10 Questions with PE Professor Chris McGowan

6.) While I took the Lab without having worked in PE previously, is it intended primarily for students with prior PE/VC experience?
The PE industry has a somewhat frustrating tendency in that it generally likes to hire people back into the industry, so if you haven’t had the prior experience it’s hard to break into. The great thing about Booth’s experiential programming is that in both SPITC and the PE/VC Lab class, about 2/3 of our students in each program don’t have prior PE or VC experience. So, it’s a great opportunity for those students to get crucial, hands-on PE knowledge and experience that can be essential for landing a summer internship and full-time job offer in the industry, especially if you are a career-switcher.

7.) What kind of advice can you offer students looking to career switch into PE/VC at Booth?
In short, get as much experience as you can through our various PE/VC programs. Even if you are not going into late- or earlier-stage investing, knowing how PE/VC investors think will make you a more successful entrepreneur, executive, consultant, and/or banker when one inevitably comes across a PE/VC firm that may be your investor, owner, or client and you are better aware of their perspective, tools, and goals. Finding a position as a career switcher will take networking, and to make networking successful you need to find a way to connect with people in the PE/VC investment world and highlight commonalities you have with them and skills of yours that can bring them value. Most often firms are looking for industry or functional knowledge. Firms are always working to improve their portfolio companies, so if you have specific operating skills—supply chain management, marketing, running a sales organization, etc.—they can be very useful to a firm’s portfolio companies that are trying to grow in value.

8.) Are there any other programs you’d recommend for students focused on private equity?
The Oxford-Chicago Private Equity Challenge (Ox-Chi) is a case competition Booth conducts in conjunction with the Saïd School for Business at Oxford University. The format is “Ryder Cup style”—a winning team of 5 students from Booth will meet the winning team of 5 students from Oxford either at Oxford or at Booth (we rotate every year). Up to 85 Booth students participate every year. Teams choose from a list of 200-300 public companies and prepare an investment analysis and investment deck—exactly what a team at a PE firm would do for their investment committee. You get a great flavor for investment analysis and how it is performed.

9.) How about academic courses?  I know there are several, but any specific ones you’d strongly recommend?
On the academic side, there are some great courses that focus on private equity. Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity focuses on later stage investing and covers many topics and casework in PE and growth equity. Commercializing Innovation covers an earlier stage of investing—students analyze many situations and casework in terms of companies that are more at a seed, venture capital, or growth stage. Both courses have incredible speakers and experiences. I strongly encourage PE-focused students to take these.

10.) From my conversations with classmates, it seems as though interest in PE has grown significantly. You mentioned 300 students applying for the Lab course. What’s led to this growth?
A large part of the growth of Booth’s PE programming has simply been an effort to put more resources around it at the school. We’ve always had a very strong tradition of excellent academic PE courses at Booth. Those have grown in popularity, and in addition the experiential programs are the strongest I’ve seen in any MBA program. SPITC, the PE/VC Lab class, and the Oxford-Chicago challenge have really raised the bar for us. The recent gift from alumnus Raymond Svider, ’89, established the Svider Private Equity Program at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which significantly expands our ability to support students and alumni in the PE space. We also have a strong Career Services department with career coaches who are focused on PE and VC, as well as experienced second-year student coaches who share wisdom with first years in a career services context. The PE/VC ecosystem here at Booth has really grown and it’s wonderful to have seen that over the last 20 years and to have been a part of it for the last 7 years.

Thank you to Professor Chris McGowan for his time and insights. With all of the resources and experiential learning opportunities here at Booth and in Chicago, I feel I am well on my way to a career in private equity.

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