Q&A: Stephen Hoffmeister, Advent International

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"I like this business because every day is different. Between different industries, business problems and phases in a deal process, the job changes constantly."

Tell us about your early career path and how you got into private equity.

I started my career in consulting. It was a superb learning experience and very relevant for the private equity business. I learned why some businesses make money and why others don't. I also learned early lessons about working with management teams and respecting those who run companies.

At the time, very few private equity firms hired from consulting. They wanted investment bankers. That said, Bain Capital recognized the benefit of recruiting from multiple backgrounds and saw value in applying rigorous consulting-style analysis to the due diligence process.

After business school, I joined Advent International. Advent has deliberately built its investment team with professionals who have diverse experiences and who embody the truth-seeking analytical approach of consulting.

What's a typical day like for you?

There is no such thing. I like this business because every day is different. Between different industries, business problems and phases in a deal process, the job changes constantly. Additionally, at Advent I work on deals in different parts of the world and have the opportunity to team with my colleagues across the 15 countries in which we have offices.

What's the most challenging aspect of your work?

For me, the most challenging part is of the job is deciding how to spend my time. At any given time, there are several companies in our target sectors which are actively being sold. Likewise, we could be working to create proprietary investment opportunities or supporting our portfolio companies. One of the keys to being successful in this industry is resource allocation.

How does working in private equity compare with consulting?

At firms like Advent, we use much of the consulting "tool kit." We perform many of the same analyses when evaluating a prospective investment, as a consulting firm might during a strategy study for a large client.

There are of course many differences, including one which I noticed right away. When reviewing an investment, we try to focus on three to five issues which we deem to be most critical or strategic for the target business. By comparison, a smaller amount of the work performed by strategy consulting firms today is focused on high-level strategy design - much of it deals with operations, business unit strategy, merger integration, etc.

What advice would you give students who want to break into private equity?

While it has been changing slowly, the most reliable path into private equity is still through investment banking or consulting. Also, the majority of private equity firms are small informal organizations who tend to hire few investment professionals. So, apply at several firms and know that many of the best offers will come late in the recruiting season, when recruiters are certain that they need to hire.

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