A team of St. Gallen Masters students recently organized the Swiss Private Equity Conference
to rub shoulders with the who’s who of the industry, so we caught up with them to find out what they learned and what it takes to land a job in a private equity firm!
The conference was held at the Zurich Marriot Hotel on 8 February 2013 and hosted participants from private equity funds, portfolio companies, venture capitalists, wealth managers, investment banks, consultancies, and law and accountancy firms. Speaker represented all the big names, such as Capvis, BlackRock and the Carlyle Group, as well as the likes of Goldman Sachs, Permira and Apax Partners.
We spoke to Tamara Bjelica, the team’s Marketing and Operations Officer to learn what makes Switzerland’s private equity industry so successful and opportunities to build a career in the industry.
Tamara, 26, comes from Serbia, speaks four languages and is an MA student in Banking and Finance at the University of St. Gallen
What makes the PE industry in Switzerland so successful?
I would say that a mix of different factors led to the heavy expansion of private equity and venture capital in Switzerland. The country is associated with its longstanding banking tradition for good reason, which means there is a large “pool” of experienced professionals who are pushing the industry forward and ensuring a steady flow of investment opportunities.
Secondly, the so-called “winners” in any industry will most likely out-compete their rivals with a superior business model and innovative products or services. Switzerland is definitely an innovation powerhouse! Growth in hi-tech and biotech sectors within the PE industry is expected to continue and having top research facilities all over the country is certainly a bonus.
Finally, the famous Swiss standard of living shouldn’t be overlooked – it’s very attractive for companies and investors, combined with pretty decent tax rates, of course.
What’s your sense about recruitment? Are firms hiring this year?
Certainly! There is, however, a significant drop in recruiting intensity, compared to previous years and the number of students graduating is more or less the same. When you do the math, you quickly realize that there are not enough jobs for everyone. I think this made a lot of us rethink our job hunting strategies. Being proactive is the key – once you’ve decided what you want to do, go for it! If one approach doesn’t work, maybe a different one will. Job posts and standard online applications are only one side of the story. Persistency really does pay off.
Do you need to know German to land a job?
It depends on what you want to do. University of St. Gallen
is a business school and most of the students are interested in the financial sector, which covers an extremely wide range of different opportunities. If, for example, you see yourself as a private banker or a consultant, where you’re offering your expertise to the local clients then yes – knowledge of German and a deep understanding of the local market is essential.
On the other hand, the official language on the trading floor is English, which makes it easier for the aspiring investment bankers coming from abroad. Also, there is an exceptional presence of major multinationals in Switzerland, where the working language is again English.
Who are some of the HSG Alumni working in PE?
It was a great honour to have Mr. Bernd Pfister, SECA Chairman and Paros Capital Managing Director, open the first conference in 2012 and again this year. He received his Masters degree and PhD from the University of St. Gallen.
Mr. Lucian Schönefelder is a Principal in KKR, one of the top global investment firms. Mr. Björn Böckenförde is a Founding Partner and CFO of Zurmont Madison. Just to mention a few.
Can young partners in PE firms really be qualified to step on to the boards of portfolio companies?
Private Equity is a very complex industry. I’m not saying that the other industries aren’t but the recruiting process is even more painful than usual. Companies with up to 10 investment professionals might hire one new person per year and it will almost certainly not be someone who is fresh out of business school. It takes at least 3 years of prior experience and an excellent track record. The most common path is to work in Mergers and Acquisitions for a while and then try to switch to private equity. As you can see, they will make sure that you’re already a pretty solid professional and that you’ve got a potential for further improvement. It will take some time before you can sit on the board of a portfolio company, but once you’ve been given the chance – you’d better be ready!
Who was the most interesting speaker at the conference for you?
Mr. Andrea Bonomi, Senior Partner at Investindustrial, was one of our keynote speakers. He opened the conference with an interesting overview of the industry, the challenges but also the great potential that lies ahead. It is a struggle and there are fewer exit opportunities, but the crisis has also created some attractive investment opportunities. Investindustrial recently bought a minority stake in Aston Martin and it was really exciting to hear about the deal from Mr. Bonomi himself.
I also enjoyed the keynote address by Mr. Hari Sven Krishnan, COO of Seven Ventures, who stressed the importance of building a synergistic portfolio. If you invested in a record label and you have a new artists to promote, it’s convenient to have a stake in a TV station with a hit talk show.
How many speakers and attendees did you have?
Between the keynotes, panel discussants and moderators, we had 53 participants and over 100 guests. Our goal was to put the focus on Private Equity, but also to have representatives from adjacent industries such as Investment Banking, Law, Consulting and the like, which are more than relevant in the Private Equity world.
The overall impression was extremely positive. Panels resulted in interesting discussions, networking breaks proved to be very productive for some of our guests and they were largely facilitated by the official SPEC mobile application. It allowed the conference participants and guests to search for people by multiple tags, ask questions during a lecture, use the Messages feature to arrange a meeting and rate the conference. SPEC attendees said it was a wonderfully organized conference and they didn’t even add “for students”.