My passion, my path: Building the skillset of a private equity partner
By Drew Paul Neils ’23
Two-Year MBA Program
I’ve always loved getting into the nitty-gritty details of deals. But in 2018, when I started working as a private equity associate with Rockbridge Growth Equity, I noticed that the focus of partners was often different.
In my role with Rockbridge, I looked primarily on new investments, analyzing the performance of high growth companies and working with my team on developing our investment thesis. Meanwhile, I saw leaders at our firm and our advisors focused more on strategy, operational changes and relationship management.
I decided that joining the Two-Year MBA Program at Kellogg could help bridge my skillset gap. I knew that getting an MBA would be a great opportunity to sharpen my communication skills through class presentations, build my relationship skills through the Kellogg network and learn about operating challenges through my classes.
Not only has my time at Kellogg helped me build soft skills, but it’s also deepened my private equity toolkit. I’ve had the opportunity to meet top industry professionals and learn multiple new frameworks. Pursuing an MBA at Kellogg provided an environment for me to have these experiences that would have otherwise taken years to build.
For anyone else considering Kellogg and coming from a private equity background, here’s how I’ve made the most of my experience:
Take classes that foster discussion
A common factor across the Kellogg classes I love is the great discussion that requires critical thinking.
In my favorite finance class — Mergers and Acquisitions, LBOs and Corporate Restructuring (FINC-448) — Professor José Liberti would present us with fascinating case studies. He’d also incorporate relevant readings to accompany the cases, including legal cases and news articles.
For each class session, we would use all the context to discuss each case. There was so much passion and energy — it was an exciting way to learn financial techniques and legal aspects through real life examples.
My favorite non-finance class was Business Strategy (STRT-431) taught by Professor Meghan Busse. I loved that she gave us a case each week, allowing us to learn about different frameworks. These classes reminded me of my job as a private equity investor. Every day at work, new investments would come across the table, and you would have to be ready to read each one, know it and present it to your team. This was also true for my favorite classes — you had to read and know the cases, as there was a lot of discussion and discourse among bright people.
And like in the real world, sometimes these class discussions have a right answer. Other times, you must stretch your mind toward different possibilities. I felt challenged by these classes, like I had to bring my A-game every day.
A few people to meet
As I’ve pursued private equity at Kellogg, I’ve met a lot of great people. Below are a just a few of the many great professors and advisors at Kellogg that I have come across:
- Professor Liberti is a great resource for anyone studying finance. He’s helped me think deeply about potential career paths and his class has expanded how I think.
- Another great person to meet is Professor Mitchell Petersen. I never actually had a class with Professor Peterson, but everyone spoke so highly of him that I reached out. Throughout out my time at Kellogg, he’s been nothing but helpful. He’s got a good pulse on everything, including resources to use and alumni to contact.
- And Mary Simon at the Career Management Center has been fantastic. She and her team are constantly reaching out to alumni and figuring out who is recruiting, what they’re looking for, and trying to help MBA students find their path.
A phenomenal network
Beyond individual relationships, getting to know the Kellogg network has been one of the best parts of my experience.
There are so many brilliant, amiable people you can meet. From what I’ve found, people throughout the Kellogg network are very receptive and responsive to introductory calls, whether you want to learn more about their career, bounce ideas around, or hear about their path.
You never know who you’ll meet: One person may be able to offer you good perspective, another may have a position you’d be a great fit for, while another may be able to introduce you to someone else outside of the Kellogg network.
Private equity is such a small world — and you can leverage the Kellogg network to make it even smaller.
Experiment, but be intentional
I came to Kellogg knowing what I wanted: To continue my career in private equity with an expanded and enhanced skillset. That’s my current aim — I’d like to find a VP role at a firm focused on the lower middle market.
In working toward an expanded skillset, I was able to experiment and try different things – in classes, groups, and by reaching out to different people. That’s the brilliance of Kellogg.
For anyone starting or considering Kellogg, I suggest knowing what you want while also challenging yourself. Take new opportunities, try an internship, reach out to someone you want to meet. With the number of options at Kellogg, you can try something new, decide whether it’s for you and then move along to something else.
While experimenting, have an idea of your end goal and how you want to get there. If you want a career in private equity, you have six quarters plus a summer internship. Be tactical, be intentional and figure out: How can I make my goal come true?
—As told to Hal Conick