A Winding Path

A Winding Path

Not all business journeys are straightforward.

Certainly, mine wasn’t.  I don’t recall aspiring to work in M&A or Private Equity early in my life. Very few people growing up in West Texas in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I suspect, do.  Like many others, I arrived at my “chosen” profession through a mixture of a little bit of knowledge, some life experience, and a whole lot of luck and serendipity.

Before university, I thought that I’d go into physics and mathematics and spend my life solving intractable problems and unveiling the mysteries of the universe.  Noble sounding, but extremely challenging, as I later found.  And, while it became blatantly obvious that I was not destined to be a physicist, that first goal, half-baked as it might have been, focused me and helped land me in a university on the East Coast, where everything seemed greener and the possibilities endless.  The study of history, art, literature, and economics consumed me.  As it has for countless others, Wall Street beckoned as a destination.  I stopped wearing cowboy boots, checkered shirts and jeans, and donned a suit and tie and leather dress shoes.

I graduated from university in the year of a market crash—Black Monday.  On that day, the stock market recorded one of the single biggest percentage drops in its history.  In one fell swoop, billions of dollars in value were wiped out and so were the jobs of many experienced professionals, as well as those of up and coming graduates like me.

My first job on Wall Street was in the technology area at Morgan Stanley  While not nearly as riveting and complex as they are today, technology and the underlying systems that buy, sell, and move positions at lightning speed were fascinating to me.  Eventually, I was shipped to Tokyo for three years, where I worked with a global group that focused on making sure that these sophisticated systems hung together and kept the firm at the top of its game globally.

The work is challenging, difficult, and complex—and the environment is fast with seemingly no margin for error.  But, while I enjoyed the challenge of technology, I didn’t feel that it sufficiently satisfied my intellectual curiosity.  After all, I thought, I’d studied liberal arts to teach me how to converse and interact broadly with others to solve bigger problems than just moving money around a system.  I also noticed that the people that got off the elevator on the Investment Banking Division floor seemed much more polished, well dressed, and just seemed generally happier.

So, after a “re-make” at graduate school, I forged into Investment Banking.  It was unheard of, I was told, to return to Morgan Stanley in a new division.  But, I did ultimately figure out how to work my way back there, focusing on the Technology industry—a natural fit given my experience.  My journey back entailed working in New York, Canada, and London on various assignments.  I never knew what the next opportunity would mean for my future as a banker, but I always accepted it.  Doing so satisfied my desire to take on new business challenges and my curiosity about living in new places.

I was settled in NY when I agreed to another multi-year stint in Japan. This latest posting entailed providing specific industry transaction expertise and later co-leading the Morgan Stanley Japan Technology Team. We were not a large group across the whole Investment Banking operation, but we worked extremely hard and did well by our clients.  We liked each other and helped each other out where we could.  It is in Japan, where my colleagues and I advised global companies about developing and executing acquisitions and financing strategies, that I first encountered private equity, as a client and as an eventual professional possibility.  Working with clients in the private equity space felt relatable—many of the professionals had gone through the same training and had similar experiences to mine.  But, instead of staying in investment banking to advise clients, they sought to actually own companies and operate them as owners.

Through my work in Japan, I grew close to another client—a global corporation looking to expand its scale overseas.   Coincidentally, it was with that company that i had my first opportunity to act as an owner.  I left Morgan Stanley to join IBM’s M&A group in Tokyo and Shanghai.  Soon after, I returned home to New York to oversee the Global M&A organization.  The scale, breadth, and sophistication of the M&A effort was truly impressive and an incredible learning experience.  The complexity and the weight of responsibility of ownership are vastly different than what I’d experienced when only dispensing advice.  I was thoroughly captivated by the challenges of doing all of this in the context of such a large global organization.

Finally, with the confidence of having accomplished what our M&A team at IBM set out to do over five years, I came to private equity.  Drawing from all of the experiences and relationships of the last 30 years and an understanding and the sense of ownership—with all that it implies—I am now part of a growing firm looking to develop and hone its own strategies of finding, buying and helping operate companies through our ownership.  Every day poses a different set of  challenges across our growing portfolio.  The markets continue are even more dynamic and the disruptions across industries are faster than when I first started my career.

I started in a crash and now we find ourselves in a pandemic, facing situations none of us have fully prepared for.  I don’t know what’s next for me or the markets, but I look forward to the opportunities that are developing now.  The journey continues to be an exciting one!

Related content:
Business Learning Experiences in the Age of Exploration
Strategic Thinking
Entrepreneurs Who Wrote The Book


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