William Blair tech exit opps?

Deep in process for a lateral position here and want to get a sense of exit opps-

Know they do really well in MM tech and play against BBs/EBs pretty frequently from what I've seen on here and talking to some friends in the sponsor world, but does that help at all when it comes to branding/exit opps or is it still stuck in the MM bucket?

Having spoken to some people there, it sounds like nearly all tech deals are $500M-2B, which is basically where every bank other than a select few (GS, MS, Evercore, Q, a few others) also operate. From what I've heard (and confirmed looking at announced deals), they're typically working with MFs/UMMs as buyers on deals in this price range. Based on friends at BB tech groups, I'd say pretty similar deal types to Citi, BofA, etc (in tech only- very different at these BBs top groups of course)

Would it be possible to exit to a top tech PE firm (Thoma, Vista, Silverlake, etc) from this group? Mainly wondering if good deal experience + as many reps if not more than probably any other IB analyst program can outweigh the "MM" branding and make you competitive in PE recruiting. Also a little nervous that HHs will just go off brand name and take the UBS analyst over the Blair even though the Blair will probably have more and higher quality deal reps. Before everyone tells me to check LinkedIn, hard to search LinkedIn by group and it isn't as helpful given that tech does bigger deals than the rest of the firm. Also think it's a bit unclear because many people there either want to stay in Chi or are really interested in the MM, and I'm unsure if that's why you don't see a lot of MF exits or if it just isn't really possible. Especially interested in anyone in the sponsor tech world weighing in on how you'd look at a Blair analyst. Thanks to all

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Comments (25)

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Nov 22, 2021 - 9:05am

A lot of HH / PE hiring decisions are based off of brand signaling it's unlikely for WB to get MF looks

  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
Nov 22, 2021 - 9:09am

WB places lights out into MM PE, but doesn't place as well into UMM PE compared to many other firms and MF is very tough. For PE recruiting, brand matters a lot, and the fact of the matter is, headhunters don't like MM firms.

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Nov 22, 2021 - 10:54am

The fact of the matter is self selection is enormous from Blair tech. Preference for Midwest exists and a rebellious streak (the firm's culture is anti-BB, anti-NY) makes it where very rarely do people even want to recruit for megafunds. I would guess it is probably less than 10% that would want to go to a megafund, if that. Those that do recruit, often face an uphill battle because there aren't alumni that have placed before you and firms and head hunters can be unfamiliar with Blair since the firm has only become a powerhouse in the last decade being borderline non-existent in tech prior to then. The firm punches above its weight and is really closer to an EB from a tech standpoint, but it's still a non-NY based middle market, so you should likely choose another bank if your goal was to go to a megafund.

As an aside though-why do you think megafund PE makes more sense than a MM fund? I think by the end of an analyst stint most WB analysts realize the megafund life probably isn't the most optimal path.

Edit: just to add despite this MS, I am going off my analyst class in which many left the industry entirely, stayed, or targeted niche funds/ geography's. Don't know what else to say besides I'm clearly the only person who has inside understanding.

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  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
Nov 22, 2021 - 11:55am

Kid, I'm in WB Tech. No need to educate me on my own group.

First of all, in terms of culture, WB Tech is definitely not the same as WB HQ. The seniors in the SF office are definitely more of a "midwestern vibe", but the juniors in Tech are definitely nowhere close to the juniors in Chicago in terms of culture (SF office is definitely much closer to the UC-Berkeley hardo culture comparable to other SF banks than WB's Chicago culture). You're right that MF interest is less at William Blair Tech than at better SF offices, but it's much higher than 10% and a lot of it is because people self-select out of MF recruiting because they know how much of an upwards hill it is. William Blair SF places extremely well into MM PE, better than any other SF MM group, and also has solid placement into UMM PE, but Blair simply doesn't place as well into top UMM and MF as EB and BB offices.

In terms of deal flow, the firm does punch above its weight and runs the MM sponsor space and is better than most EBs. However, that simply doesn't translate into exits. Headhunters have a preconceived notion and a bias towards firm brand, that WB's deal flow simply can't make up. If deal flow was the only indicator of PE placement, Greenhill SF's placement would be shit, which it's not.

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  • Trader in S&T - Comm
Nov 22, 2021 - 12:10pm

Funny story about WB Tech in Boston. an old MD in an interview years back for a SA role commended me on getting a super day slot from a technical school...mind you I went to the Georgia Institute of Technology...aka Georgia Tech. 

Great group of guys back then, would have loved to get an offer there 

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Nov 22, 2021 - 8:20pm

Blair is certainly the best MM tech group. It is better than many boutiques such as Moelis and PWP tech, and many BBs who are doing a lot more debt/equity than M&A.
It is still a stretch to say "nearly every deal is $500M - $2B". They do many in the $200M range. Therefore, I can't imagine every analyst's resume is littered with billion dollar deals. They place very well into MM tech PE or growth equity (Accel-KKR, Marlin, etc.). Which are extremely attractive exits.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Nov 23, 2021 - 1:32am

If what people are saying on this thread is true (ie that Blair is comparable to/better than some EBs in tech), how long until exit opps catch up with that? I know headhunters are probably a lagging indicator given they aren't always very knowledgeable about the industry, but you would think the sponsor community would catch on eventually if Blair is running the tech MM scene as people on this thread mention.

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
Nov 23, 2021 - 2:38am

Some thoughts on a few of the points brought up in this post and others above.

Agree that Blair has killer deal flow in the MM tech space and actually has a solid ratio of comp to WLB, but I doubt this scenario will really happen. Exit opps, as mentioned by a poster above, are not solely determined by deal flow alone, but - for better or for worse - by firm reputation, the caliber of candidates that are associated with these positions (note: plenty of arguments for why this is flawed logic but thats not the point of this post) and the type of experience that they will likely get at the respective platform (more thoughts on this below) 

Separately, while I agree with the influence of self selection in exit opps in this case, I think it's a bit of an irrelevant point. Regardless of whether a candidate targets a Blackstone, Warburg, Apollo, etc., or otherwise, these exits aren't normally possible / very likely from a middle market platform. The "self selection" or "rationalization" away from even trying for MF seats in the first place doesn't change the fact that a Blair Tech analyst would face nearly insurmountable odds against candidates from the BB/EB pool, if they did try / want to go down that route. *note: this is just a comment on the logic, not on the actual exits or caliber of Blair analysts. Evidence shows they place very well across the board in the MM and growth equity spaces, which tends to align well with their experiences.

Finally - think it is important to note that while deal flow and volume are great and more "reps" are generally regarded to be favorable relative to the alternative, it is important to note the *kind* of reps / deals that are getting done. Blair's bread and butter is sponsor-backed sell sides of (generally) highly desired businesses. Great for learning process points, but the incremental opportunities for strategic thinking / rationale that one picks up at another platform are few and far between.

Just thoughts from someone on the other side that holds Blair in high regard, but also wanted to provide a slightly different perspective. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Nov 23, 2021 - 4:29pm

Worked at Blair and left for the reasons listed above (extremely low odds of placing into UMM/MF PE and not getting looks from HHs).

Also worth noting the caliber of the juniors is not there. It's not like this is a pool of analysts who turned down amazing offers at other banks because they wanted to be at Blair. Most took Blair because it was the only or best offer they got. From my experience the mid-senior level people are top notch, but the juniors are not that strong.

In reality, most analysts end up in corp dev roles or no-name shops. Sure, there are a few that have landed great offers in recent years, but that is by no-means the standard or a given, even for strong analysts. Talk to ex-Blair employees who placed into PE and many will tell you they placed (1) off-cycle, (2) through referrals from seniors or (3) working directly with a sponsor in a sell-side process. This isn't to say this is a bad way to get into PE, but if you are interested in getting on-cycle looks, it's a tough spot to be in.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Nov 23, 2021 - 10:28am

Don't know if I think the exit ops are really lagging/ your average deal size remains lower and the experience is more relevant to middle market/ umm experience. Maybe those kids all wished they could work for larger funds, but that just wasn't what I'm practice I actually saw. Again, I think there is this mental ranking college kids have in terms of funds and thinking larger is better and that's the exclusive optimization being done and that just wasn't how my class approached recruiting. I genuinely struggle to understand why people on this forum think a firm like blackstone would yield a much "better" experience than a place like sumeru, GTCR, insight, TCV (all past exits). It's apples and oranges in terms of type of investing, culture, etc.

Nov 23, 2021 - 5:08pm

If anyone actually wants information on WB tech feel free to PM me and we can set up a call, current 2nd year in the tech group. Broadly for people who are afraid to message or don't want to waste my time--I would echo the self selection thing being pretty big. Also, from my experience the analysts across almost all banks were pretty interchangeable coming from my undergrad. I found the kids that ended up at Qatalyst, versus Centerview, versus Barclays, versus Blair, versus Goldman, versus Evercore, versus DB, versus Citi, to all be pretty equally competent, having friends at each (I think this really just gets to the interview process and the luck and culture aspects involved in it). One thing to note, the experience and culture at Blair can be different and as mentioned a large Chicago headcount and Blair culture broadly definitely creates different exits and analyst preferences compared to most other banks. I would strongly encourage anyone reading this forum to just give people that work at a bank a call to get first hand information rather than reading this forum for information. It's largely undergrad hearsay which just isn't accurate and can lead to some poor decision making if you are trying to get information on any firm. Just call people guys/girls, they don't bite and that's really what networking should be--getting answers to questions like this.

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