M&A Specialist: A Day In The Life

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Kathleen D. Scott is a principal of RA Capital Advisors, a private investment bank based in San Diego.

A 12-year veteran of the firm, Scott is responsible for services related to mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, financings and restructurings for an array of clients. Her work has covered industries such as packaging/logistics, aerospace and defense, technology, retail, software, energy, healthcare, and biotechnology.

How did you come to work in M&A?

My previous experience was in public accounting: I worked at Arthur Andersen in San Diego for 3 1/2 years. I worked on audits of public and private companies in a variety of industries, such as health care, defense and not-for-profits. I typically worked on quarterly reviews, year-end audits and public document filings. RA Capital was one of Andersen's clients. It's very common for public accountants to migrate over to work for one of their clients.

My father owned businesses, and I used to work for him when I was in high school. I attended UCLA, where I studied economics and business. But I was more interested in the financial aspects of business, rather than the theoretical. After college, I worked at Andersen in public accounting and earned my CPA. I also am a CFA charter holder.

What's a typical day like for you?

That depends on what transactions the firm is involved with. If we're working on a buy-side engagement, it may include overseeing the screening process to try to find the most attractive targets for a client. On the sell side, I may be strategizing on how to best position a client in order to maximize value to its shareholders. I typically oversee the process of finding the right buyers, such as those who are most likely to pay a premium. I get very involved with negotiating various aspects of transaction agreements, as well as assisting clients who are looking for private financings. I also deal with some administrative functions for RA Capital, such as human resources, accounting and compliance with NASD regulations. But overall, my job is 90 percent deal flow.

For example, on a recent sell-side deal, my responsibilities included the screening of potential buyers, contacting them and facilitating the due diligence process. Also, I was responsible for managing communications between the seller and potential buyers. As the engagement progressed, I negotiated definitive documents, handled oversight of company valuations and made presentations to the seller's board of directors.

What advice would you give to students hoping to break into the business?

An internship is the best way to determine the areas you're interested in. A career in investment banking is very demanding. People shouldn't go into it if they want a lot of free time. It requires you to have a well-rounded skill set, and there's no set way to enter the field. Some people jump right into investment banking, while others work for a while, earn an MBA and get into it later.

Our firm has been very successful in attracting talented people. I came in through public accounting, which is a great training ground for M&A since the skill sets in both areas are similar. Both require a strong work ethic, analytical and quantitative background, and the ability work efficiently. A healthy degree of skepticism helps, too.

What advice would you give to junior staffers?

In general, it's important in M&A and investment banking to try and stay one step ahead of the fray. By anticipating change or people's needs, you can demonstrate that you're thinking as a vice president or director would. You'll go a long way in the M&A world if you tend to perform up to a higher role rather than simply the title you possess.

Although we don't expect junior staffers to be rainmakers, we do believe they should be cultivating relationships. For example, by being out there and meeting with people at the vice president level, they may be developing relationships with future CEOs. So, while we don't expect juniors to bring in a deal every two months, they should try to develop a solid network of contacts.

Is there anything else you think is important?

A career in investment banking requires a significant commitment. This is a time-intensive business, but it's important to maintain a balance in your life. Particularly, when you work as a junior analyst, it's difficult to take time off because of the pressures to perform. But you don't want to get burned out. I have two children in elementary school, and it's important that I see them grow up. I enjoy watching them excel in school, sports and music. While it's important to be committed to your career, life is too short to ignore everything else.

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