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WSO Podcast | E197: West Point to Private Equity Sourcing Role after 10 Years in the Army

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In this episode, Kevin shares his story coming out of West Point. We learn why he was interested in serving in the military, how many tours he did in Afghanistan, why he started his MBA online while serving and how he was able to land a role in private equity on a deal origination team.

 

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WSO Podcast Episode 197 Transcripts:

Patrick (CEO of WSO):  [00:00:06] Hello and welcome. I'm Patrick Curtis, your host and Chief Monkey. And this is the Wall Street Oasis podcast. Join me as I talk to some of the community's most successful and inspirational members to gain valuable insight into different career paths and life in general. Let's get to it. In this episode, Kevin shares his story coming out of West Point. We learn why he was interested in serving in the military. How many tours he did in Afghanistan, why he started his MBA online while serving, and how he was able to land a role in private equity on a deal. Origination team. Enjoy. All right, Kevin, thanks so much for joining the Wall Street Oasis podcast.

Kevin: [00:00:51] Of course. Thanks for having me.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:00:52] So be awesome. If you could just give the listeners a short summary bio.

Kevin: [00:00:57] Sure. So I am a bit older than most people in my position right now, but that was because I served in the military for ten years prior. So I was at West Point until right around 2010, and after that I joined the Army. I was in the infantry for five years where I deployed for a handful of times there and then was in Special Forces in the last couple of years where I'd deployed a couple more times as well. All five trips been to Afghanistan until about 2019 where I hung up the boots and then decided to move into private equity. So that was 30 seconds of the last 12 years of my life, but that is the highest level I can take.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:01:37] I know that I like it. I asked for a short summary. So there you go. So let's go all the way back to West Point, I guess. Well, even maybe before then. Tell me, were you thinking military? Since when? When was your thought of like obviously because you're at West Point, you knew you were going to go into it. So tell me about that.

Kevin: [00:01:55] Yes. So West Point kind of became a thing when I was in high school, a junior year in high school. I actually have a pretty poignant story where I saw the Saddam statue get pulled down and I was in my house with my dad and his friends and they were hooting and hollering about how the Saddam statue came down. And I was like a petulant 16 year old at the time. And I said, you know, what did we do here? Because we're all in the same room not doing anything. And I thought to myself, Well, that's really what you think. Then maybe you should, you know, put your money where your mouth is and go serve. And so as I thought about that, I said, Well, if you want to serve and you want to be a patriot and that's what you think is important, then go join the military. But then I had another thought of, well, I still think an education is important, so how do I get an education and join the military? And that's when I Googled military education and found West Point, Annapolis and Air Force Academy and all that stuff.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:02:47] Yeah. Yeah. And so tell me a little bit about that. So like, I know there's like there's obviously different divisions and also so what made you think so you start applying, what, like your junior year? It's tough to get in, right? It's a pretty or it's a pretty intense like rigorous, rigorous curriculum and everything, right?

Kevin: [00:03:04] Yeah. Well, it's tough. It's tough because there's a lot of like kind of broad hurdles that you need to reach. You need to have, like a certain qualification of leadership skills, a certain academic performance. But I think the real hurdle is you need a congressional appointment, whereas like your congressman or your senator, they have a certain number of slots that they can give candidates to go apply to West Point. And so that's where the real bottleneck is, is applying to get one of those spots.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:03:27] How do you do that?

Kevin: [00:03:29] I mean, you tell them you want to go to West Point or Annapolis and then you interview. And I'm trying I remember the interview questions, but it's essentially like an interview of like your moral character of like, hey, you know, does this guy have grit? Is he going to quit? Because that looks bad. And then, you know, if he does make it through, is this someone that we want to put her name behind? So I just remember I remember there being some like ethical questions of saying, you know, if you catch your friend lying or cheating, you know, what would you do and how would you go about it?

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:03:53] And you're supposed to say you'll turn them in.

Kevin: [00:03:56] Yeah. I don't think I said that I think I said I think I said I wouldn't turn them in because it's not my place. And I think that raised some eyebrows. And then they said, well, what would you do? And I think I followed up with I'd give him the opportunity to turn himself in and like the air came back into the room and they're like.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:04:17] Wow. So you get that. You get the approval, you apply, you get in. It's like no brainer. Like, you know, you're going there for sure. Did you consider other more traditional schools now?

Kevin: [00:04:27] It was sort of a it wasn't a no brainer. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get into West Point or Annapolis. And so I had some ROTC scholarships as well in case in case I didn't make it to the top two. But yeah, I was pretty set on serving in some form or fashion, hopefully through either West Point or an ROTC program.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:04:48] So you start going through and I see your economics major Chinese as well. So what's the thought process there? Is there a finance degree there or is it all.

Kevin: [00:05:01] Yeah, I mean, I like the economic side of it. Yeah.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:05:05] I was an economics major too, so I'm all about it. Yeah. Tell me about like the thought process of majoring and how like your first few years there. Obviously there's not the traditional internships that like other kids have. So what do you do like year round? Is it just training like most like when you're out of school, like in the summer and stuff?

Kevin: [00:05:22] Yeah. You don't get a lot of freedom by design for the first the first couple of years. So it's usually heavy military training in the summer and then heavy academic training with some military training sprinkled in throughout the academic year and then. That's sort of rinse and repeat for the four years that you're there. So you don't get a lot of like there is no internships. The one freedom that I did have, which is why you'll see the Chinese on there was they had a semester abroad program where you could go live abroad for a semester and one of them was in China and I was like, Oh, that sounds awesome. But they said, Hey, in order to do that, you have to major in the language because we're not going to let anybody go to hang out in China for a semester. I was like, Oh shucks. But then I looked at it and I was like, Man, I've already taken some Chinese at West Point, and if I go there and I completely focus on Chinese, I can finish my major over there and then come back and get back to econ. And so that's kind of what happened. Whereas I was able to meet the requirements to become a Chinese major, go abroad and then come back and then finish my path on economics.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:06:21] Where in China where you deal?

Kevin: [00:06:23] Doswell And I apologize for anyone who speaks Chinese because those tones weren't there and they never will be again, I don't think, but is about 3 hours north of Beijing. And so I was there for four months.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:06:34] And what was that like? A little more freedom or no?

Kevin: [00:06:39] A lot of freedom. Yeah, it was it was probably like the one of the cooler things that the army did for me. The Army's done a lot of good things for me, but that was a cool one. I was I mean, I was like 20 years old. And as it was, as it was, as a message was delivered to me, they essentially said, hey, here is, you know, here's a check for $6,000. You have, you know, this is going to get you by for four months. You can spend as little or as much of it as you want. You're not getting any more. And we're not going to ask you to fill out a receipt. So it was like really it was very much big boy rules back then and it was kind of cool to have the freedom that came with it, especially being 20 years old and especially like coming from West Point, which is like a jail.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:07:19] You're halfway through the four months and think, Oh shit, like I'm running out here. Like, what happened? No, it was it plenty.

Kevin: [00:07:25] It was it was great. It was great. I mean, I don't.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:07:30] I mean, at 20 years old, you don't need to be like I'm sure you're like, didn't get you didn't really care. Like, right. Like you're I'll stay at this in this studio or whatever and pay nothing.

Kevin: [00:07:39] Yeah. And the dollar and the dollar went far. So it was good for travel and it was good for expenses. And I mean, you really had to spend money if you were to kind of let that go in four months, because a lot of your housing is paid for. You're going to school.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:07:52] It's not like, yeah, so what did you spend it on? Just food and like travel a little bit and that's it? Yeah.

Kevin: [00:07:58] I mean, you're supposed to travel and food and go out a little bit like you're supposed to. They want you to immerse in the culture. And so. I'm trying to remember what the vacation times were, but it was pretty nice for a four month trip. It was like 110 day break, like two six day breaks, like two or 3 to 4 day breaks. And that was to go visit different parts of the country.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:08:16] It's cool. And how's your how's your Chinese now? Oh, awful. Awful.

Kevin: [00:08:20] What? I mean, so sherco n which is my name is Kevin. That's all I remember.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:08:26] Oh, man. Okay, so. So you're kind of coming up junior year. Senior year. What's your thought here? What's the what's the typical thought process or coming out of out of West Point? So it's like, ah, you start specializing, what's that? Can you finish West Point? Or like what's the requirements after that in terms of like what are you required to do after going?

Kevin: [00:08:49] So West Point is very much like it's a rack and stack meritocracy. So they evaluate every cadet based off of their academic, physical and military performance. And then they really they the legitimately rank number one student versus number thousand student.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:09:05] And what's the way what's the weighting on physical versus academic?

Kevin: [00:09:09] I think it's 30%. It might have changed since then. I think it was 60% academic, 30% physical.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:09:16] That's what I'd guess. Yeah.

Kevin: [00:09:17] And 10% military, I think. Something like that.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:09:19] Military being like military knowledge and history and stuff like that.

Kevin: [00:09:22] Or you know.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:09:24] Like, oh, just following everything like to the t.

Kevin: [00:09:28] Like not being insubordinate and like saluting the right cadets at the right time and like saying the right words and like having a nice uniform. Like it was more like military bearing less of like, you know, you charge the hill and 1860. Yeah.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:09:39] Got it. Got it. So. Where. Where was your rank?

Kevin: [00:09:45] I was okay. I was like near 10%. Maybe, maybe just south of it. But sorry, the point was top 10%. Yeah, I think I was right around there.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:09:55] That's great.

Kevin: [00:09:56] The. But the really the point behind it is because what happens with that rank is that there's two nights, there's branch night and post night and branch night is all the available spots in the army that you can go pursue a profession. So if you want to go be a pilot, there's ten slots for pilot, there's 20 slots for infantry, 30 slots for whatever. And so if your number one in the list, you get the pick of the litter, you get to pick whatever you want to do in the army as long as there's a spot there. But as you fall down the list. The most exciting spots go away and you start to fall into the spot or four needs of the army. And so that's where when you ask how you think about specializing at the army. It depends on where you fell rank wise. Sometimes you're thinking about specialization. Other times you're thinking about, Well, I guess I'll just end.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:10:43] Up one of the most desirable kind of specialties that this is my own.

Kevin: [00:10:47] No, this is great.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:10:48] Foolish, selfish.

Kevin: [00:10:49] Curiosity.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:10:52] So I promise, guys, we'll get to the finance stuff later.

Kevin: [00:10:57] The most limited slots are usually aviation. And then like a doctor, the doctor is a bit of a one off because you do have to do some like doctor training at like some medical training at school at West Point. So you're kind of on track for that one to begin with. But in terms of the greater population.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:11:13] But for the army, not for the air.

Kevin: [00:11:14] Yeah, yeah. Like a helicopter.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:11:15] Pilot. Yeah. So. So what did you want to do? What would you have been a pilot or could you be a pilot?

Kevin: [00:11:22] I think it was open. I picked infantry, I. So 2000. I got out 2010. I got out of West Point in 2010 and that time was very much sort of Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraq was starting to wind down. It was very much Afghanistan. So a lot of people were looking to kind of test their mettle or to get a combat experience. And so infantry was kind of the. Supervisor the time to try and get a slot there so you could go overseas and experience the thing that you train for. So that was usually the thinking behind a lot of people at West Point was, hey, how do I get on a combat rotation?

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:12:01] Got it. So infantry was highly desired. Just because there was something going with Afghanistan, you could actually get deployed.

Kevin: [00:12:08] Yeah.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:12:09] Exactly. And so that happened. So like you were able to get that and then right away where you immediately deployed or how what happened when you graduated?

Kevin: [00:12:18] Yes. So that was branch night. And then post night is the same thing that happened. But now it's now it's locations within the army. So it's so you can see you can marry up the locations with the units there and see which units are on the patch chart to go deploy. So you're kind of trying to angle yourself to get to a unit that's deploying. And I was able to do that. I selected Germany and that unit was forward deployed. So when I went to the German unit essentially dropped my bags off and then met them in Afghanistan for the final six months of their tour. And then after that tour that you did actually deactivated and I was sent back to the States and I went back to the States. I joined the 82nd, which is an airborne unit which was for deployed to Afghanistan. So I dropped my bags off, went back over there, finished three months of them, and then came back and was at Fort Bragg for a couple more months until finding another opportunity to deploy again and then deployed for a third time.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:13:14] What is that normal? I don't know, three times.

Kevin: [00:13:20] It's not it's not normal to do it that quickly. Yeah, it was a bit of I mean, there were some there's a lot of luck involved there. Like not everyone unit reactivates like that. So my unit deactivated which gave me another shot. And then on that third deployment I was given sort of like an individual augment t opportunity that not a lot of people get either. And so those two, those two events allowed me to deploy when others might not have been able to.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:13:44] Sure. So you're kind of you're there for a third time and you're. You're in pretty serious situations. It sounds like pretty scary situations from time to time. But are you. What's the worst stuff that happened? I mean, obviously, really horrible stuff happened, I'm sure. But like, was it something where you were able to I'm looking at you because I'm looking at like all the places you've been. It's like year and a half here or two years here. I'm like, I don't even know where to start. Like, you're in the eighties, so let's start with 82nd Airborne. So like, what were you doing specifically there? And like how did it how did things evolve like with each deployment? Like, were you given more a lot more leadership? I think this is relevant because it's kind of like similar to any sort of career in the sense of like you're expected to start leading probably faster in the army than in a normal career. But like, I'm curious how things shifted from like maybe because you were from West Point, you were already thrown into a leadership position right away. But I'm curious about that.

Kevin: [00:14:41] So the first tour probably best, easiest to talk about them in terms of tours. The first tour I was a platoon leader where I was kind of responsible for 30 men. And we had that first deployment together where we didn't see any combat. We were in a combat theater, but we didn't see any combat. And so when we came back, I still wanted to test my mettle and see how we how personally I would do and had that opportunity to be a platoon leader again for the 82nd. And at that point, I did see combat with that unit. It was another 30 men element, more or less in southern Afghanistan. And it was during that experience where I started thinking about Special Forces and there was a pretty I'll try and keep it quick. It was a pretty vivid moment where I remember we were kind of setting up this checkpoint for a partner for us to occupy, and we were waiting. There was a bit of a delay for a handover, and so we were securing the compound for a week or two weeks at a time before the handover happened. And within that gap, they had seeded improvised explosive devices within the compound and we didn't know it. And so as we were about to do the opening ceremony, we were we were kind of doing minesweepers before it to see if just to double check. And then we found one like this isn't a good sign. And so we had to clean that, we clear the rest of it. And as I was watching one of the guys mine sweep through part of the compound, I was kind of taking a knee and I was like watching him do it. And one of the one of the Afghan counterparts came up to me and was like, Give me this look. And I was like, Hey, man, it's like a hundred degrees outside. What's going on? Like, I don't really need to deal with this right now. And he's like, no, like, move. And so I stood up and I moved over and he bent down and he moved out the sand. And I was I had taken a neal, an IED, and it just didn't go off. And I was like, Oh, and, and so as I was walking, I mean, that like, kind of like opens your eyes a little bit. And so as I was walking back, I thought to myself, Man, if I. If my life isn't like that much of harm's way, if it's more if it's in a more dangerous situation than I accurately see, I would like to control that scenario as much as I can to have the autonomy and the responsibility to influence that environment. And that's when I thought, because I liked what I was doing, and that's when I thought, Oh, I think Special Forces does something like that. And that's when I started looking at that avenue.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:16:59] Well, awesome. So you kind of got back and then how do you even do that? How do you even look into Special Forces? Just like another set, you just apply and it's another tough, tough to get in kind of thing. And you got to.

Kevin: [00:17:09] Yeah, it's probably like good, good, probably.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:17:12] For like, yeah, it's like private equity, right? It's like.

Kevin: [00:17:15] Yeah.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:17:16] Like the top 1% of 1%, right.

Kevin: [00:17:19] Yeah.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:17:20] So tell me about that. Like, how did you tell me about what you did? But just, just applying, getting in and like did more physical, more kind of all that stuff or you have to survive. Like, I know, like obviously the most famous is the seals and everything and they get yeah, they do. But I'd love to hear about it.

Kevin: [00:17:39] So the initial idea so you cannot apply as an officer, you can't apply until you have served a certain amount of time in the conventional army. And it's sort of like, hey, we need to make sure you can perform.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:17:48] Yeah. And by the way, this is how many years after you had already gone through after the third tour? This is what how many years after graduating after.

Kevin: [00:17:55] The third term of five years in.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:17:58] Five years. And so there's another almost five years, right, of doing stuff. So like in a Special Forces or, you know, as a student too. But tell me a little bit about that. Yeah, there's a gap.

Kevin: [00:18:14] There. Yeah, yeah. There's a two year gap of training. But the yeah. So to apply you, you must submit like a resume equivalent of saying, hey, I'd like to apply, do you accept me to go to, you know, to go to tryouts essentially you're like asking to join tryouts. Yeah. And so if you're this is a it's a paper look pretty much. And if you meet the paper qualifications, then you'll be, you'll be invited to go tryout. And then that's a three week selection process, which is primarily physical tests. Land navigation tests and then a team test. Which is. But Team Chess is sort of the one that's like a bit ambiguous. But they put you in teams and then they try and help. They try and have you do these physically demanding tasks over a long period of time. And they want to see how you work together as a team. So move this x hundred number of pounds from this location to 12 kilometers from here and figure out how to do it. And you're like, okay, I'll figure it out. And so they're just trying to see how you're going to handle that situation. So at the end of those three weeks, depending on how you do, you'll say, hey, you've been selected or Hey, you haven't been selected, and if you have been selected, you will then join the qualification course. And the qualification course is essentially a two year course where then you learn more of the technical aspects of what it means to be a green.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:19:30] And so from there kind of you were you were actually deployed again or with that group. How did that work?

Kevin: [00:19:37] So you see, you guys got accepted.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:19:39] You made it.

Kevin: [00:19:40] Yep.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:19:41] First off, low acceptance rate, but. And then what? Then what?

Kevin: [00:19:47] So after you graduate the qualification course, then you go to your unit. There's five units within Special Forces, more or less, and so one and they're regionally aligned. And so I went to one that was realigned to South America, but we actually had a mission set in Afghanistan. So although we were regionally aligned in South America, I ended up going back to Afghanistan. Okay. At this point now, now I'm a team leader, which is a bit of a different responsibility than what I was beforehand, which was a platoon leader. So now in charge of 30 people, 12 people, and each of those 12 people have a specific skill set. And our job is to go partner with. Kind of. More trained forces in a foreign nation and then help them get across the objective with a with a smaller US footprint.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:20:35] Got it. Got it. And at any stage during this, are you thinking private equity?

Kevin: [00:20:41] No.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:20:42] So tell me. Tell me, when does that come in? You had finance, I mean, economics, major, but had even investment banking or private equity or any of this stuff. Did you even know what the stuff was?

Kevin: [00:20:52] No. So when private equity started to come into focus was my fifth deployment. I was in a compound in northern Afghanistan and a classmate of mine, a rugby buddy of mine. He was a helicopter pilot and he was flying in to drop off supplies or do something. And we had lunch while he was in and he was like, hey, man, I hear you might be getting out, you know, what are you trying to do? And I said, to be honest, you know, I love what I'm doing now. Like I love being part of a small team that goes in that shares the burden with a partner force, that helps that helps share their risk, get them across an objective and leave them in a better position than I found them. I was like, I love doing that, but I don't know. I was like, the problem with the army is I don't know what the ten years look like. I don't know if my last ten years look at my next ten years or if I never do this again. And so what I'm trying to do is figure out a way to do that in business or in corporate America. And he goes, Hey, I don't think I know what I'm talking about because I'm a helicopter pilot, but I think I know a guy who does something like that and it's called private equity, and maybe you should talk to him. And I said, okay, it sounds great. And so that was when it first started to kind of appear.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:21:56] And so you weren't actively networking or anything this like talking to alum or anything like that or did you did that once you had that conversation. So you had that conversation. He put you in touch with this person who was in private. So tell me about that. Tell me about that conversation.

Kevin: [00:22:11] Yes, I was still deployed at the time. And some of this is serendipitous. I was deployed at the time. I came back to my home station. The person I was connected with, he only lived like an hour and a half east of me. And so he said, hey, let's grab breakfast and let's talk about what you're thinking about. And at that point I was thinking about private equity, and I was also thinking about a search fund because it kind of married up with what I was trying to do of like stay in front of teams and lead teams and, and look for business that I could sort of grow and develop. And so he was kind of sort of like an informal mentor for about nine months where he's trying to help me navigate that world. So it was very much it was less of like, hey, I want to break into PE, how do I do it? And it was more of, Hey, these are the things I really like to my past life, you know, how would I how do you think I could do something like this?

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:22:58] But how did you so when you finally came back, was it just because the mission had finished and all that, or was it something where it was just done? So basically it was like 2019, right?

Kevin: [00:23:11] Yeah. It's like, yep. So I came back about February 2019.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:23:15] Yeah.

Kevin: [00:23:16] And then I had, I had known I was getting out at this point. So I had about. Eight or nine months left in the Army. And at that point, I was I had already started my MBA because I was. I was confident that I wanted to get out, but I was unconfident that I'd be able to speak the language after I got out. And so I wanted to get an MBA quickly or in parallel with me transitioning because I want to be able to speak the language or be able to understand the landscape I was entering into.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:23:41] Right. So you had already kind of started the MBA online, correct?

Kevin: [00:23:45] Yes.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:23:46] So tell me about that. Like, how are you getting an MBA while deployed? Like.

Kevin: [00:23:51] I don't think I could have done it twice. I remember it was a. Things just kind of worked out at some points. I remember having to take a test online, had to submit a test and it had to be in video. So they see you weren't lying or C, you weren't cheating. And if the connection broke, then you failed to submit the test. And I remember coming in late from a mission and we came in at like 1030 at night and I had until midnight to submit it. And so I was running to my connects to get my little wi fi puck up to submit the test and hope that like the power didn't go out in the hour, that I had to submit it.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:24:24] It worked.

Kevin: [00:24:25] It worked. Yeah. I got whatever grade I need to get for that for that test and moved on. But no, it wasn't easy. I mean, but the nice thing is that with remote work. It is more flexible than being on campus, obviously.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:24:37] Yeah. And so you're and so when you came back, you were able to actually finish up on campus?

Kevin: [00:24:42] Yep. Yeah. So as I was getting out of the military, I had like vacation days is kind of the equivalent. I had vacation days built up and so I was able to go finish on campus and at I went to Florida State. At Florida State.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:24:54] Why? Why Florida State for your MBA?

 

Kevin: [00:24:57] Because it was it. Well, first they provided a full remote MBA. It was it was fairly reputable. And if something. Really happened where I had to go on campus to resolve my case or like make a stand. It was within driving distance. So I was like, okay with those three factors. Oh, and I think this was a consideration too. I didn't have to retake my grade. Met If you showed that you are a professional, they would waive the game at Jerry, which is ahead of its time because I think that's more of a thing now. So yeah. Yeah.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:25:30] Had you thought about because a lot of people with military backgrounds, a lot will go to like try to go to like a top business school and go to banking. Like had you talked to anybody from those schools or had you networked or was more like this was 2016 or something when you were applying? You're still are pretty junior. I'd say you were 20. You're 28 at the time then. So tell me about that like. The decision. It sounds like you had those reasons. But had you talked to people like it were in different careers and stuff like that, like in private equity, you hadn't talked to anybody in private equity and nothing? No. So you're just like, I need to learn the business language in general if I want to be in corporate America.

Kevin: [00:26:07] Yes. And I thought when I was like self-assessing, I thought one of my weaknesses would be age. I said, hey, I'm going into the world at 31. Pretty one thing I got out of going in the world at 31 with no industry relevant experience. And if I go to a top tier MBA while I'm getting MBA experience, I'm not getting any more industry experience than I would have had otherwise. So in a sense, I was looking at it and saying, okay, I spend X amount of.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:26:33] Money on when you got back, you want it to be done and.

Kevin: [00:26:35] Go, Yeah, I want to get in industry. So I could at least start building, accumulating that experience and start mitigating that weakness.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:26:41] Got it. So. So you got the MBA, you came back, got the NBA graduated. And what was that like right after that? What did you do where you were you applying to roles kind of that last six months? And how were you approaching things then?

Kevin: [00:26:57] Yes. So the at that point, I was not working hard. And that was that was when Wall Street Oasis came into the fold. I mean, as part of the sort of, hey, I need to catch up to speed. And once someone said, hey, this is private equity, I think this is what you're interested in. I started diving into it and saying, hey, this is something that'll be interesting to me. Does this make sense? And a lot of it did line up at the high level, like a lot of it's investing in navigating uncertainty. And that was sort of the world I came from. It was just under a different context. And so I remember one of the pitches on Wall Street Oasis is like or one of the pieces of advice is like network, like do two calls a week and like make sure you do that. And I think that pays dividends because. At the end of my time at Florida State and the Army because of primarily networking, I had I had more or less four opportunities in front of me. One was from recruiter and then three of them were from networking. Two of them being from. Just networking through like my own West Point Network or through my own military network, and then one of them also through the military network. But I think it also helped that I was going to some of these like transition courses that they have for military people. Like I don't know if you've heard of Stanford Ignite or the Commit Foundation. So Stanford, Stanford. And it's like an entrepreneurial. It's like a four week entrepreneurial course. That helps. Yeah, that helps military people understand business. And like, hey, if you want to start your own business, come to Stanford for a month and we'll kind of show you the ropes. So that was kind of cool in that people look at that because that is a bit of a they screen that a little bit too to see who can go to that. So that's a nice sort of. Point of validity of like, okay, he had some sort of, you know, he's not just a guy who wants to talk about private equity. And then the Commit Foundation, which I thought did a really good job, was. Understanding your story or understanding your narrative. Like what is a story that everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone tells it well? And so they did a good job of saying, Hey, there are reasons that drove you to make the decisions that you did in your life. And all you have to do is communicate that. And for the people that resonate with it, what kind of. We'll stick your neck out for you or we'll take it. We'll take it. Bet on you not stick your neck out, but we'll take a bet on you.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:29:05] Yeah, for sure. For sure. So did you feel like what those opportunities was? I mean, private equity seemed like it was there, but were you applying to anything else like corporate finance? What other roles were you looking at?

Kevin: [00:29:18] Oh one was still the search fund path. One was an associate for a VC.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:29:23] Firm, which was sort of the search firm is super popular now for MBAs.

Kevin: [00:29:26] Like. Yeah.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:29:28] Any anecdotes or data on if that's success. Like what? What is the failure rate of that? I think it's pretty high.

Kevin: [00:29:36] Yeah, I think I mean, when I was looking at it heavily a couple of years ago, I think it was like one third kind of get it kind of get it done. And but I think since then, a lot more people have entered. So it would not surprise me if that number is lower.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:29:48] Yeah, it's interesting because it's super hard to get a transaction done just in general. Like that could be a year, your two years of your life trying to get that first deal done right.

Kevin: [00:29:57] So and that was sort of like some of my concerns was knowing that I had a two year sort of deadline to get it done. Yeah. And also if I was to self-assess, you know, I had no professional network that would help me navigate that. And, you know, I could I could write a military operation on a map, but I could not have told you, like what an investable opportunity looks like, like quickly. And so I thought, man, those are two pretty big weaknesses to have a two year deadline that I need to meet. And so, you know, that kind of made me a little uncomfortable.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:30:26] Yeah. So that kind of put the search fun on the side. Was there? There's also compensation considerations, right? It's like you can go do that and have like very high volatility of great outcome or very little or nothing at the end of it. So was that part of your thought process like, hey, let me get some, let me get a good salary and decent bonus? What was the thought process there?

Kevin: [00:30:52] It was more I was thinking more of like extreme, like the downside scenario. So I was less concerned about like, you know, this was a salary I think I deserve. Like I didn't really look at it that way. I looked at it more of I went, I did this full time remote MBA, which isn't is not indicative of a top tier MBA. So someone might see this guy and go, okay, he did well in the military. He did this remote MBA. That's interesting. And then he spent two years working for a company and didn't find one. Yeah. So now he's now he's 35 from a remote MBA with no industry experience and now, you know, and now less appealing than I was. Yeah. Eight years ago. And so that was one of my big concerns was you can start seeing this downward, you could potentially start seeing these dots of going towards a downward trend.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:31:36] So that's the search line. So that that that was like not so interesting. So what were the other opportunities again?

Kevin: [00:31:42] So I was to work for a VC firm, which would be more like the deal side. I think if I was to equate it to the PE and then and then this opportunity that I'm currently in and then there was one where I would have been like a, a chief of staff for like a CEO or like it was like an aide of some sorts.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:32:04] Interesting for what kind of company.

Kevin: [00:32:06] It was a manufacturing company or was a holding company of a bunch of manufacturing company.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:32:10] Kind of. Interesting. So you decided to take the PE role?

Kevin: [00:32:14] I did.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:32:14] Smartly. You didn't turn down that. And so tell me about that. And like what type of role is it within the PE fund? Tell me about like what your day to day is like and has your anything translated from your previous life now to the corporate world? I'm sure the answer, yes, but just what specifically?

Kevin: [00:32:36] Yeah. So I'm a I'm on the business development team for a private equity firm. And so we are primarily responsible for sourcing opportunities for the firm. And a certain time we hand those opportunities off to the deal side. So that is sort of my responsibilities is to manage or to interact with a certain tier of intermediaries and cultivate those relationships while I'm in to see how that converts from my previous life.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:33:12] I mean, obviously still very it's very different.

Kevin: [00:33:15] Well, it's very different. I mean, I'm kind of, you know, to a degree, I'm starting over again. Right. So there is that is the nature of it. So I am starting over again. I think. One of the things that. Maybe. Maybe it is different from maybe some of my counterparts is I'm less and I don't maybe I don't know if this is right or wrong, but I'm less transactional focused. Like I care more about what the person is saying across from me and trying to understand what they're trying to do and how they're trying to do it and how I can help them. And I think that that genuine interest in them, plus my unique background, makes the conversations feel more authentic than, you know, the next white guy in a blazer with a collared shirt. Because that is, you know, we do look a lot a lot of us look the same when you go to an M&A event. Yeah.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:34:04] So are you are you specifically like day to day? Are you on the phone a lot or are you traveling to like now maybe hopefully traveling more and meeting face to face, but what's the day to day look like for a sourcing role? Be Because I know there's like there's some well-known shops like the summit and the TAS of the world or multibillion dollar funds. And they're it's like a system where they're they expect their associates to be on the phone, hitting the phones all the time. To the cool part about those programs is they do actually let them kind of stay through the deal. Like if you source a deal and you get to stay on it and actually do the whole transaction. It sounds like you guys have a team that specializes in the transaction. So. Are you building relationships that kind of continue for the ones that you do source that close or how does that work?

Kevin: [00:34:54] It's sort of there's a trade-off to it. So we do not follow that opportunity. To close the trade-off is you don't get some of those experiences that you would get on the deal side, like if you were, if you're trying to get reps at modeling and. Well, if you're trying to get deals on your resume, you know that, you know, this rule would not work for you because you won't be able to do that.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:35:16] Yeah.

Kevin: [00:35:17] What it does allow you to do is it sort of maximizes your flexibility or your optionality, like the time is my own to learn what I want and to set up the calls that I want and to travel when I want. And in that way, it allows you to sort of pursue your own curiosity. And so what that means for me is that I travel a lot and the travel schedule is agreed upon by the rest of my team. But you get to travel essentially where you want to, to foster relationships that you want, and then you get to mingle with other private equity shops or other intermediaries. And so you get an exposure outside of just the firm that you're in, which I think is valuable.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:35:50] So why are you meeting with other private equity shops? Because you do co-investment, stuff like that with them.

Kevin: [00:35:55] Or no more. Just some of the events, some of the industry events that you go to, you just end up finding them and it's not you'd think that, oh, you know, I see. Blah, blah, blah. They're like, he's a competitor. It's kind of less like that because as you know, you know. The top of the funnel is not the place where you get competitive. It's usually way, way further back when people start kind of posturing. And so at the Top End, it's very collaborative of saying, you know, hey, does this make sense for you? Does this make sense for me? You know, how can we help each other out?

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:36:26] So this is almost like it's a little bit of like a sales role, right, where you're trying to sell your specific fund on like what, how they're unique and the value they can bring. Do you feel like I mean, to me, it's obvious what the exits of this are. You could, of course, stay along and keep growing with the fund or you could exit probably any sales rule or anything related to. Has that gone through your mind in terms of like the skills you're developing and how that could potentially protect that downside? Because everyone always needs to sell, right? Have you thought about that at all? So I.think, like, is that one of the reasons you took you took the role or is it just because it was an obvious choice, given the other options.

Kevin: [00:37:11] For me? Two of the reasons. For one, I already mentioned where I didn't feel like I had a good sense of how to invest. And I know being at this role, part of my role is evaluating opportunities that come each week based off of my intermediaries. Yeah. The relationships that I foster and that is through the confidential information memorandum level. And so that is roughly 1000 reps a year of looking at opportunities. And so I knew that that quickly that was going to become a skill set that I could start feeling comfortable with as well as developing professional network because that's literally part of the job. So I said, okay, there's two, there's two weaknesses are going to be somewhat addressed and then sort.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:37:52] Of shored up pretty fast. Yeah, you have a lot of connections. I'm checking your LinkedIn right now.

Kevin: [00:37:58] And then the third part was I was heading into a new environment and I didn't know. I didn't know who to trust. I didn't know fully what to expect. But I had a good sense that that the team I was joining at the format now I could trust and I'm going to look out for me that they weren't going to grind me into a pulp and say, Hey, sink or swim and we'll let you know, you know, what happens. It was more I had a sense that they were going to mentor me and they were going to let me sort of have room to breathe to figure out my way.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:38:24] Do you feel like it's pretty unique? I mean, for firms to have an origination, it dealers kind of split out. I haven't seen it as often. Is it pretty unique I think for your.

Kevin: [00:38:36] I think it was unique. I think it's getting less unique. Yeah, I think. You know, the market's getting really competitive. And so I.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:38:42] Think people need a source. You need to have someone full-time on it.

Kevin: [00:38:46] Yeah. And so I think it's showing up more and more. Yeah. And I think it's, you know, for the people that are trying to break into private equity, I think it is an attractive role not only to get exposure to it, but also it's a way in where if you're coming late to the game and you're not the guy who did, I don't know, three years at Lincoln and then and then two years of PE and I went to a pedigree MBA and then came back and now have pedigree and the chops to do it by side, you know VP role. Like if you're not that guy there's still a way to potentially find your way in the industry through is a development because it's less about how many reps you did a model and more about how you can talk to people and how you can, you know, understand what you're trying to sell.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:39:28] Yeah, it's super interesting, I think. Do you feel like the industry itself like is. An interesting point because it is so competitive now. Do you feel like it's harder? At least on WSOP, we're like, Oh, the returns are going to come down because there's so many people that they're getting bid up and leverage is so high and blah, blah, blah. It doesn't seem like maybe with inflation it's everything's going to keep going up. But what do you have any thoughts specifically around like where things are headed or you know, it's just like, hey, look, I'm just trying to make a living and learn.

Kevin: [00:40:02] The tough questions, which is fine. I mean.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:40:07] I know if it was me and I was like my second year and I'd be like, Hey, look, I'm just it's a good place to be. I'm learning a lot. And you know what happens with the returns? I'm not a partner, so.

Kevin: [00:40:15] Yeah, yeah. I hesitate to offer too much advice because I'm only two years into it. So it's sort of like, you know, what is this guy? I know he's only been doing it for two years. Yeah, I think if I was to offer any insight, as I understand the world before I entered it, there was a time when there wasn't that much private equity around and there were a lot of opportunities around. And so people could sort of pick and choose when they wanted to invest in certain companies. And I think that that scale has tipped a bit, whereas now there's a lot of private equity around and the same number of opportunities, if not less. And now the. The man who sits at the table in his reactive about opportunities could be at a disadvantage. Man or woman could be at a disadvantage because the market's more competitive than maybe they.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:41:00] Previously listened to all the time. I'm like, what are you? Why is it like?

Kevin: [00:41:06] I'm like, Come on.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:41:11] Really interesting, man. Really interesting story, really interesting background. Any kind of final words of wisdom before we call it in terms of looking back at your path? And for people who are in a similar kind of place where you were maybe just a few years earlier than you. Any thoughts for them?

Kevin: [00:41:28] I mean, first, I assume anyone who's going to watch this will be from a military background. I'd say, you know, do not hesitate. Yeah. For those people do not hesitate to reach out to the military network. I think it's one of the networks that I always heard was a good network but didn't really know it until I got out of the military. And almost every person in the military will answer the phone if you ask them to, and we'll provide whatever support or advice they can give you. And so maybe that's one. And then the second is. There's this there's a stigma in the military that networking is like this, this sticky thing, because we never had to do it in the military. You just did your job. You got you got evaluated and you moved on and you got promoted or you moved to the next unit. It's not the same outside of the military, but because you're asking someone for help or asking someone for insight, that's not that's not networking. That's just. Just asking for help. And so if you think of it as asking for help or you think of it as trying to learn more, I think it'll be a lot easier to do.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:42:20] That's a really interesting point because like everything is so structured in the military, you get you probably get used to like everything being like meritocracy, right?

Kevin: [00:42:28] Yeah.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:42:28] Where it's like, hey, if I just do these things, everything's going to be taken care of. And then you get to the real world, the outside world, it's like, no, everything's unfair. And to actually to get promoted, you could be ten times better than this other person, but they could get promoted ahead of you because you didn't have a good relationship with X, Y or Z. And so I think it's a real it is an eye opener. And it's a good point to make for people coming from a military background, especially someone like yourself who was in it for so long.

Kevin: [00:42:59] Right. And you're at a disadvantage. I think people leave the military and they think, you know, I'm a Navy SEAL or I'm a whatever. You know, I have this I have all these gifts to offer. And the reality is you're behind the curve and you're probably gonna need some help. And so the quicker you can get humble and ask for the help.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:43:17] Now that's a great lesson. Yeah. I mean, just getting on the phone with as many people as possible just because you don't know what you don't know. Oftentimes it's like people. Same thing with business and with Wall Street Oasis or same thing. Before, I didn't even know what private equity was when I started banking like I heard of it, but I didn't really understand what it was. And this is me coming from a pretty privileged background, you know, nobody in finance. But within my first year of banking, some one of my fellow artists was like, Yeah, you should go to private equity. I'm like, okay, why? And he started like walking me through it. Like, without that person, it would have never happened. Right? So I think. You know, I think what a lot of people and young people will do is they see the universe in front of them and they think it's the whole universe or they see the world in front of them when they should really be asking anybody. The faster you get, get it humbling yourself, like you said, and asking people maybe potentially outside that universe or over here, that's kind of in your blind spots. I think you just it expands so much in terms of the opportunities that that's there for you and then can dramatically change the trajectory of your career in your life. So let's end on that note.

Kevin: [00:44:24] Yeah. Thanks, Pat. You've more legitimacy, more credibility than I do. So, yeah, I appreciate the support.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:44:29] And I really appreciate your story. Thanks for coming on.

Kevin: [00:44:32] Of course, Pat, thanks for the time.

Patrick (CEO of WSO): [00:44:33] And thanks to you, my listeners at Wall Street Oasis. If you have any suggestions whatsoever, please don't hesitate to send them my way. Patrick at Wall Street Oasis dot com. And till next time.

Industry

Private Equity