Interview: From Investment Bank to Private Equity, What you should know

Eager to work in the ‘promised land’ of private equity? If your answer is yes, our interview with Phillip Bradley, a refreshingly candid PE professional who made the transition and lived to tell about it, is right up your alley. His answers to our questions are forthright, helpful and, in some cases, pretty entertaining.

Editors: They’re like lemmings assessing cliffs: Junior investment bankers, weary of health-destroying hours and non-existent personal lives, clamour to get into private equity because they can no longer stomach the highly-regulated investment banking sector. Is this exaggeration or reality?Bradley: Reality. I switched from an investment bank to escape the insanity and establish the PE career path I sought. I was fortunate to have a mentor: as a junior banker, I found favor with a VP. He recruited me after he went into private equity. It sounds immodest, but he chose me because I worked harder and smarter than most.

Editors: Can you comment about PE firm working hours?

Bradley: When I’m working high-profile deals, stamina and performance are critical. Yes, the hours can be formidable–as bad as they were during my banking days. But when a critical deal requires long days, the odd all-nighter and working weekends, I don’t complain because harrowing schedules are short-lived and rewards are worth sacrifices.

Editors: Career-building and success aside, are private equity firm salaries worth leaving banking?

Bradley: I suppose it depends upon one’s perspective. Personally, some of my compensation comes in the form of a more fascinating job that allows me to diversify my interests and master new ways of underwriting deals on my feet. I would never have amassed such formidable professional growth if I stayed in banking.

Editors: How about your private equity sector colleagues? Are they competitive?

Bradley: Everything’s relative. I spent years putting up with egocentric people ignoring productivity while building fiefdoms. The PE culture is healthier. That said, every firm is unique. Good management style stresses compatibility, so if someone’s a bad fit on a team, they’re moved to one with like-minded people.

Editors: In your opinion, what differentiates the working environments of banks from PE firms?

Bradley: Apologies for being repetitive, but fact is, I find PE colleagues more pleasant. I rarely bump into the same caliber of obnoxious people in this industry as I did in banking.

Editors: You said PE firm work is more challenging. How so? And are you given more responsibility?

Bradley: The difference could be measured in light years! As a member of the private equity world, I manage people, direct operations, undertake diverse finance assignments, work in M&A and handle exit preparation. On average, I work with two or three team members to juggle 50 objectives and each of us stays on high alert for new acquisition opportunities. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t welcome such weighty responsibilities.

Editors: Must one have specific personality traits to succeed in private equity?

Bradley: It helps to be calm, level-headed, creative, innovative and cerebral. Team players are ideal candidates. Pumped-up cowboys and masters of the universe need not apply!

Editors: If a junior banker meets these personality criteria, how can he land a job in PE?

Bradley: Maintain a good track record and reputation. Top-class analysts and junior associates stand out when they exhibit the right mix of personality, work ethic, reputation–even fitness levels. If someone appears sloppy, hiring chances plummet. PE firms want people capable of slowing down occasionally and “having a life.”

Editors: Is there a ‘crash and burn’ aspect to making the transition from banking to PE?

Bradley: That’s always a possibility, but if someone is on the crash and burn track, seems like they’d crack up even if they stayed in banking!

Editors: You’ve been extremely helpful. Could I ask what one piece of advice you would give someone whose goal is working in private equity?

Bradley: One? I don’t think I could! How about three? First, get top grades at university and diversify your life by participating in extra-curricular activities—sports; the arts; a charity. Second, land internships at top name banks; they look good on your CV. Finally, image counts: if you’re fat or sloppy, you’re saying, “I have no discipline,” so no matter how clever your mind may be, you won’t leave the proper impression.

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