Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Observations of a PE Analyst

During my time working as an investment analyst for a private equity fund, I have witnessed a number of incidents that have made me question the phrase “outside the realm of possibility”. A sheer lack of time, money or authority is never a concern for making decisions – as long as it solves the problems of the overlords, it shall be done.

This post lists the best of the golden nuggets gleaned from my time in private equity till now – observations that no one will ever point out to an outsider or a newcomer. When you talk about “inside peek”, this is as good as it gets.

Note: The following content is purely hypothetical and does not pertain to actual events.

 1.      Laws don’t matter, solutions do:
When money is at stake, laws are taken more in the context of hurdles, not roadblocks. They’re only minor inconveniences which need to be jumped over without disturbing the balance of the hurdle. That is to say, a solution can always be found without breaking or even stretching the law; intent of enacting the law be damned.  Never underestimate the extents to which businessmen can go to get their way without breaking a single law.

Those who have studied even a little bit of law may sometimes believe that there is legal precedent for every possible circumstance under the sun. Well, suffice to say that in during a span of 12 months, I’ve discussed multiple theoretical solutions so convoluted that there were no relevant precedents whatsoever. What makes it worth mentioning is that we dreamt up these solutions for incredibly common and mundane problems.

2.      What time difference?

You know that thing when it’s midnight in the US and noon in India and we call it “time difference”? Yeah, that doesn’t apply to finance. I suppose this applies to most service industries, but none more so than investment banking. And when a former investment banking MD is running a private equity fund, the whole world is his playground, since his own money might be at stake. International citizens that they are, current (and former as in this case) MD’s of bulge bracket banks roam around the world so much that they probably don’t have a biological clock anymore (hence, no jet lag – and I’m only half kidding).

The flip side? If the MD is landing in New York at 6:00 am NY time, and wants an entirely new set of analysis done before he lands, it means that you¸ the unfortunate analyst at the other end of the world, will end up having a midnight date with MS Excel.

3.      What personal life?
Anyone who has done an entry level job for more than a week, will agree that bosses rule their minions’ lives. But when you’re in finance, bosses rule not just your lives, but your health, wealth, relationships, sanity and sometimes even your hygiene. I once answered an impromptu internal conference call at 7:00 am, dripping wet and draped in a towel, having been in the shower at the moment. The call was to inform my colleague and I that we need to add another set of analysis to a deal which we are going to reject. Nevertheless, when you’re at the lowest rung of the ladder, you cannot let your Blackberry go unanswered.
 
Oh, the Blackberry… I take that name with a mixture of horror and revulsion. When you join as a new investment analyst, the very first day you get handed a shiny new block of plastic called the Blackberry, which you’re supposed to have on your person at all times. When you’re young and na├»ve, getting a free phone feels like a matter of pride and vanity. A year later, it takes all of your self-control to not throw it against the wall when it beeps for the 9th time between midnight and 2:00 am. And yet, if I’m getting a call on my personal phone from my girlfriend and my blackberry is ringing at the same time, guess which one will I answer first?


4.      Q. How much money does a business need? Ans. MORE.
PE funds evaluate dozens of deals in a year and take up only a very small proportion of them. But the benefit of evaluating such a large number of deals is that after a while, recognizable patterns start emerging.

Entrepreneurs, by definition, are extremely passionate about their business; and this fact carries even more weight in India. Old family businesses may have out-dated business models, may be overburdened by debt, or may be facing a crippling cash crunch due to unchecked expansion. But the entrepreneur will always see his business as a potential golden goose, if they can just get some more money. Every time, the answer seems to be more money.

The simple concept of refinancing has been convoluted into a number of fancy words – debt restructuring, capital restructuring, capital structure optimization; and by extension, securitization, buyouts, risk capital infusion… All that such strategies do is delay the day when the borrower has to cough up the cash. It doesn’t matter whether the business can genuinely pay back the restructured debt or not. As long as the entrepreneur can convince a lender in the here and now, it’s all sunshine and roses. To quote a lender who was proposing a 30-year bond whose principal will fall due only in the last two years, “when the next due date comes, another refinancing can always be considered. In any case, by then it’ll be my successor’s problem.” Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "long term greedy".


Now that you’re privy to some dirty tricks of the trade, do you still want to work in finance? Let me know in comments below, and feel free to mention what else you would like to read about!

6 comments :

  1. Great article. Can't find this kind of insight anywhere else.

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    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Spread the word!

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  2. just a soon to be qualified CA(gave xams in may 2014) browsing internet , found your blog practically useful and interesting,gonna read all the articles here today and your interview on M&I was very inspiring .

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    1. Thanks, glad you're finding the content useful! Stay tuned, some more interesting posts along with an unusual announcement coming soon.

      P.S. All the best for your CA results!

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