Describe your career path.
I've grown up professionally in private equity, always investing in funds on behalf of a bank. After I graduated from St. Mary's College, a liberal arts college in South Bend, Indiana with a business degree with a concentration in finance, I worked in Key Bank's private equity division for seven years. There, I began on the accounting side before moving to the investment side of the business. I was brought in to Fifth Third Bank in 2005 to build a private equity investing practice and team. At the time, no one at the bank was focused solely on private equity. In the four-and-a-half years that I have been with the bank, we've grown our limited partner practice with Fifth Third as our sole investor.
Describe your role at Fifth Third.
As managing director of Fifth Third Bank's Private Equity division, I manage a team that invests the bank's capital in private equity funds. My team evaluates each investment opportunity and makes decisions based on a private equity fund's strategy, historical track record, and potential to hit the bank's return target. Our portfolio is designed to achieve a targeted rate of return first and then build strategic relationships with fund managers for the bank. My team will source and research new investment opportunities. Once we've made an investment in a private equity fund, we'll introduce the fund manager to a Fifth Third Bank lender. The bank can often provide value through our lending products and services.
What is a typical day like for you?
While there's no "typical day," my team and I meet early in the week to discuss active investment opportunities and new deals that could be in the pipeline. Due diligence with these deals can take several months. I'm engaged in all of our due diligence activities-inputting data into a model, making reference calls and writing investment recommendations - and will sometimes take the lead on these deals. There are also inbound calls regarding other investment opportunities, so I spend much of my time meeting new fund managers as they come through Cincinnati.
What advice do you have for undergraduate students or aspiring private equity professionals?
There are a number of good (and free) blogs, such as Private Equity Hub (peHub). Everyone on my team subscribes to these, and it helps us keep in touch with what's happening in private equity on a daily basis. Today, there is a much greater awareness about private equity than when I started. In terms of classes that undergraduates can take, I think those focused on entrepreneurship are helpful. In private equity, fund managers are either financial engineers or operations experts. While historically, most managers came from financial backgrounds, I think the industry is moving toward a more operations model, rather than investment banking, in terms of a career track. I'd encourage students to acquire a variety of experiences and to not be afraid of coming into private equity through operations. It's also critical to have financial skills as everything we do, from picking fund managers to networking, requires an understanding of what is happening in financial markets.
What skills are most important to be successful in private equity?
You need to have a high level of integrity, and have the ability to think both qualitatively and quantitatively. You can develop an edge if you understand who the big players are in private equity. Being able to compare and contrast different managers is helpful. In so doing, you can train yourself to make the right decisions.