why and for how long? How much money are you trying to make and why? Related, how many years are you willing to give up doing personal things such as dating and hanging out with friends for your job/ money? Do you have a place you are trying to live and concrete financial goals, or are you trying to make the most amount of money possible for the sake of it?

Again, I'm not trying to dissuade you, more I know a ton of people who were like you and are now very very unhappy because they didn't ask these questions. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Jan 31, 2021 - 11:54pm

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  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Feb 22, 2021 - 1:08pm

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